Morro Bay, CA is a quaint beach town located on California’s central coast, just a short drive west of San Luis Obispo. This town is most notably recognized by Morro Rock, a large rock jetting out from the coast which forms the bay. Visitors can enjoy various things to do in Morro Bay like water activities, looking for sea otters in the bay, or relaxing in a quaint hotel right next to the water. Since this town is home to Morro Bay State Park, visitors also enjoy camping right next to the bay and hiking to unmatched views of Morro Rock. Morro Bay is also a popular spot for visitors driving up or down the California Coast since it is located right off of Pacific Coast Highway. From our 36 research including articles written on Morro Bay, online reviews, and our in person experience, we determined that the following are the best places to eat, play, and stay.
Top Dog Coffee is a local coffee shop in Morro Bay where their beans are roasted daily by the owner. Roasting through their own company named Rescue Me Coffee Company, Top Dog Coffee gives back to local dog shelters and the independent coffee farmers who grow their beans. In addition to coffee and pastries, Top Dog’s kitchen serves breakfast, lunch, and alcoholic drinks throughout the day. In addition to their inside seating, Top Dog Coffee has a beautiful outdoor garden patio where you can enjoy you food and drinks in the sunshine.
There are quite a few coffee shops in Morro Bay, and none of them were mentioned in the few articles written about Morro Bay which meant that our research had to be more focused on online reviews and our in-person experience. We visited the top three rated coffee shops in the city and Top Dog Coffee had the best tasting coffee, atmosphere, and overall service.
After a lackluster experience at the first two coffee shops we visited, our experience at Top Dog Coffee was like a breath of fresh air. When we ordered, we were served by the owner of Top Dog Coffee and we got to chat with him about his business and roasting process. Since it was a beautiful day, we enjoyed our drinks outside in the garden patio which was beautiful and peaceful
If you aren’t in the mood for coffee, the chai latte we tried was also great and the chai itself is locally sourced.
Rock Espresso Bar was one of the top rated coffee shops in Morro Bay, and while their espresso was fine, the atmosphere and service were fairly average. Also, their outdoor patio was pretty bland compared to the one at Top Dog Coffee. We also tried Skipper’s Brew which was a cute little shop run by friendly and relational owners who we were able to meet during our visit. However, their espresso was slightly too bitter for our taste, unlike the house roasted espresso we tried at Top Dog Coffee. Overall, we had the best tasting coffee and experience at Top Dog Coffee.
Dutchman’s Seafood House is a family owned seafood restaurant located right on the water in Morro Bay. Whether you sit inside the restaurant or outside on the deck, you will be able to catch a view of the water outside. Dutchman’s serves a selection of local seafood caught right in Morro Bay--like rockfish, oysters, and sanddab--but also brings in other varieties from around the country.
When researching Morro Bay, it quickly became clear that seafood, especially fish and chips, is something that this town is known for. As a coastal town, Morro Bay is home to quite a few highly rated seafood establishments. We considered online reviews, articles on Morro Bay, and our own experience when narrowing down our choice to Dutchman’s Seafood House.
When we arrived to Dutchman’s Seafood House, we were immediately seated outside on the patio with a great view of the bay. Since an article mentioned that Dutchman’s is known for their fish and chips, we ordered that along with a bread bowl of clam chowder. While we waited for our food, we saw a few sea otters sunbathing in the bay which was an unexpected surprise! Our fish and chips were perfectly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and the clam chowder was also delicious.
Whether you are sitting inside or outside, try to get a seat next to a window. There is a lot going on in this area of the bay--including boats, animals, and paddle boarders, which is quite fun to watch while you wait for and enjoy your meal.
Tognazzini’s Dockside is also great, but according to articles we read online, Dutchman’s Seafood House is more known for the fish and chips. Since fish and chips is a popular dish in this bay town, Dutchman’s Seafood House narrowly took the lead. Windows on the Water is great if you are looking for a high end restaurant, but we felt that Dutchman’s Seafood House, and even Tognazzini’s Dockside, both exhibited the casual, beachy vibe that Morro Bay is known for.
Crill’s Saltwater Taffy makes their various flavors of taffy in-house, but their dessert options don’t stop there. From peanut brittle, to fudge, to soft serve ice cream, there is something for everyone at Crill’s. The soft serve is especially interesting, as they all have a vanilla base and then swirl the chosen flavor into the base. To make it even better, there are 2 Crill’s locations on Embarcadero Street within a half mile of each other.
There are several highly rated dessert places in Morro Bay, but we were looking for a spot that is unique to Morro Bay, which quickly narrowed down our choice. Ultimately, we chose Crill’s because they make their own salt water taffy which is a delicacy that beach cities are often known for. It was also the only dessert place mentioned in articles written about Morro Bay.
We visited the original Crills Salt Water Taffy (instead of Crills II) since it significantly better reviews. Unfortunately they had just finished making the toffee so we weren’t able to see it in person, but we ordered a bag that had one of each flavor, in addition to a butter toffee soft serve. We enjoyed our treats while sitting on a bench overlooking the bay. I especially enjoyed the soft serve which was a perfect salty and sweet combination.
The toffee can be packed into different sized bags, which we think can make great gifts!
Embarcadero Fudge is also a great option for dessert, but we found that Crill’s Saltwater Taffy has a better variety of options for visitors to choose from. However, if you are craving fudge specifically, Embarcadero Fudge may be a better place for you to visit since this is their specialty.
Black Hill Hike is located inside Morro Bay State Park and takes you to the top of a hill where you get an incredible view of Morro Rock and the Bay. This hike actually has two trailhead options, providing a short and long hike option for Black Hill hikers. For a longer hike, hikers can start the Black Hill hike from Park View Drive in Morro Bay State Park for a 3 mile out and back trail. However, there is another parking lot closer to Black Hill itself, and if you start the trail there it is only 0.6 miles total. In addition to views of Morro Rock, the top of Black Hill has panoramic views of the surrounding areas.
There are only a few hikes in Morro Bay, but Black Hill Hike was mentioned more than other hikes in articles written about Morro Bay. We thought that the options to do the short and long version of the hike made it a great option for most people. The incredible view of Morro Rock is another reason why we chose this hike for our guide.
We opted for the shorter version of hike, so we made our way through Morro Bay State Park and past Morro Bay Golf Course up to the trailhead for Black Hill. As we climbed the quarter mile of switchbacks, our view of Morro Rock got better and better. Once at the top, not only did was have a fantastic view of the bay and Morro Rock, but we also had a full panoramic view, which allowed us to see the magical rolling hills behind us. We were excited that such a short hike gave us such a gorgeous payoff.
Once you reach the top of Black Hill, the trail stops, so use caution when exploring this area. If you take an immediate left once you reach the end of the trail, heading north, you can see the impressive panoramic views of the surrounding area.
The Marina Peninsula trail is a 0.5 mile wheelchair accessible trail that goes through Morro Bay’s estuary, making it a great place for viewing this unique landscape. We found that Black Rock Hike had a better pay off with its dramatic views for almost the same distance, but Marina Peninsula Trail is also great if you are looking for a flat trail.
Sub Sea Tours is located on dock right off of Embarcadero Street, and their fleet of vessels can be used to explore the bay in various ways. Visitors can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards, or can buy a ticket for a specific boat tour. All activities can be reserved and paid for in advance online or same day in person. The Sub Sea Tour, which is what most articles recommended, is a 45 minutes tour of the bay in a boat that is half submarine. This tour is $17 for adults, $13 for students and seniors, $8 for children (2-11), and free for children under 2*.
When researching Morro Bay, not only were water activities highly suggested, but also Sub Sea Tours itself was mentioned specifically. With great reviews to back it up, it was evident that we needed to experience one of their boat tours.
We called the morning-of to reserve our spot on the Sub Sea Tour later that afternoon. We arrived at the pier later that day, paid at the shack, and anxiously waited near the boat. When we were instructed to board the boat, we quickly made our way on and were soon out on the water. Our bilingual guide first took us to the deck of sea lions who were piled on top of each other while sunbathing in the bay. Next, we made our way closer to Morro Rock and then stopped—this is the moment we were waiting for! Our guide dropped fish food into the water and within a minute, our whole boat was surrounded with fish. We all took turns going down into submarine part of the boat where the illuminated windows gave us a great view of the eager fish. The whole time we were on the boat, we kept our eyes out for sea otters, as they are generally spread out through the bay during that time. We saw a few during our tour and they were adorable.
If you want or need a seat, try to be the first one to board the boat and make your way to the front since this is the only place that has seats. Also, if you want to reserve your tickets online, you will need to plan a bit ahead since you cannot do this same-day. Same-day reservations can be made by phone or in person.
Lost Isle Adventure is another good option for boat tours, but they don’t have half-submarine boats which gives Sub Seas Tours a significant competitive advantage. However, Lost Isle Adventure has cocktails on board, which might be more desirable than the half-submarine to some visitors. Captain Stew’s Bay Cruise is also great, and even more affordable at only $10 per person. Still, it doesn’t have the half-submarine component that Sub Sea Tours has which we thought was worth the extra cash.
*Price at time of publication.
Embarcadero Street is right off the water, and runs through Morro Bay’s most memorable parts of town. The walk from 456 Embarcadero Inn, which is the southern part of Embarcadero Street, to Morro Rock is 1.5 miles, and on that walk you can experience all of the things that characterize Morro Bay, like the shops, food, and waterfront. If you aren’t up for the full 3 miles trip, you can start anywhere on Embarcadero Street and walk any length you desire. As you get closer to the rock, you’ll want to get off Embarcadero Street and start down the pedestrian path that goes to the rock.
There are several small viewpoints that were suggested in our research and we determined that all of them could be experienced through a leisurely stroll down Embarcadero Street. This walk also immerses you into the cultural and town of Morro Bay, which we think is one of the best ways to explore a new place.
We did this walk in chunks and enjoyed every minute of it. In the southern part of Embarcadero Street, there are many cute shops to browse through. As we headed north, we went to T-Pier which is one of the best viewing locations for sea otters. You can also walk down T-Pier to get a better view of the water and boats. Instead of taking the pedestrian trail, we drove to Morro Rock which is also one of the best places to see sea otters.
If you want to see a concentrated populated of sea otters at either T-Pier or Morro Rock, the best time to visit them is earlier in the morning before 8AM. We visited later in the morning and only saw a few sea otters in these locations.
Main Street in Morro Bay is also a great place to explore, but it is more concentrated with hotels and restaurants. Since it’s not right on the water, it wouldn’t be our first choice to explore.
456 Embarcadero Inn and Suites is an upper mid-range hotel, with rooms with beautiful views of the bay and Morro Rock. The rooms at 456 Embarcadero Inn are modern and clean, and most have a balcony that faces the bay. In addition to your room, your stay includes free wifi, free parking, hot tub access, and a continential breakfast with a view. The entire property is smoke-free, and your pet is welcome on the 2nd floor for a $25 fee. Prices at 456 Embarcadero Inn increase on weekends and during special events, so a small room can range between $100 and $300* and a family suite can range between $200 and $500*. Located on Embarcadero street, guests are walking distance from shops, restaurants, and the bay.
456 Embarcadero Inn and Suites is the highest rated hotel in Morro Bay on most review websites, but there are a few other hotels that have similar ratings that we looked in to while doing our research. We found that the free breakfast and quality of the rooms for what you pay set 456 Embarcadero apart from its competitors.
The rooms at 456 Embarcadero Inn and Suites were simple but classy. We appreciated that the hotel seemed to be intentionally built in a way where most rooms face the street to have a view of the bay which is a great perk of staying here. Unlike many hotels that we have been to, the dining area for the continental breakfast plenty of seating and even had a few tables out on the balcony. The staff was kind and welcoming, and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit here. When we left, we were close to everywhere we wanted to visit due to 456 Embarcadero Inn’s prime location.
Rooms 302 and 303 have the best view of Morro Rock! If you have the option to request a room, we recommend these two.
Estero Inn is also a great option, and is actually located right across the street from 456 Embarcadero Inn. In fact, we found that the reviews and rooms at Estero Inn were just as great at 456 Embarcadero, but the rooms were slightly more expensive. However, since it is Estero Inn is located across the street, it is slightly closer to the water which might be worth the $50+ extra per night for some visitors*.
*Prices at time of publication
Morro Bay State Park is in the California State Park system, and is located right on the water. Visitors of Morro Bay State Park come to sail, fish, hike, bird watch, golf, and visit the park museum. The campground at Morro Bay State Park has 140 campsites and 2 premium group campsites, all which can be reserved in person or online. Reservations for campsites start at $35*.
There are only two campgrounds in Morro Bay, so our research was simply doing a direct comparison between them. In our comparison, we mostly looked at the quality of the campsites and the environment of the campground overall, both with were stronger at Morro Bay State Park.
We arrived at Morro Bay State Park campground in the late afternoon on a Monday, so it was pretty quiet and fairly empty. This campground is very inviting with big beautiful trees providing cozy shade as you make your way throughout the campground. Each site has a standard picnic table and fire pit, but only some had a grill on the fire pit. The campground is right on the water and has a great view of Morro Rock.
Sites 124 and 125 were the most private sites we saw at Morro Bay State Park Campground and also had a great view of the bay and Morro Rock.
Morro Strand State Park has the only other campground in Morro Bay, making it the only competition we considered for this guide. The campground at Morro Strand State Park is essentially in a beach parking lot and is enjoyed by a lot of surfers and beach dwellers. Nevertheless, we felt that Morro Bay State Park had a more cozy and serene environment which would be best for most campers.
*Prices at the time of publication.