Morro Bay: The Rock and Beyond

Why did we decide to hang out in Morro Bay, California for an entire month toward the end of our 143-day road trip? No particular reason other than wanting to spend a chunk of time near a beach. We didn’t know much about Morro Bay (population 10,635) but found an Airbnb that sounded good, so we booked it and hoped for the best.

From our rental house, it was an easy, five minute walk to Morro Strand State Beach, and from there, we could walk the uncrowded beach for miles in either direction. And we did, with every day producing a slightly different experience from the day before.

Some days we crossed paths with a good number of people, and other days the beach was almost deserted. Some days were good for surfing, and other days were better for fishing (note that we were spectators, not participants, of both sports). Some days we encountered hundreds of shore birds, and other days we saw only a few. There were interesting tide pools and sand dollars during low tide, and once we saw a group of dolphins frolicking just offshore. Pretty nice . . . except for the day a giant red snapper washed up on shore (dead) and attracted a group of about 20 hungry turkey vultures. No photos, because I had left my phone behind that day.

The most iconic landmark in Morro Bay is Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic relic that marks the entrance to the harbor. From town, it’s an easy walk or bike ride across the causeway to the imposing feature that stands 581 feet high. Quarrying activities between 1889 and 1969 removed approximately half of the rock’s original length. Today the rock is a protected California Historical Landmark and bird sanctuary for peregrine falcons, and it’s part of Morro Bay State Park. We made several visits to the rock during our time in Morro Bay.

Morro Bay State Park also includes a marina, 18-hole golf course(!), large estuary, natural history museum, and several hiking trails. We walked the short trail to the summit of Black Hill, which features near 360 degree views.

Being from land-locked Colorado, we didn’t know what an estuary was but soon learned that it’s an area where a freshwater stream meets the ocean. The 2,300-acre Morro Bay National Estuary is home to hundreds of types of plants and animals, including an impressive array of bird species. A boardwalk along one side of the estuary provides visitors with easy access for observing birds and other wildlife.

Our final stop at Morro Bay State Park was the small Museum of Natural History, where we were particularly interested in learning about the birds we had seen in large numbers during our walks on the beach.

Another Morro Bay visitor attraction – the Maritime Museum – opened the doors in its current location about a year ago after decades of planning and fund-raising. Staffed entirely by volunteers, the small museum’s hours of operation are a little unpredictable. We only needed about 30 minutes to tour the exhibits, which highlight historical events relevant to the state of California.

The photo below shows the tiny museum’s only building, which contains a few exhibits as well as (believe it or not) a small gift shop staffed by a friendly and knowledgeable volunteer.

The Avalon, shown in the photo below, is a deep submergence rescue vehicle (DSRV) designed to rescue the crew if a submarine becomes disabled on the ocean floor. Based at the Naval Air Station on Coronado Island, the 49-foot Avalon was launched in 1972 and deactivated in 2000.

The main claim to fame for the tugboat Alma, shown below, was her involvement in a World War II incident that occurred just a few miles north of Morro Bay. On December 23, 1941, a Japanese submarine torpedoed and sunk the Montbello oil tanker off the coast of Cambria. The crew evacuated to lifeboats, and the Alma successfully rescued and returned them to shore.

And finally, take a look at the yellow contraption below. The two person submersible was designed and constructed by a father-son team in nearby Arroyo Grande. Their goal was to create a vehicle that divers could exit while in deep water, then attach themselves to an air supply hose and hunt for abalone while the yellow thing rested on the ocean floor. A couple of fun facts – it was propelled by a 36 volt golf cart motor and had a top speed of .85 miles per hour. We got the impression that the concept worked better in theory than in practice.

Below is a photo of our Airbnb home away from home in Morro Bay – a nicely remodeled and ideally located 2-bed, 2-bath bungalow with a rooftop deck. It was comfortable and perfect for us, even with its quirky and temperamental water heater.

We loved our month in Morro Bay and hope to make a return trip someday! Here are a few additional photos from the California coastal town with the giant rock.

Categories: California
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