Visiting Morro Bay State Park in California

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Like the ocean? Enjoy quaint little beach towns? How do you feel about huge rocks? If you’re a fan of these things, might I suggest Morro Bay State Park and the city of Morro Bay itself, home of the Morro Rock. If you’re taking a Pacific Coast Highway road trip, Morro Bay is a great stop along the way.

While Alcatraz Island might have been known as “The Rock” during its glory days operating the most hardcore prison on earth, since it was deemed “cruel and unusual punishment” (WEAK!), that crown should now go to Morro Rock. (Locals instead know it as the Gibraltar of the Pacific.) Seriously, Morro Rock is awesome. When you approach the embarcadero from the hill in town that leads to the beach, the rock towers over the shoreline in an imposing manner.

In addition to Morro Rock, Morro Bay State Park has offers sailing, fishing, hiking, and bird watching. There’s also a small museum in the State Park with exhibits detailing the the area’s natural features & geology, cultural history, Native American life, and oceanography. Across from all this is a vacant power plant, putting a slight damper on what is otherwise a beautiful little community.



The first time I visited Morro Bay, I arrived at night. At first, I thought Morro Rock was a large, low-level cloud. Surely it couldn’t actually be that big. After a bit, my eyes adjusted, and I realized it was Morro Rock. It’s an iconic draw for the city of Morro Bay, and something you’ll definitely want to see for yourself.

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Obviously, a big rock isn’t reason-enough to spend a day or even half-day somewhere, especially when there are so many wonderful spots along Pacific Coast Highway. Beyond Morro Rock, I’m a fan of Morro Bay for a few reasons. In fact, when I eventually get my Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide up, this town will be an overnight stop.

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First, it’s a sleepy little beach town that has unique character and (most importantly) is cheap, with a variety of hotels and motels with ocean views that are under $100/night. Pismo Beach is the nearby alternative if you’re planning an overnight stay along this stretch of California’s Central Coast, and prices in Morro Bay are generally a decent amount lower. I’ve stayed in both cities, and I like both–but I prefer the cheaper rates in Morro Bay!

We have stayed at Beach Bungalow Inn & Suites, which looks like a cheap motel from the exterior, but is a delightful little boutique spot, complete with local art, fireplaces, and breakfast delivered to your room in the morning. There are several other motels and hotels all around the embarcadero and Morro Bay State Park, so this is hardly a definitive recommendation. If you find another option with good rates and reviews, by all means, book that.

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Second, there are a variety of charming restaurants along the embarcadero that serve fresh seafood (and delicious clam chowder). Harbor Hut and its eclectic tiki stylings lures in a lot of tourists, but based on recommendations from locals and only a 3-star showing on Yelp, we skipped it.

Locals instead recommend Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant, which is a casual spot that feels like a fish market with nightly specials based upon what was caught that day.

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Finally, location. Regardless of how many days you have, Morro Bay is a great place to spend the night before visiting Hearst Castle the following morning. This gives you a chance to dine on the embarcadero the night before and enjoy sunrise at Morro Rock.

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Afterwards, you can walk to the other side of the embarcadero to the sandy Morro Bay State Beach where hoards of surfers gather early in the day if the waves are good. During our first visit, we spent about 30 minutes just watching the line of surfers bobbing in the water awaiting the next big swell, which was entertaining. With all of that done, you’ll still be ready to make the drive to San Simeon by about 9 or 10 a.m. at the latest.

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With all of that said, I still don’t think Morro Bay will offer enough to justify spending a lot time exploring. It’s a nice town that draws in a decent amount of tourists thanks to Morro Rock, but still retains its rough-around-the-edges ‘locals-only’ charm so at least you don’t feel like you’re in a touristy place. I like Morro Bay, but it’s better viewed as a compelling waypoint with a few places of interest than a destination unto itself.

If you’re planning a California road trip or vacation, check out my California category of posts for other things to see and do. For photo licensing inquires, please contact me.

Your Thoughts…

Have you been to Morro Bay? What did you think of Morro Rock? Any other dining or hotel recommendations to add to our list? Have any questions or other thoughts? Please share below in the comments!

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7 replies
  1. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    We just did a whirl wind, real life California Adventure (Anaheim, Sequoia, SF, Muir Woods, Wine country and PCH) this last weekend. I wanted to stop by and thank you for the Morro Bay restaurant recommendation! We loved our lazy afternoon here! Great food, wonderful dock experience with sea lions, sea otters, birds and people watching!

    Reply
  2. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    You made me miss my college home, beautiful pictures! Though I lived in San Luis Obispo while I went to Cal Poly, Morro Bay was the city of choice when my family came to visit! We loved it, there is so much beauty there!

    If you missed it, next time you go stop in San Luis Obispo. There is a restaurant called Firestone that has the best Tri-Tip Sandwiches on the planet. They literally melt in your mouth! They also have another restaurant called Mo’s that has amazing Pulled Pork. Oh and Splash has the best clam chowder (actually SLO just has amazing food!) The whole town is pretty cool because you can tell it grew up with Mission San Luis Obispo right in the middle of it.

    Glad you got to explore the central coast a bit!

    Reply
  3. Kelley
    Kelley says:

    I am a big fan of Disney Tourist Blog and just found this site. It is so amazing to open it up and see Morro Bay! I grew up (and still live) in the “town” next door. We have spent the last six months in my husbands hometown in southern Mexico and are getting ready to make the drive back north. These pictures are absolutely amazing. Thanks for an unexpected taste of home. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Tony
    Tony says:

    Morro Bay is also a great stay for those wanting to do wine tasting in the Paso Robles area as it’s only about a 30 minute drive away as well. I stayed in Morro Bay on my first drive down the PCH and agree that for the price it’s a good value and has wonderful scenery.

    Reply
  5. KCmike
    KCmike says:

    Gorgeous scenery here Tom. We missed this town on our way up and down the coast a few years ago. It really looks like a nice little town for a quick stay.

    We are headed for Oregon and Washington state this summer and am wondering if you have visited the Pacific Northwest yet? We are thinking of Portland, Cannon Beach, Mt Hood, Seattle, and the Columbia River gorge.

    Thanks,

    KC Mike

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Yep. Made the trip to Columbia River Gorge last spring and hit some of those spots. I haven’t really posted much from that trip, but I’ll make a point of doing so in the near future. Thanks for asking!

      Reply

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