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Escape to California’s Best-Kept Secret

Every now and then, it’s a breath of fresh air to find a place that has a unique blend of timeless magic—where art and nature work together in perfect harmony.

That place is Morro Bay on California’s Central Coast.

The picturesque seaside village along California’s iconic Highway 1 sports miles of beaches surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Though Morro Bay is just 30 minutes from famous Hearst Castle, Big Sur or the spectacular wineries of Paso Robles, a stay here brings its own delightful surprises.

Morro Bay is still a working fishing village: Fishermen bring their catches in daily, and several restaurants have their own fleets. Business owners are creative, friendly and unpretentious. There’s a strong sense of community here.

As visitors, we got to play a part in this real-deal piece of living, if only for a weekend. And it was enchanting.

Where to Stay

Family owned and operated 456 Embarcadero Inn and Suites was the perfect choice for our recent weekend visit. Its location right on the Embarcadero made it easy to just park the car and walk to most places throughout the charming coastal hamlet.

Night-time lullabies come at no extra charge as we fell asleep to the distant sounds of barking sea lions and low mournful foghorns.

Where to Play

It’s all about the outdoors in Morro Bay, and there are plenty of choices for nature lovers.

Morro Rock is the most distinctive and recognizable landmark here. The iconic 576-foot towering edifice that separates the sands of Morro Strand State Beach from the azure waters of the harbor is often referred to as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.” It’s also a habitat for once-endangered peregrine falcons.

Like the otters that frolic in the Pacific bay waters, kayakers have some great opportunities to play in the bay too. And there’s nothing like learning about this majestic water world than by taking a half-day kayak adventure tour with expert nature guides from Central Coast Outdoors.

Paddling through pristine waters, protected from the open ocean, the area is amazingly rich with marine and aviary life, so much so that binoculars are a must. More than 200 diverse species of birds are located here, along with a heron rookery, harbor seals, sea lions and otters.

Secluded sand dunes and hidden beaches with stunning ocean views are just some of the splendor seen along this adventurous journey. Guaranteed, no one comes off this tour without smiles on their faces.

Hiking is one of the best ways to get spectacular panoramas of Morro Bay from on high. We accessed Black Hill Trail from the campground of Morro Bay State Park for a moderate hike through low-lying clouds. Upon reaching the summit of Black Hill, we were rewarded with a captivating vista of the bay, sand spits and famous Morro Rock.

The Morro Bay Museum of Natural History is the only of its kind in the California State Park system. Fascinating interactive exhibits make this an educational but fun place for kids and adults alike. Knowledgeable museum docents regale visitors with history and stories of the bay.

Browsing through the Embarcadero’s locally owned art galleries and boutique stores is also a treat. From a salt-water taffy store with 109 flavors to a skateboard museum, eclectic vintage stores, shell and surf shops, Morro Bay is like a throwback to simpler beach-town days.

Locals and visitors all prefer it that way.

Where to Wine and Dine

Wine naturally seems to bring people together, and there’s no better way to meet and chat with the locals and business owners than while sipping Central California’s delightful fruits of the vine.

Chateau Margene is one of ten wineries located along the Pacific Wine Trail. The boutique winery established in 1997 showcases the best of its award-winning reds in a handsome tasting room located along the bay. No one leaves here, (including us), without taking a bottle or two to enjoy at home.

STAX Wine Bar is located on the Embarcadero and features more than 100 carefully selected wines from the Central Coast. Locally-made cheeses and meats along with Grassy Bay oysters are featured on a menu that changes weekly.

Breakfast just isn’t breakfast in Morro Bay without a visit to Dorn’s Original Breaker’s Café. Perched high above the Embarcadero with beautiful harbor views from practically every seat, Dorn’s enchants diners with its yacht-inspired décor, outdoor patio and hearty entrees.

Since 1942, Dorn’s has been a Morro Bay favorite and we can understand why. Their famous buttermilk pancakes have been made with the same secret recipe for 70 years. Fluffy, moist and buttery, these are among the very best we’ve tasted anywhere. Menu choices abound, but we’re glad our server suggested we try the Linguica Omelet, made with a unique Portuguese sausage.

And the coffee’s so popular here, that on our cool, foggy morning visit, two-fisted servers carried double pots for patron-requested refills.

Fish is king in Morro Bay. And the monarch of Central Coast’s finer-dining establishments is undoubtedly The Galley Seafood Grill and Bar.

The Galley has it all: A premium location overlooking the picturesque harbor, hand-picked seasonal ingredients provided by local farms, the freshest in-season seafood possible and impeccable service.

Their “Naked Fish” policy is unique. The Galley believes premium seafood should be served naked, grilled, then served with the choice of light sauces on the side.

After tasting the Ahi Tuna (Seared Rare) and Pan-Seared Scallops, we are in total agreement. The Galley’s seafood is as good as it gets.

Food presentation was impressive, portions were perfect and gourmet food restaurants should take note. It’s no wonder this first-rate, quaint and classy seaside eatery has been packed to the gills since it opened in 1966.

With spectacular views, splendid natural surroundings, a walkable Embarcadero, friendly locals in a fishing village setting, one can’t help but wonder how much longer Morro Bay can stay a secret.

It definitely goes down as one of our favorite California weekend escapes. But it’s a secret too good not to share.

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