Morro Bay Known For Wildlife, Scenic Vis­tas

The Oakdale Leader - - NEIGHBORHOOD VALUES - By CARY ORDWAY Cal­i­for­ni­aWeek­

When Al­fred Hitch­cock chose Bodega Bay for film­ing his fa­mous movie “the Birds,” some­body should have told him he could save money on spe­cial ef­fects by film­ing in a lit­tle town called Morro Bay, Cal­i­for­nia – home to more seag­ulls than just about any place we can re­mem­ber.

Ap­par­ently the word’s out amongst the seag­ull pop­u­la­tion: Visit Morro Bay and you’ll not only be well fed by cu­ri­ous and some­what star­tled tourists, but you can also re­tire to the lo­cal bird sanctuary. In fact, it’s a crime to harm a bird once they make it to the sanctuary, so a seag­ull’s golden years are not likely to be cut short by any pesky kids with bb guns.

Morro Bay is the quin­tes­sen­tial sea­side vil­lage, steeped in charm with un­sur­passed views of the some­times an­gry Pa­cific Ocean. Peo­ple travel to Morro Bay, on Cal­i­for­nia’s Cen­tral Coast, to breathe that fresh salt air, drink in the gor­geous ocean views and lis­ten to the above­men­tioned birds. It’s one of those places where you can hole up in a lo­cal ho­tel, spend lots of time walk­ing and bird-watch­ing and then set­tle in for some fresh, hot clam chow­der at one of sev­eral lo­cal res­tau­rants who spe­cial­ize in seafood.

Driv­ing into town you can’t help but no­tice the big rock mono­lith that de­fines the town -- named not so co­in­ci­den­tally Morro Rock. That rock ac­tu­ally was named in 1542 by a Por­tuguese sailor, Juan Ro­driguez Cabrillo. He called it El Moro be­cause it re­sem­bled a Moor – peo­ple from North Africa who wore tur­bans. It cer­tainly was a rock that needed nam­ing – it rises high above the coast­line and juts out into the ocean where ev­ery­one on sea or land can see it.

To­day tourists are drawn to the rock and its nearby trails and beaches that give you an up-close look at some of the most pow­er­ful waves you’ll ever see. It’s com­mon to see seals and other sea life in the in­let on the south­east side of the rock while a se­ries of waves are mes­mer­iz­ing as they crash upon the broad beach on the north­ern side of the rock. It is near the rock that you’ll en­counter a squadron of seag­ulls trained to swoop in and grab what­ever you have that re­sem­bles food. Many vis­i­tors try to take refuge in their cars but the birds are so in­tense some­times that you feel like you barely got the car door shut be­fore the seag­ulls fol­lowed you in­side.

It’s all part of Morro Bay State Park, which fea­tures a la­goon and nat­u­ral bay habi­tat. The park has op­por­tu­ni­ties for sail­ing, fish­ing, hik­ing, and bird watch­ing, and there is a park mu­seum that of­fers ex­hibits on the area’s nat­u­ral fea­tures and cul­tural his­tory. Ex­hibits fo­cus on Na­tive Amer­i­can life, ge­ol­ogy, and oceanog­ra­phy.

Within an easy walk of the rock are the res­tau­rants and shops of Morro Bay, stretched along a pic­turesque boat har­bor that al­lows you to com­bine your shop­ping with a truly spec­tac­u­lar na­ture walk. If fish­ing boats an­chored in a scenic bay are your idea of a re­ally good back­drop for hik­ing, this walk is for you.

Fish­ing, in fact, is a big part of Morro Bay’s past and present. While the area once had quite a vi­brant abalone in­dus­try, to­day the boats are more likely to be car­ry­ing hal­ibut, sole, rock­fish and al­ba­core. Oys­ters also are farmed in the area.

We stayed at the Em­bar­cardero Inn, a com­fort­able ho­tel just across the street from the wa­ter and a per­fect head­quar­ters for our brief stay. The ho­tel is built up a few floors with park­ing un­der­neath the build­ing giv­ing the front rooms great views of the bay and Morro Rock. Our spa­cious room came with a fire­place and flat-screen tele­vi­sion as well as ta­ble and chairs and a bal­cony where we could sit and en­joy the view and watch our fel­low trav­el­ers ex­plor­ing the nearby shops. There were all sorts of nau­ti­cal paint­ings and dec­o­ra­tions in the room so there was no chance we would for­get where we were.

The Em­bar­cadero Inn is also a good base of op­er­a­tions for vis­it­ing the many at­trac­tions of San Luis Obispo County.

Only about 30 miles away is the fa­mous and spec­tac­u­lar Hearst Cas­tle, once home to Wil­liam Ran­dolf Hearst. To­day, tourists ar­rive at the Hearst Cas­tle by bus - yes, even if you drive your car, you won’t get to the cas­tle un­less you’re rid­ing in one of the Park Ser­vice’s mo­tor coaches that shut­tle vis­i­tors up and down the wind­ing, nar­row five-

mile road to the cas­tle. With well over a mil­lion an­nual vis­i­tors, the cas­tle now has a fleet of buses and a bus sta­tion to ri­val that of a good­size city.

Sev­eral tours are of­fered, so you’ll need to visit more than once if you’re in­tent on see­ing the en­tire es­tate. But we found the two-hour in­tro­duc­tory tour to be quite thor­ough, al­low­ing ac­cess to many of the more spec­tac­u­lar parts of the cas­tle. The tour guides here are ob­vi­ously se­lected for their sto­ry­telling skills and ours, in par­tic­u­lar, of­fered nu­mer­ous anec­dotes about Hearst and his many guests, and about the great time and ex­pense that went into cre­at­ing one of our coun­try’s grand­est homes.

We found the city of San Luis Obispo to be an ap­peal­ing des­ti­na­tion city - a small town, re­ally, with just 45,000 souls, but with many his­tor­i­cal build­ings down­town, and many more un­der ren­o­va­tion. The down­town area has a Nor­man Rock­well qual­ity with its tree-lined streets, his­toric store­fronts and easy-go­ing traf­fic. Take Mon­terey Street to its down­town end and you ar­rive at the Mis­sion San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (circa 1772) which, to­day, also serves as the city’s pub­lic square. It is also here that city fa­thers have cre­ated a tran­quil walk­ing path that fol­lows San Luis Creek past sev­eral lo­cal eater­ies and bars with their out­door decks perched along the wooded creek banks. Well worth the drive is the his­toric mis­sion in San Miguel, where the 2003 Paso Robles earthquake has lim­ited some ac­cess to the sprawl­ing San Miguel Ar­changel, founded in 1797 by Fa­ther La­suen. Lo­cated about 30 miles north of San Luis Obispo, the adobe build­ings and perime­ter fence make it easy to trans­port your thoughts back to when this mis­sion was built to bring Chris­tian­ity to the many In­di­ans who resided in this par­tic­u­lar part of the Cen­tral Coast re­gion.

Drive just a few miles south from San Miguel and the Paso Robles area presents an­other type of get­away ex­pe­ri­ence al­to­gether - a group of 80 tast­ing rooms just wait­ing for you to stop and en­joy the fruits of th­ese up-and-com­ing winer­ies. Paso Robles hasn’t been dis­cov­ered to the de­gree that Napa has, so prices at th­ese Cal­i­for­nia winer­ies are lower and the lo­cals say the qual­ity is just as good. In this par­tic­u­lar re­gion, the vol­canic soil has made the lo­cal grapes es­pe­cially ap­pro­pri­ate for red wines.


A sand cas­tle on Strand Beach.

Photo cour­tesy visit Morro Bay Tourism

TOP LEFT PHOTO: Fish­ing boats in the har­bor. TOP PHOTO: Kayak­ers near­ing Morro Bay Rock. BOT­TOM PHOTO: Morro Bay is a bird watcher’s par­adise.

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