May 27, 2016

Fun Ways to Explore Morro Bay on Memorial Day


Whether you’re a Central Coast local who’s staying home this holiday weekend, or a visitor coming from the valley or further out of town, Morro Bay offers a host of fun outdoor activities. Here are some of our favorite ways to explore the bay and surrounding watershed.

Go birding

Bring your scope or binoculars and visit one of the area’s numerous birding spots. The Elfin Forest in Los Osos offers the chance to see species that thrive in the Coastal Dune Scrub and a variety of other local habitat types. You can also head down to the estuary overlook to catch a glimpse of species that stay in the salt marsh and channels of the estuary.

View from the Elfin Forest's boardwalk path near sunset.
View from the Elfin Forest’s boardwalk path near sunset. The edges of the salt marsh are visible on the far left side of the photograph.

Windy Cove, near the Morro Bay Museum of Natural History and the Marina Peninsula Trail, a smooth boardwalk path that loops off of Morro Bay State Park Marina, are both good spots for watching shore birds.

Go for a hike

You can take family-friendly hikes from some of the birding spots mentioned above, but what about more strenuous options?

A beautiful view of the estuary channels taken from one of the many hiking trails above South Bay Boulevard in the upper reaches of Morro Bay State Park.
A beautiful view of the estuary channels taken from one of the many hiking trails above South Bay Boulevard in the upper reaches of Morro Bay State Park.

If you enjoy a steeper climb and want a want a birds-eye view at the end of your trek (and on the way up), try the following hikes.

Cerro Cabrillo and Tiki Rock

This hike begins at the Quarry Trail and winds up and into the hills, bringing you to the highest point in Morro Bay State Park, giving you a panoramic view of the estuary, the watershed, and beyond.

Turtle Rock

The hike up 200-foot Turtle Rock also begins on the Quarry Trail, and ends between Cerro Cabrillo and Black Hill, offering a great view of the Morros and the estuary.

Valencia Peak

This challenging hike is located south of the Morro Bay watershed in Montaña de Oro State Park, but it gives you a gorgeous view of the Morro Bay estuary and Estero Bay beyond. If possible, time your hike so that the marine layer burns off before you reach the summit. (Remember to bring a hat and plenty of sunscreen!) That way, you’ll see the estuary and Morro Rock shrouded in mist as you hike up, and you’ll watch them shine in the sun as you make your way down.

The view of Morro Bay from Valencia Peak.
The view of Morro Bay from Valencia Peak.

Try Geocaching

Do you like treasure hunts? How about technology? Geocaching is an outdoor game that combines the two. It’s a great activity for families. There are many caches in Morro Bay that allow you to see the sites around the estuary in a fun new way, while testing out your sleuthing and GPS skills. (If you don’t have a handheld GPS device, you can use Google Maps on your smart phone for most of the caches in the Morro Bay area.)

A geocache find.
A geocache find. Photograph by fhwrdh, “Facty Geocache Two.”


Go paddling

There is nothing quite like being out on Morro Bay in the morning when the water looks like glass.

On a calm morning, the bays surface looks almost as smooth as glass.


In the afternoon, if the winds start blowing, it can look like a whole different bay.

The waves kick up in the afternoon on the bay.
A windy afternoon out on the water.

We recommend watching the weather, tides, and other water conditions—you can ask about them at any local rental shop. If conditions are right, launch your kayak or paddle board and enjoy the water. Don’t forget to ask the shop owner for advice about the best spots to visit, as well as tips for wildlife viewing.

John and Virginia Flaherty offer guided kayak tours. Watch the video to see what they love about the bay. 

Because going out on the water puts you squarely in the territory of marine mammals, sea birds, and shore birds, it’s important to remember to show them respect by keeping your distance. This helps keep the animals safe, and ensures that you are seeing them in their natural state (rather than an agitated one). Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Stay at least 100 yards (or five to ten kayak lengths—depending on the length of your boat) away from seals, sea lions, otters, and birds.
  2. If you need to pass an animal, paddle past it on a parallel path, rather than moving directly toward it.
  3. If an animal raises its head or looks at you, you’ve gotten too close for its comfort. Moving back will help you both enjoy your day on the bay.

With these guidelines in mind, you’ll help protect Morro Bay’s amazing wildlife while making the most out of your time on the water.


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