Morro Bay (California)
Sitting on the dock of the bay
The grey craggy dome of Morro rock protrudes from the blue water of the bay welcoming you to this retirement and tourist destination. The smell of salt, kelp, and tide flat baking in the sun drifts on the breeze, and sea lions bark from a dock in the bay. This 175 m (576 ft) high volcanic rock is the most northerly of the nine sisters, the pyramid shaped volcanic plugs that formed some 20 million years ago. As you drive north on Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo approaching Morro Bay, the nine sisters guard the seaward side of the road.
The town of Morro Bay was founded by Franklin Riley in 1870 to export products from the ranchos, and was established when Mexico controlled the coast. Riley built the Embarcadero, a wharf for sailing schooners to load the wool, potatoes, barley, and dairy products. Morro Bay is the only allweather, small craft, commercial, and recreational harbour between Santa Barbara and Monterey. This small town has 10,000 permanent residents, but that can more than double in summer with the arrival of tourists and interior residents escaping the heat.
The bay and the Embarcadero are lined with shops and restaurants, and it is the center of tourism. You can purchase t-shirts, sea otter and sea lion stuffed animals, and all sorts of souvenirs. Stop, sit back, and enjoy a seafood dinner in one of the dozen restaurants overlooking the bay, where the charter fishing, sightseeing boats, and multi coloured kayaks for hire line the docks.
The first Spanish Galleons arrived at Morro Bay in 1587 and it was not until 1769 that the first Spanish land expedition arrived and with them the development of agriculture inland from Morro bay. The Word Morro is common to both Portuguese and Italian, and means a rocky area with rounded rocks, thus Morro Bay was named.
Chumash Indians were the original inhabitants of the Morro Bay area, with an estimated population of 30,000 some 13,000 years ago. The harvest of clams, abalone, and fish provided them a good living. The advanced design of their boats allowed them to harvest large fish, such as swordfish, and trade along the coast. They built sewn plank vessels that are found only on this part of the coast. The vessels are identical to the vessels of the Polynesians and it is believed by experts that they had contact with travellers from those far off islands.
There are beaches, parks and hiking
trails to explore and dozens of events all year around, including car shows, art exhibits, and nature trips. Plan your visit around a favourite activity by reviewing the events on www.morrobay.org. Morro Rock was designated an historic site in 1968, and is a peregrine falcon refuge that draws birders from all over
the world. Nature lovers come to see the wildlife that frequents the bay. Sea lions, sea otters, and pelicans are three of the most common residents. The sea otters feed and play in the kelp beds along the shore by Morro Rock. They forage for sea urchins, small crabs, and shellfish, within 3 m (20 ft) of the parking lot.
They are easily approached for some close-up photo opportunities. Sea otters are cute critters and it is fascinating to watch their antics as they groom their coats and interact. Grooming keeps air in their thick coats, keeping them warm, and making them float like animated corks. Sea otters prey on urchin populations, which will grow out of control and damage the kelp they feed on. Without sea otters, urchins can destroy kelp beds, which in turn hurts the fish and other animals that shelter in the kelp beds. You will see the otters wrap kelp around their bodies to anchor them in place so they can sleep without drifting away.
Enjoy an early morning walk on the Embarcadero - the beauty of the bay is stunning as the fog starts to lift and the sun hits Morro Rock. Fishermen cast their lines from a narrow dock extending from pilings out into the harbour while the seagulls sit nearby hoping to steal bait from their bait buckets. Under the dock on the rocks in the sun, two sea lions almost within touching distance are snoring away, undisturbed by the fishermen, or the walkers and joggers out for morning exercise. The harbour comes to life as the fog lifts and the small commercial fishing fleet prepares to head out beyond the breakwater into the open ocean to fish for sole, rockfish, halibut, and albacore.
Morro Bay is a quiet town where you can get close to wildlife, deeply inhale the sea air, capture photos of Morro Rock at sunrise, and the sunset over the ocean.
The lyrics of Otis Redding seem fitting when I think of our visit to Morro Bay “sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away.”
Morro Bay State park takes RV’s up to 35 feet and you can make reservations up to 7 months in advance on the website. Reserve early as this is a very popular stop. www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=594
The fishing dock at Morrow Bay and the fog lifting over Morro Rock.
The Drive north from Morro Bay- Monteray Pennisula in the distance.
All wrapped up- Sea otters anchor to the kelp so they don't drift away while sleeping.
Sea gull hoping to steal some bait from fisherman on the dock.
Embarcadero moorage for the charter and fishing boats.
Sea lion sleep under the dock on the breakwater.
Fishing boats on the Embarcadero.
Pelicans preening and fishing on the tide flats of Morro Bay.