Dive in to Morro Bay
Waterfront adventures abound in this SLO County gem
By Donna Wolfe
If you’re looking for the quintessential California beach town, look no further than Morro Bay. Located along coastal Highway 1 in San Luis Obispo County, it embraces its role as a tourist destination while celebrating its past and maintaining a home-town feel.
Whether you’re a local or a visitor, there’s plenty to do in Morro Bay — golfing ocean-side, kayaking, sailing, hiking, bird watching, shopping, dining, wine and beer tasting — plus miles of beautiful, pristine beaches that offer picture-perfect vistas.
Morro Rock, visible from Highway 1, is the city’s unmistakable landmark. The rock is actually the plug of an underground volcano, the result of pressurized lava flow reaching the surface. It is part of a coastal chain of volcanic peaks known as the Nine Sisters of San Luis Obispo County. The Salinan and Chumash Native American tribes have lived near Morro Rock for thousands of years.
More recently, the city of Morro Bay has largely been shaped by the U.S. Navy, which built a base there during WWII; the bay’s size allowed it to be accessed by big ships. Thus, two distinct areas of the town were formed: the waterfront, and
the historic downtown.
The Embarcadero is a bustling hub right on the waterfront. It’s a pleasant place to take in the sights and get some exercise — walk down the Embarcadero from the boat launch to the boardwalk, and out to Morro Rock and back. Along the same stretch are inns and motels, places to enjoy local seafood, outfitters for boating on the bay, cruise boats, museums, fishing charters, art galleries, and overlooks for viewing the birds and wildlife.
Nosh on the bay
There are wonderful choices of food in Morro Bay and among them is Windows on the Water. The restaurant’s architecture was designed to capture an unbeatable view of the bay and Morro Rock, famous for showing spectacular colors at sunset. Its picturesque location, coupled with exquisitely prepared dishes, make for a unique and elegant dining experience. Make sure you get a seat at the bar so you can watch the chefs preparing your meal in their open kitchen.
With the Central Coast’s rich farming and fishing heritage, Windows on the Water has a great backyard when it comes to ultra-fresh foods. The kitchen serves free-range and grass-fed meats (including from nearby Hearst Ranch), while the seafood is wild-caught or farmed according to sustainable practices. Windows on the Water is situated in the heart of the Embarcadero, just a short walk from many of the local hotels.
Windows on the Water
699 Embarcadero (second level, upstairs), Morro Bay
For reservations and more: (805) 772-0677 or
Among the Embarcadero’s other highlights is the Morro Bay Oyster Company. Owner Neal Maloney started oyster
farming in Morro Bay in 2004, when he was hired to oversee the local production for northern California’s Tomales Bay Oyster Company. He took over the farm in 2009 and started the Morro Bay Oyster Company. Neal has increased the production of oysters each year, and now produces nearly a million oysters annually!
Harvested by hand, the Pacific Gold Oysters spend 6 to 8 months in a closely monitored nursery to prepare them for the harsher waters of the bay. Once of age, the oysters are then transferred to the bay in large mesh bags to allow plankton to freely swim through the farm. After 12 to 18 months, the oysters are harvested and allocated to some of the best seafood restaurants in Morro Bay as well as local farmers’ markets. Come see this remarkable place where you can taste the best oysters right from Maloney’s farm!
Morro Bay Oyster Company
1287 Embarcadero, Morro Bay
For reservations and more: (805) 234-7102 or
Another not-to-be-missed eatery is Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant, located right next to the water about as close to Morro Rock as you can get. Many of the window tables overlook the T-pier, with Morro Rock in the background. If your timing is right, you may see fish being brought ashore on the adjacent dock, which is used to offload catches.
As a Morro Bay lifer and a fisherman for more than 40 years, Dockside owner Mark Tognazzini has a deep knowledge of the area’s fishery. He is a proud supporter of the Morro Bay commercial fishing fleet; whenever possible, Dockside’s daily specials feature locally caught seafood.
Wanting to offer a casual outdoor dining experience, more options for take-out, and fresh seafood for home use, the Tognazzini family opened Dockside Too Fish Market and Patio Dining in April 2006. Located directly behind Dockside Restaurant, adjacent to the T-pier, Dockside Too’s dining is all outdoors. Although their seafood items are wildly popular, you will also find a wide variety of other menu items for dining on-site or take-out. Simply place your order at the counter and listen for your name to be called. It’s a casual and fun place to have the best food from the coast of Morro Bay!
Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant
1245 Embarcadero, Morro Bay
For reservations and more: (805) 772-8100 (Dockside),
(805) 772-8120 (Dockside Too), or
Paddle and pedal
If you love water, you will love Morro Bay Paddlesports. Mary and Jim Robinson opened their business July 4, 2015. “It was nuts that day, and we did great,” says Mary.
With a background as a competitive stand up paddleboard surfer and a degree in Ecology from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Mary combines her love of watersports with her passion for sharing her knowledge of local marine life. Paddleboarding is one of the most popular classes on offer at Morro Bay Paddlesports. You can paddleboard right up to the otters or get a glimpse of the harbor seals. They also teach surfing, kayaking, and give nature tours. Already know the ropes? Great! Morro Bay Paddlesports also offers rentals and sales.
“I love the expressions of my customers’ faces when they see what they can do on the water,” says Mary. “Seeing people overjoyed with succeeding can be empowering and healing.”
Morro Bay Paddlesports is open every day, but reservations
Morro Bay Paddlesports
551 Embarcadero, Morro Bay
For reservations and more: (805) 225-1497 or
If you’d rather pedal than paddle, check out Cal Coast Adventures. Discover the Embarcadero and trails across Morro Bay on a guided electric bike tour. Owner Nathan Weber gives private and group tours and knows all the great bike paths to see the city, the State Park, the downtown, and the Sea Otter sanctuary.
Cal Coast Adventures also rents a variety of different bikes by the hour for those who would prefer to explore on their own.
Feeling beachy? Cal Coast can help there too, with private or group surf lessons. As with bike tours or rentals, surf lessons come with everything you need to get out and adventure.
“You will only find me indoors when I need to sleep, and the outdoors when it’s time to be explored,” says Nathan.
Cal Coast Adventures
575 Embarcadero, Morro Bay
For reservations and more: (805) 242-2029 or calcoastadventures.com/centralcoast
Those who want to take the outdoor adventures to another level should visit Morro Bay in October or November for the Morro Bay Triathlon. The 10th annual event might not be going on as usual, but it is indeed returning to the Central Coast this fall. “We wanted a way for the athletes to race and not miss the triathlon, so we decided to do a solo triathlon,” says Kristin Horowitz, who runs the triathlon with her husband, Yishai. Participants can elect to do a new format called “the solo triathlon.” Using an app, participants will do all three legs
of the race, on the actual course, between October 14 and November 14.
Triathlons are historically three disciplines — run, bike, and swim. Participants will swim (or paddle, if they prefer) in Morro Bay’s protected harbor, bike Highway 1, and run beach and boardwalk to a finish at Morro Rock. Participants will send in their completed leg data, and the Morro Bay Triathlon will ship out shirts, medals, and bibs to commemorate their efforts. They’ll also offer a virtual version that can be completed at home, but the idea is to support Morro Bay’s safe hospitality industry as much as possible through the pandemic.
If you’re looking for your next great endurance adventure, give the Morro Bay Triathlon a try!
For more and to register, call (805) 720-1245 or visit morrobaytri.com
Nurture in nature
Designated as a Globally Important Bird Area, Morro Bay is a hot spot for birders. Its bay and marshes are ideal habitats for both land and water birds, and in the winter, migrating flocks make it one of the rare spots where it’s possible to see dozens (or even hundreds!) of bird species in one place. It’s no wonder, then, that Morro Bay is the site of the annual Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival and Self-Guided Tours. Though the festival has been canceled this year, organizers are still offering plenty of resources for birders of all skill levels. Their Self-Guided Nature Adventures site (morrobaybirdfestival.org/self-guided-nature-adventures) has all the places to bird watch at your own pace — from wetland to woodland, bluff to butterfly grove. Visitors can also check out their Facebook page (facebook.com/MBWBF) for continually updated information about the bird life in Morro Bay. Another good resource: the Morro Coast Audubon Society (morrocoastaudubon.org).
Art by the Rock
Feeling artistic? Morro Bay’s got you covered with spots like
By the Bay Gallery, David J. Rogers Gallery, and Art Center Morro Bay.
By the Bay Gallery is a treasure trove of the unique and exquisite. Located on the Embarcadero, By the Bay Gallery features one-of-a-kind art pieces, jewelry, blown glass, and woodwork by a variety of artists — many of whom have been with them since the beginning.
“Local handcrafted artists have always interested me. When I was younger, I would save all my money to buy handcrafted work by wonderful artists,” says Karen Rohach, whose family opened the gallery in 1988. It is family owned and operated by Ray and Becky Knox and their daughters, Karen and Kathy. Ray is an exceptional woodcarver who also sells his work at the gallery.
Every carefully-selected piece at the shop embodies the unique spirit and character of the artist who created it.
By the Bay Gallery
895 Embarcadero, Morro Bay
For more: (805) 772-5563 or
In the heart of downtown, you will find beautiful watercolor scenes of Morro Bay and the Central Coast at the David J. Rogers Gallery.
Though David and Peggy Rogers opened their gallery a little over two years ago, David has been a professional artist for more than 25 years. He’s sold millions of dollars of his artwork over the years, was selected by topten.com as one of the top 10 watercolor artists in the
world in 2018.
As David states on his website, “I’m drawn to peaceful and serene places, and I believe that comes through in my paintings and has ultimately become the signature of my work. Since I live in the center of California, I’m within a couple of hours of the most breathtaking scenery imaginable.”
This fall 2020, David is expanding his gallery by offering art classes. He conducts step-by-step courses that give each learner confidence during the process. Workshops are taught in the gallery, online, and on location. Signups are available on the gallery website.
David J. Rogers Gallery
407 Morro Bay Blvd, Morro Bay
For more: (805) 225-5077 or
To view many artists from the Central Coast, visit Art Center Morro Bay, where you can enjoy one of the largest California Central Coast venues for exhibiting original fine art by local artists, plus classes and special events.
The Art Center Morro Bay is one of the largest contemporary galleries located on the Central Coast of California. The Art Center has two galleries that feature several exhibits throughout the year. Art events are typically wide-ranging year-round, as are online art workshops and craft classes. They are preparing for some in-person classes with mask wearing and safe social distancing this fall.
Looking forward to 2021, Art Center Morro Bay will again host the Morro Bay Art in the Park three times per year. They’re also planning another great outdoor event, The Morro Bay Plein Air Festival, in September 2021.
“As a board member, then president of MBAA since 2016, there’s been no greater joy than to watch the growth and aspirations of artists unfold,” says Patricia Newton, president of the Morro Bay Art Association (MBAA). “It’s a privilege to provide internships and scholarships so students may continue their art education. Even during a pandemic, the Art Center and its mission continues to be a valuable asset to the entire community.”
Morro Bay Art Center
835 Main St, Morro Bay
For more: (805) 772-2504 or
Sip by the sea
California’s Central Coast is a dream destination for wine lovers, with more than a dozen American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs, producing some of California’s most popular wines.
One of those wineries is Absolution Cellars. Owner Dirk Neumann is the winemaker, and planted his tasting room on the Embarcadero. “This charming city is the perfect place to drink red and white wine all year round!” says Dirk.
Absolution Cellars specializes in handcrafted small-batch, single vineyard wines from carefully chosen vineyards in San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Santa Barbara counties. As Absolution says, “The wines are a unique portrait of place and time — an honest expression of where and when the grapes were grown.”
Dirk’s labels are as vibrant as what’s inside the bottle, featuring the bright and colorful artwork of Aja Trier. Among Absolution’s specialties is its Taste of the California Central Coast 4-Pack. It includes an albariño from the San Antonio Valley, a pinot noir from Edna Valley, a malbec from Paso Robles, and a Hermitage-clone syrah from Chalone, the oldest producing vineyard in Monterey County.
Most days you will find Dirk pouring his wines and chatting about the grapes and his process of making wine. Dirk’s wine lounge is open every day by appointment.
845 Embarcadero #H, Morro Bay
For reservations and more:
(805) 215-5183 or absolutioncell.wpengine.com
Stay right on the bay
There are many hotels and inns for all visitors to choose from when visiting Morro Bay. One of the special places to rest and take in the view is at the Anderson Inn. It is a family-owned boutique hotel, right on the water. It’s so close to the sea that the friendly innkeepers have earplugs for guests when the sea lions start making a racket out on the harbor! This hotel pays close attention to their guests and they offer parking right on the Embarcadero.
You can step onto your private deck overlooking the sailboats in the harbor. Breathe in the fresh ocean air and watch the gorgeous colors of the sunset from your room.
The Anderson Inn
897 Embarcadero, Morro Bay
For reservations and more: (805) 772-3434,
toll free (866) 950-3434 or
As we always like to say, this is just a taste of what Morro Bay has to offer! Learn more at morrobay.org.