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15 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Morro Bay, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Updated May 26, 2022

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Morro Bay is a charming coastal community in San Luis Obispo County of central California. It's a city best defined by its many surrounding natural features. Most prominent is Morro Rock, a staggering 576-foot volcano remnant at the mouth of Morro Bay. This impressive volcanic plug is seen for miles before coming into town and is home to nesting peregrine falcons and many other species of birds.

Morro Bay
Morro Bay | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Morro Bay's natural charm extends from Morro Rock, with miles of beach to the north and a surrounding designated National Estuary teeming with wildlife. Alongside Morro Rock Beach, one of the best places to appreciate the view is along Morro Bay's main waterfront drag, also known as the Embarcadero. Restaurants, shops, and cultural attractions like the Estuary Nature Center punctuate this coastal hot spot.

Summer often brings a lot of tourists, but the shoulder seasons with cooler temperatures and less crowds are arguably the best time to visit Morro Bay. But no matter the time of year, this fishing town has a laid-back vibe that welcomes tourists. And don't forget to pack the binoculars, as the Audubon Society recognizes Morro Bay as one of the top spots in the world for bird-watching.

Discover the best places to visit with our list of the things to do in Morro Bay.

1. Morro Rock

Morro Rock
Morro Rock | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Morro Rock is the centerpiece natural attraction of the city, standing approximately 576 feet tall at the mouth of Morro Bay. This ancient volcanic remainder is the largest in a chain of nine peaks known as the Nine Sisters. The next nearest is Black Hill, with a summit accessible from Morro Bay State Park.

Morro Rock is seen from miles away. It was once a prominent landmark for mariners out at sea and is still today an appealing reference point for tourists passing through. And nearly everything to do in Morro Bay includes this impressive rock feature somewhere in sight.

Morro Rock is now a California Registered Landmark and protected Natural Preserve. It's also home to nesting peregrine falcons and is a designated bird sanctuary, so no climbing of the rock is allowed. However, visitors can drive directly to its base and to the adjacent Morro Rock Beach, with rough ocean waves and stunning views of the natural features.

View from Morro Bay T Pier
View from Morro Bay T Pier | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The entire downtown waterfront includes stunning views of Morro Rock. A few particularly good vantage points include the harborside Anchor Memorial Park and Morro Bay T Pier. These two vantage points often include wildlife in the picture, including sea lions and sea otters.

2. Morro Bay State Park

Morro Bay State Park
Morro Bay State Park

Morro Bay State Park offers a variety of things to do outdoors near the heart of the city. Popular activities here include hiking, bird-watching, mountain biking, and renting a canoe or kayak to paddle on the water. A public 18-hole golf course is also operated by the state park, including sweeping views of the bay and the ocean beyond.

The Morro Bay State Park Campground is located close to the marina, with over 130 sites accommodating both tents and recreational vehicles. Coin-operated showers and flushing toilets are throughout the campground. Black Hill is a popular hike leading directly from the upper section of the campground, where interested trekkers climb to one of the best views of Morro Bay and Morro Rock in the region.

The state park's Museum of Natural History is also easily accessible from the campground. Perched atop White's Point within the park, with a stunning view of the bay and nearby Morro Rock, this education center strives to connect visitors to the surrounding natural world. Near the Museum of Natural History, and detailed by the facility, a heron and cormorant rookery make for excellent bird-watching.

Address: 60 State Park Road, Morro Bay, California

Official site: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=594

3. Morro Rock Beach

Morro Rock Beach
Morro Rock Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

No matter what brings visitors to Morro Bay, they all tend to gravitate toward Morro Rock Beach. That's because this city beach is right at the base of Morro Rock, on its north side. It's hard to not want to get closer to this massive offshore volcanic plug, and the beach itself is wide and inviting and a perfect place to appreciate the ocean.

Visitors reach Morro Rock Beach by heading down Coleman Drive right to the rock's base. The 581-foot formation is protected by a natural preserve, so no climbing is allowed, but the adjacent beach offers plenty of other ways to enjoy the sunny weather.

Alongside up-close views of Morro Rock, the beach also has dunes to explore and plenty of space to lay down a towel. It's a popular place for leisurely beach visits and long beach walks. The entirety of Morro Strand State Beach, stretching all the way to Cayucos, borders Morro Rock City Beach to the north.

4. Morro Bay National Estuary

Morro Bay National Estuary
Morro Bay National Estuary | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Morro Bay National Estuary encompasses approximately 2,300 acres where freshwater meets the sea. This significant body of brackish water and surrounding watershed are the backbone of the Morro Bay community and an unavoidable part of any visit. Most commonly, visitors enjoy the National Estuary by taking in the lovely views of Morro Bay, often infused with wildlife.

The non-profit Morro Bay National Estuary Program oversees the health of the watershed alongside many collaborative partners. Tourists and interested residents will want to visit the Estuary Nature Center within Marina Square. The nature center also offers kayak tours throughout the estuary.

Sea otters in Morro Bay National Estuary
Sea otters in Morro Bay National Estuary | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Morro Bay National Estuary is a federally protected wildlife haven. Several animals are often seen enjoying the habitat, particularly birds. Most visits also include views of sea lions and sea otters basking in the calm water.

Address: 601 Embarcadero # 11, Morro Bay, California

Official site: https://www.mbnep.org/#

5. The Embarcadero

Marina Square shops
Marina Square shops | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Embarcadero is Morro Bay's main thoroughfare along the bay. Numerous restaurants and shopping opportunities line this charming district, all with views overlooking the water. Restaurants range from casual lunch spots to upscale dining, many with seafood on the menu.

Centennial Plaza is a major landmark in the area, with a giant chessboard and scenic resting spots. Inland from the Embarcadero, more local treasures of the city are along Morro Bay Boulevard.

To the south and adjacent to the Morro Bay National Estuary, Marina Square is a cluster of shopping and dining establishments tourists often gravitate towards. Alongside outdoor dining next to the bay, this charming seaside shopping center also features locally made gifts and apparel. The Estuary Nature Center is also within Marina Park, as well as opportunities to rent boats or sign up for a guided tour.

6. Morro Strand State Beach

Morro Strand State Beach
Morro Strand State Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Morro Strand State Beach is a long stretch of sand extending from Morro Rock to the community of Cayucos to the north. It's a popular spot to connect with the ocean with abundant space to spread out a towel.

Sand dunes and wetlands comprise some of the landscape of the park, spanning nearly five miles. This quiet beach is popular with beachcombers, bird-watchers, and anyone looking for a spot to enjoy the ocean. Surfing also tends to draw visitors.

A campground is available at Morro Strand State Beach, with 70 campsites for tents or RVs. The campsites are on the other side of the bluffs from the ocean, but close enough to the water to experience a saltwater mist. Guests at the campground reach the beach with less than a three-minute walk.

Campground at Morro Strand State Beach
Campground at Morro Strand State Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Tide pools appear near the north end of the campground during low tide, revealing a dynamic world of sea slugs, urchins, and anemones. And a great view of Morro Rock looms when heading south on the beach from the campground. Head south far enough to reach the base of Morro Rock and Morro Rock City Beach. Here, interpretive information details the volcanic plug's role as a vital nesting habitat.

Official site: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=593

7. Montaña de Oro State Park

Montaña de Oro State Park
Montaña de Oro State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This mountain of gold and scenic public space is just south of Morro Bay and Morro Bay State Park. The colorful wildflowers that bloom across the landscape in the spring lend the park its name, and the entire area encompasses over 8,000 acres of rugged coastal canyon and beach to explore.

The state park is popular for hikers, backpackers, and photography enthusiasts. The varied terrain is also frequented by mountain bikers, horse riders, and an abundance of wildlife. Campsites are also available in a primitive campground, with nearly 50 sites open to tents or RVs. The park also features walk-in and equestrian campsites.

For a quick visit, Spooner's Cove is one of the most popular beaches in the park thanks to its wide shoreline and intriguing rock formations. For the best views, head along the adjacent Bluff Trail south of Spooner's Cove, offering a wide viewing platform of the coast the entire way. And for a hearty hike that will take all afternoon, the 1,347-foot Valencia Peak is the tallest point in the park and is accessible via a steep hiking trail.

Address: 3550 Pecho Valley Road, Los Osos, California

Official site: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=592

8. Black Hill Trail

Black Hill Trail
Black Hill Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Takes some time away from the waterfront to hike Black Hill Trail when visiting Morro Bay. This popular route starts in Morro Bay State Park, near the group campground, and ascends to a 360-degree view, including Morro Rock and the entire bay.

The route up and down Black Hill Trail is approximately three miles and gains 600 feet of elevation. The uphill is very consistent all the way to the top, giving this hike a moderate rating. But with an easy-to-follow and well-worn path, it's easy to navigate. Hiking poles are recommended to save some strain on the knees.

The view at the top of Black Hill is unbeatable. It's only at the top where a sweeping vista includes the city, Morro Rock, Morro Bay, and the Cabrillo Highway in the other direction. If you're staying at the state park or somewhere nearby, consider bringing up a flashlight for the hike back down after catching the sunset.

9. El Moro Elfin Forest

El Moro Elfin Forest
El Moro Elfin Forest | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This unique forest is on the southeast shore of Morro Bay and features several stunted California Live Oaks. Despite decades of growth, these marvelous trees are rarely over 20 feet tall. It's the proximity to the ocean that stunts this 90-acre forest, and its low surroundings lend a great view of the bay and a unique sense of exploring a miniature world.

It's an approximately three-mile drive from the Morro Bay State Park Campground to the El Moro Elfin Forest. A nearly mile-long boardwalk trail navigates the entire area, enabling access for any and all interested visitors

Address: 103 Santa Lucia Avenue, Los Osos, California

Official site: http://elfin-forest.org/index.htm

10. Tidelands Park

View of Morro Rock from Tidelands Park
View of Morro Rock from Tidelands Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the south end of the Embarcadero, this nautically themed park is popular with families and for playdates. The entire two acres of this public park overlook the bay and are well manicured, with clean, cut grass and gardens.

The centerpiece attraction of the park, especially for children, is the pirate ship playground surrounded by other interactive sculptures, including an octopus and whale tail. Alongside the play amenities, the view of Morro Rock from Tidelands Park is only obstructed by scenic sailboats.

Official site: https://www.morro-bay.ca.us/382/Tidelands-Park

11. Morro Bay Maritime Museum

Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle outside Morro Bay Maritime Museum
Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle outside Morro Bay Maritime Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Across the Embarcadero from Anchor Memorial Park, the Morro Bay Maritime Museum immediately catches the eye with a Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle parked right out front. This DSRV is one of four retired sea vessels in the museum's fleet, alongside a San Francisco tugboat and a Coast Guard rescue boat. Along with a photo opportunity and inspection of these boats up close, the Maritime Museum provides ample information about the history of the vessels and how they ended up in Morro Bay.

Address: 1210 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, California

Official site: https://morrobaymaritime.org/

12. Estero Bluffs State Park

Estero Bluffs State  Park
Estero Bluffs State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Just north of the seaside village of Cayucos, less than 10 miles north of Morro Bay, the rugged coastal views of Estero Bluffs State Park are some of the best in California. Sea stacks punctuate the coast of Estero Bluffs, and keeping to its name, large bluffs overlook the dramatic ocean scene.

Hiking and photography are two of the most popular activities at this day-use park. It's easily accessible, with several pull-offs from the Pacific Coast Highway. The parklands and parking are open from 6am to sunset. Bring some binoculars or a camera, as wildlife sightings are almost guaranteed when visiting.

Address: Estero Bay, Cayucos, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=22263

13. Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle

Thirty miles up the coast and overlooking the city of San Simeon, Hearst Castle looks like it belongs in a foreign country. The National Park Service operates this unique attraction, which is equal parts stunning architecture, extensive library, and world-class art museum, all surrounded by acres of elaborate gardens and panoramic views.

The NPS offers a variety of tours that explore the decorative rooms and regal interiors of the castle. Special points of interest include two eye-catching swimming pools, the location of what used to be the world's largest private zoo, and a sprawling collection of gardens well maintained by the park service.

Near the bottom of the "Enchanted Hill," which the castle rests upon, the Hearst Castle Visitors Center is where most castle excursions begin. At the visitor center, the Hearst Castle Theater has a great introduction video covering the timeline of the castle's construction. The video introduction is free alongside any daytime tour admission.

Address: 100 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, California

Official site: http://hearstcastle.org

14. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

The Mission San Luis Obispo is a centerpiece attraction in the neighboring city of San Luis Obispo. It offers a fascinating visit and interesting insight into the city's early history, dating back to the late 1700s. Visitors from Morro Bay can reach this historic architecture with less than a 15-mile drive.

The mission today is a large facility overlooking San Luis Creek. Mass is held daily, and the public is welcome to view and appreciate the space throughout the rest of its operating hours. An on-site museum narrates the history behind the mission, including its founder, Father Junipero Serra.

The Mission San Luis Obispo offers an excellent first place to visit in San Luis Obispo. And the rest of historic downtown San Luis Obispo is only a short walk from the mission. Other attractions in the area include art museums and a celebrated Thursday Night Farmer's Market.

Read More: Top-Rated Attractions and Things to Do in San Luis Obispo

15. Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Pismo Beach is another charming seaside town in San Luis Obispo County. It's directly south of Morro Bay, on the other side of Buchon Point, and is accessible with a 25-mile drive on the 101. And while it's hard to say the beach scene and sunsets in Pismo are better than Morro Bay, they certainly offer their own charm and appeal.

Many visits to Pismo Beach center around Pismo City Beach and the Pismo Pier. A restaurant and nightlife district sits on the other side of the pier from the ocean, offering several seafood menus and places to gather. A promenade also extends in either direction from the pier, enabling all sorts of views during the sunset.

Other popular attractions and things to do in Pismo Beach include a Monarch Butterfly Grove and Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. Several seaside parks also enable incredible views of the rocky coastline near the Shell Beach neighborhood, including the popular Dinosaur Caves Park.

Where to Stay in Morro Bay, California for Sightseeing

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • On the Morro Bay Embarcadero, the Estero Inn offers one of the best stays in town. This coastal boutique hotel pampers guests with amazing views and spacious suites. Overnight accommodations include a collection of unique waterfront and bay-view suites with carefully curated decor. Some suites have private balconies and fireplaces. And the hotel's central location makes exploring the rest of Morro Bay easy to do.
  • One block from the water near the Embarcadero, The Landing at Morro Bay is a popular destination for family vacations. This recently remodeled hotel features standard and ocean-view rooms, all with comfortable coastal decor. Families enjoy evenings on the hotel's landscaped patio area with prominent views of the Bay. Other hotel amenities include complimentary Wi-Fi, free coffee in the lobby, and electric fireplaces in each room.
  • The retro-modern Beach Bungalow Inn and Suites is another popular choice located slightly inland. This cozy and quaint place to stay is tucked into a quiet neighborhood, ensuring a peaceful place to relax at the end of the day. The hotel has standard rooms and family suites available, with the ability to sleep up to four persons. When it comes time to explore, the hotel offers free cruiser bike rentals to head to the beach.
  • The recently remodeled 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites, on the south side of the Embarcadero, is a real gem of a hotel near the water. It offers 33 boutique guest rooms, including spacious suites, all adorned with luxurious furnishings and a California sense of style. Other amenities that make this pet-friendly hotel popular are the on-site covered parking spaces and tranquil guest hot tub available. Some rooms at 456 Embarcadero include fireplaces.

Budget Hotels:

  • The Harbor House Inn, less than two blocks from the waterfront, is one of Morro Bay's top budget hotels. While the excellent location lends to its popularity, as does the favorable overnight rates, it's the hotel's reputation for cleanliness and customer service that books the hotel out entirely during the summer. The hotel's modern guest rooms feature coffee makers, complimentary Wi-Fi, and flatscreen TVs.
  • For another affordable place to stay that doesn't sacrifice cleanliness or comfort, the Morro Bay Sandpiper Inn has an excellent location less than two blocks from the waterfront. It offers unique coastal rooms with defining aqua-marine decor and comfortable bedding. Single queen, double queen, and single king rooms are available. Alongside easy access to the waterfront, each overnight accommodation comes with cable TV, complimentary Wi-Fi, and a coffee maker. A select number of rooms are also pet-friendly.
  • The Fireside Inn provides a casual place to stay at a great rate. The hotel has a laid-back vibe and an excellent reputation for neat and clean rooms and a no-fuss stay. Overnight accommodations include standard king and queen rooms, as well as deluxe ocean-view suites with private balconies. Every room at the hotel comes with high-thread-count sheets, an extended cable package, and coffee makers. Other amenities include complimentary Wi-Fi and a spacious bathroom.
  • The Morro Crest Inn, five blocks from the Embarcadero, has one of the best rates in town. It's a small hotel with only 17 non-smoking rooms available and a comfortable home-away-from-home vibe. Quality insulation between the walls separates every room. And every overnight accommodation comes with cable TV, a coffee maker, and free Wi-Fi. Complimentary parking and blackout shades are also available.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

imageExploring San Luis Obispo County: The county to which Morro Bay belongs is world famous for historic beginnings, gorgeous views, and a "SLO" pace of living. The city of San Luis Obispo itself is home to numerous tourist attractions, and the neighboring Pismo Beach serves up a slice of small coastal town paradise. For first-class places to stay, as well as a great selection of budget-friendly options, our Where to Stay in San Luis Obispo: Best Areas & Hotels article can help you find the right hotel for your specific type of travel.

imageOther Coastal Communities to Visit: If the sea breeze and sea stacks of Morro Bay catch your attention, the city of Monterey to the south delivers on more seaside attractions. Within the same county, the mountains meet the sea in dramatic fashion in Big Sur, and for some of the most romantic seaside destinations on the West Coast, the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea can make you feel like reliving your honeymoon all over again.

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