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

Written by Brad Lane
Jul 5, 2019

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A charming coastal city in central California, Morro Bay is 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, which is seen for miles before coming into town and is home to nesting peregrine falcons and many other species of birds. Morro Bay's natural charm extends from Morro Rock, with miles of beach and a designated National Estuary teeming with wildlife.

Along Morro Bay's main waterfront drag, the Embarcadero, you can find plenty of things to do, with restaurants, shops, and cultural attractions like the Estuary Nature Center. Integrated into the southern part of the city and accessible via a short drive or bike ride, Morro Bay State Park features a shaded campground and great hiking trails, like the Black Hill Loop, which provides a bird's-eye view of Morro Bay. The Museum of Natural History is also within the state park, with a heron and cormorant rookery nearby.

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. With so many ways to indulge in the coastal landscape, however, Morro Bay offers unique attractions throughout the year. Don't forget to pack the binoculars–it's recognized by the Audubon Society 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.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Morro Rock

Morro Rock
Morro Rock | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The centerpiece natural attraction of the city, Morro Rock stands approximately 576 feet tall at the mouth of Morro Bay. Seen from miles away, this ancient volcanic remainder is the largest in a chain of nine peaks known as the Nine Sisters. Once a prominent landmark for mariners out at sea, Morro Rock today still seems to be an appealing reference point for tourists passing through.

Morro Rock is now a California Registered Landmark, and visitors can drive directly to its base and access the adjacent Morro Strand Beach, with rough ocean waves and stunning views of the natural features. Among the many great photographic opportunities of Morro Rock, the harborside Anchor Memorial Park provides a great perspective within a manicured setting. The rock itself is home to nesting peregrine falcons and is a designated bird sanctuary.

2. Morro Bay State Park

Morro Bay State Park
Morro Bay State Park

Morro Bay State Park offer a variety of things to do outdoors. Popular activities here include hiking, bird-watching, mountain biking, and renting a canoe or kayak to paddle on the water. The marina and hiking trails of Morro Bay State Park are easily accessible from the city with a short bike ride or drive. 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, providing over 130 sites accommodating both tents and recreational vehicles. Coin-operated showers and flushing toilets are throughout the campground. A popular hike leads directly from the upper section of the campground, and interested trekkers looking to get to the top of Black Hill can expect great ocean views and a stunning sunset opportunity.

The state park's Museum of Natural History can also be easily accessed 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 makes for excellent bird-watching.

Address: 60 State Park Road, Morro Bay, California

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

3. Morro Bay National Estuary

Morro Bay National Estuary
Morro Bay National Estuary

Encompassing 2,300 acres where freshwater meets the sea, the Morro Bay National Estuary is a federally protected wildlife haven. Tourists and interested residents can explore and learn about this diverse habitat in several ways, including exploring the bayfront trails that line the entire habitat.

Kayak tours of the estuary are available through the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, which also encourages people to visit the Estuary Nature Center within Marina Square for detailed information about the dynamic landscape.

Address: 601 Embarcadero # 11, Morro Bay, California

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

4. The Embarcadero

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

Morro Bay's main thoroughfare along the bay, the Embarcadero is lined with numerous restaurants and shopping opportunities 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 can be found 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.

5. Morro Strand State Beach

Morro Strand State Beach
Morro Strand State Beach

A long stretch of beach extending from Morro Rock to the community of Cayucos to the north, Morro Strand State Beach is a popular way to connect with the ocean. Sand dunes and wetlands comprise some of the landscape of the park, and numerous picnic tables and rest spots line the sandy beach. The quiet beach is popular with beachcombers, bird-watchers, and anyone looking for a quiet spot to enjoy the ocean, and surfing also tends to draw visitors.

A campground is available at Morro Strand State Beach, with 70 campsites for tents or RVs. Tide pools appear near the north end of the campground during low tide, revealing a dynamic world of sea slugs, urchins, and anemones. A great view of Morro Rock can be found on the southern end of the beach, where interpretive information details the volcanic plug's role as a vital nesting habitat.

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

6. Morro Bay Skateboard Museum

Morro Bay Skateboard Museum
Morro Bay Skateboard Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Preserving the history and proliferation of skateboarding culture in the region and throughout the world, this unique museum near Centennial Plaza has hundreds of skateboards on display. Open seven days of the week, the selection of skateboards hanging on the wall date back to the 1930s and show the progression of the equipment to current times. With accessories for sale and friendly curators, this family-friendly stop offers a fun glimpse into a culture seen throughout California.

Address: 783 Market Avenue, Morro Bay, California

Official site: http://www.mbskate.com

7. El Moro Elfin Forest

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

On the southeast shore of Morro Bay, and a three-mile drive from the Morro Bay State Park Campground, this unique forest features stunted California Live Oaks, which despite decades of growth are rarely over 20 feet tall in this preserve. It's the proximity to the ocean that stunts this 90-acre forest, and the low surroundings lend to great views of the bay and a unique sense of exploring a miniature world. A nearly mile-long boardwalk trail navigates the Elfin Forest, enabling access for any and all interested visitors.

Address: 103 Santa Lucia Avenue, Los Osos, California

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

8. Montaña de Oro State Park

Spooner's Cove, Montaña de Oro State Park
Spooner's Cove, Montaña de Oro State Park

This mountain of gold and scenic public space is just south of Morro Bay and Morro Bay State Park. Named after the colorful wildflowers that bloom across the landscape in the spring, Montaña de Oro provides a rugged coastal canyon and beach to explore. Popular for hikers, backpackers, and photography enthusiasts, the outstanding 8,000 acres of this state park is also frequented by mountain bikers, horse riders, and an abundance of wildlife.

A primitive campground at Montaña de Oro offers nearly 50 sites open to tents or RVs, and 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 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

9. 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/

10. 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. This unique attraction operated by the National Park Service is equal parts stunning architecture, extensive library, and world-class art museum, all surrounded by acres of elaborate gardens and panoramic views. It's truly a treat to visit, and the National Park Service offers a variety of tours that explore the decorative rooms and regal interiors of the castle.

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, which is free alongside any daytime tour admission. Special points of interest at the castle 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.

Address: 100 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, California

Official site: http://hearstcastle.org

11. 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

12. Estero Bluffs State Park

Estero Bluffs State Park
Estero Bluffs State Park

Near 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, open from 6am to sunset, and wildlife sightings are almost a guarantee when visiting.

Address: Estero Bay, Cayucos, California

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

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.

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