Morro Bay, located along the central coast of California, between Los Angeles and San Francisco, just north of San Luis Obispo, has become our new favorite beach town in California. Better than Huntington Beach, better than Ocean Beach, and definitely better than the LA beaches. Morro Bay, with it’s mild weather as we head into winter and the California sun strong as ever. The sounds of waves crashing can be hurd throughout town, as well as the smell of saltwater that accompanies it. You can throw a rock from the town’s main strip into the harbor it’s so close, or a short walk would get you to an incredible beach, below a staggering rock formation, where both surfers and dogs are having the best days ever. This town is frozen in time of the beach towns that never grew up, and it’s nearly perfect.
Through more recent history, Morro Bay has held various defining characteristics. A ranching & dairy producer in the late 1800s, which gave way to creating a port for export, then found itself home to a Naval base where soldiers trained to land water crafts that would be used at Normandy in WWII. Following that, the harbor town became a fishing village in the 40s, and is now a quant beach and surf town punctuated by the pinnacle, aptly named Morro Rock, that sticks out of the ocean 576ft and is actually a volcanic plug and was quarried heavily through the 20th century. But now, you wouldn’t know it’s historic past, because it’s small town of 10,000 residents is now home to tourism, beach shops, dog filed beaches, and incredible waves.
Passing through Morro Bay on our first trip in the van was sort of by chance. We randomly chose a town to stay in over the Thanksgiving Weekend in hopes to take a break from being in our van for the week and we got super lucky. Staying just outside of the downtown, at a Motel 6, we were 2 blocks from the beach. A beach that we’d spend most of our time at, mostly because it was dog friendly! Especially after spending the previous few days up in Cambria where nearly all of the beaches prohibited bringing dogs onto them. So every day, we’d head down and walk or run on the beach with Gregor and he had an epic time chasing rocks, running into the waves, or just laying down next to Courtney in the sun as I’d go surfing. At one point, we even saw a family on horseback cruising up and down the beach on Thanksgiving day.
In town, just a short walk or bike ride away, we got to check out a fantastic beach town filled with shops, restaurants, bars, and seafood stops. All of these shops are right on the sheltered harbor that was filled with bobbing sailboats at anchor. And though that’s most harbor towns, especially the ones we were familiar with up in New England, this harbor was filled with massive Sea Lions, laying out on boats or the rocks, barking away into the salty air. In addition to the sea lions, you can find harbor seals or even better, adorable little sea otters floating on their backs in the sheltered water of the harbor. Plus, if you’re lucky like I was, I got to see a pod of dolphins while I was out surfing, riding the waves, playing with their friends, and jumping out of the water. Needless to say, there is plenty of marine life that makes this town unique.
Having carried my surfboard on the roof of the van now, all the way from Utah, through Las Vegas, and finally to the coast, I was pumped to get out into the water. Figuring it would be cold, like the Pacific Ocean always seems to be 60F, I dawned my 3/2 wetsuit and pulled up my 5mm booties as well. The timing couldn’t have been better, because I was about to paddle out, past two sections of breaking waves, and into a head high swell. This was going to be the biggest waves I’ve surfed since before moving to Utah 6 years ago. So for three days, I got my ass handed to me trying to catch a wave that I was quite uncomfortable with how it built up and where the waves would break. And after getting thrashed a few too many times for my liking, I still managed to catch a few of the most memorable lefts of my life! Head-high waves with a heavy off-shore wind that allowed me to ride that wall of water, top to bottom, nearly 100 yards. It was pure joy and really tug at my endless chase of that feeling of flying. And that’s what keeps me coming back for more.
When we weren’t at the beach, we were in town or on the main strip of shops. The houses that climbed the hills that surrounded the bay had us day-dreaming about living here one day. Of course, the price tag and California taxes slams the door on those dreams pretty quick. So in the mean time, we would walk around to get coffee and breakfast at Groggy Scallywag or Sun-N-Buns Bakery. For dinner or beer we’d stop by Dutchman’s Seafood House for some Oysters and of course a few beers at Three Stacks and a Rock Brewing Company. But nothing compares to our in-room, microwaveable deluxe, Thanksgiving Dinner that was filled with all the fixings and prepared with our small Microwave in the motel room while watching Christmas movies.
Sure, did this describe a lot of the touristy beach towns in California, yes, but where this town differs is the small town vibe with loads to offer. Great, friendly people, tons of places to eat and drink, and amazing waves to surf. If we had more time, we’d go hiking up in the canyon and hills above town, go stand up paddle boarding in the harbor around the boats, and check out the other coffee shops further into town. Plus, I’d love to check out the full beach in Morro Bay State Park and go for bike rides up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. Well, all that, and plus go surfing way more below the massive rock that highlights the town. I hope we can get back there before next year, because it’s definitely our new favorite beach town in California.
Hi there, my name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.