Kayaking to a Desert & Other Amazing Things to do in Morro Bay, CA

I have a little secret. Morro Bay, CA was probably my favorite place on our recent trip to central California. And we packed a lot of awesomeness into a single week, so this is a pretty bold statement.

You are probably wondering where is Morro Bay California? It’s not one of the better known vacation destinations. Morro Bay is located along Hwy 1 on the central California coast in San Luis Obispo County. Here’s a fun interactive Morro Bay map.

I don’t know why this town stuck out in my mind so much, but as soon as we arrived, I knew 24 hours wasn’t going to be nearly long enough. Here’s some of the reasons I fell hard for this quiet fishing village.

Things to do in Morro Bay

Desert Kayaking in Morro Bay

The water in Morro Bay was calm, the winds that had kept us from riding bikes to Morro Rock the day before were gone. Thank goodness. When we checked our list of things to do in Morro Bay California, a kayak tour with Central Coast Outdoors was first and we were really looking forward to it, especially since a similar trip farther up the central coast of California through Elkhorn Slough had been cancelled earlier in the week due to weather.

As we paddled away from the dock, we saw two sea otters swimming to the left cautiously curious about our crafts. To the right, harbor seals sprawled on rocks absorbing the sun barely took notice of us.

We paddled our way into inlets, observing the many different birds. Our guide John knew them all by name, some common, others just passing through. Morro Bay is a stopping point for migratory birds attracting more than 200 species. It’s one of the top birding spots nationwide.

As we paddled along, John told us the history of the oyster farms, how they used to harvest the succulent delicacies by stringing shells together. Today it’s a 9-5 job; the people and machines that do the modern day work take the weekends off.

The highlight of the trip was a stop at the Morro Bay sand dunes, the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to a desert. In fact, it’s so like a desert that army troops have used it for beach and desert training since before WWII. We even found shell casings from those maneuvers.

As we traipsed over the dunes toward the sound of the ocean, we came upon an ancient Chamash Indian shell midden, but the sea beaconed, so we kept walking. As the waves rushed to shore, we spotted more smooth rocks than shells, and may or may not have pocketed one as a souvenir.

Morro Bay Sand Dunes

It was like walking in the desert at the sand dunes!

More Morro Bay Things to do

Kayaking was one of our favorite things to do in Morro Bay, CA. However, our Central Coast Outdoor guide John recommended these additional things to do in Morro Bay (some are things to do near Morro Bay). With only 24 hours in town, we didn’t have time to experience too much, but I’m definitely on board for a return trip.

Fishing Tours. Try Virg’s Landing in Morro Bay for sport fishing and Patriot Sportfishing in Avila Beach.

Surfing. We LOVED surfing in Santa Cruz. Closer to Morro Bay, Good Clean Fun in Cayucos has surfboard rentals as well as lessons.

Wine Tasting. California is synonymous with wine. Paso Robles is just outside Morro Bay and has over 200 wineries! You might also want to check out the SLO Vintners Association for wineries in Avila Beach and Edna Valley.

Farmers Markets. Want stuff to do in Morro Bay for a foodie? Taste the local flavor Thursdays in Downtown San Luis Obispo, Thursday and Saturday in Morro Bay and Monday in Los Osos/Baywood Park.

Morro Bay with Kids. For the best things to do in Morro Bay with kids, John recommends SLO Children’s Museum in San Luis Obispo, Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, Central Coast Aquarium in Avila Beach, Mustang Water Slides in Arroyo Grande and Ravine Waterpark in Paso Robles.

Horseback Riding. John recommends, The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, Outback Trail Rides in Morrow Bay and Pacific Dune Stables in Oceano. I can’t speak for the others, but The Madonna Inn is an attraction in itself. There are Youtube videos devoted just to the bathroom! And it gets better from there.

Spas. Just being in Morro Bay made my pulse slow a bit, but if you need even more relaxation, John recommends the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in Avila Beach or the River Oaks Hot Springs and Spa in Paso Robles. The Sycamore had me at Oasis Waterfall Lagoon, a scenic hillside hot tub.

Oysters. On our kayak trip we saw where oysters are harvested. Get your own fresh oysters at the family owned Morro Bay , or Grassy Bar Oyster Company.

Elephant Seals. Slightly north of Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo is Piedras Blancas and the Elephant Seal Rookery. This is a must do and it’s totally FREE! Bring a camera, you’ll want a photo of these so-ugly-they-are-cute creatures that reminded my son of Watto from Star Wars The Phantom Menace. Although you are likely to see the seals anytime of year, they are most abundant January through May.

Hearst Castle. Just a few miles from the elephant seals is Hearst Castle where you can see how the other half lived. The architecture reminds me of the Cloister at Sea Island, but the details make even the luxurious Sea Island look like a Holiday Inn.   The artwork in one room of the Castle is worth more than the entire California State Park budget!!

Whale Watching. We did this in Monterey, but this is one of the more popular things to do in Morro Bay too. In summer you are likely to see humpbacks, in late winter/early spring gray whales are more likely. John recommends SubSea Tours or Virg’s Landing in MorroBay, and Central Coast Sailing Charters in Avila Beach.

Morro Bay Rock

View of Morro Bay Rock from our boutique hotel the Estero Inn

Even MORE Things to do in Morro Bay

Our friends from Morro Bay and SLO California put together such an awesome itinerary for us during our stay, but we couldn’t get to everything. Here are a few of the spots we saved for our next trip.

Shopping along the Embarcadero. We arrived too late to really shop, but my son and I did pop into Junque Love, a boutique with an eclectic mix of vintage and repurposed goods. The Shell Shop is a family-owned business that is just what you love about a beach town, and although we didn’t visit Crills Saltwater Taffy, we did sample their delicious wares at our hotel.

Morro Bay Skateboard Museum. A fun freebie, see the history of skateboarding plus more than 200 skateboards from all eras!

Morro Bay National Estuary Center. If you blink, you might miss this free attraction located on the Embarcadero up a flight of stairs. The Morro Bay National Estuary Center has several exhibits and a spectacular view of the bay and Morro Rock.

Museum of Natural History in Morro Bay State Park. We saw this from the kayaks. On the deck facing the bay is the skeleton of a whale. Inside is information on Morro Bay history, Native American life, geology, and oceanography exhibits. Consult the website for information on nature walks, lectures, puppet shows and docent led tours. There is also a Chumash garden where you can learn how the Chumash Indians used native plants in their daily lives. Best of all, this attraction is just $3 for adults over 17 and FREE for kids.

Heron Rookery. Next to the Museum of Natural History is the Heron Rookery where Great Blue Herons and Great and Snowy Egrets roost all year long. Bring binoculars for the best views.

Giant Chessboard. While you wait for dinner at the iconic Dorn’s Original Breakers Café, play a game of chess on the giant chessboard. It’s free!

We loved our stay in Morro Bay and all along the Central California Coast. Be sure to learn more about our trip in this post.

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Things to do in Morro Bay, CA

Sue Rodman | Managing Editor & Business Development

Sue Rodman is a mother of three boys, a PR professional, writer, and ice cream lover. For eight years, Sue published an award winning family travel blog called Field Trips with Sue, and produced a TV segment with the same name on CBS Better Mornings Atlanta. In Sept. 2016 Field Trips with Sue merged with 365 Atlanta Family. In addition to writing blog posts and managing the advertising and public relations for 365 Atlanta Family, Sue does freelance public relations and her writing has appeared online at TravelingMom, Trekaroo, Minitime Family and other family travel sites. She has contributed to print publications such as Family Fun, Simply Buckhead, BuckHaven and Publix Magazine. In addition, Sue has appeared on local and national news talking about family travel. Sue believes anytime is a good time for dessert and there are no bad field trips, just better stories.

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