Run Oregon loves running – that’s no surprise. But we also love exploring new places and finding new places to run, stay, eat, and experience. Matt wrote about his runcation planning to Morro Bay, California, as well as a recap of his race there, but read on for a recap of his #MorroBaycation!
I had never heard of Morro Bay until May of this year. I was looking ahead to summer plans and knew that I wanted to find a fun place to travel with just me and my wife that 1) wouldn’t break the bank gettint there and 2) would be somewhere brand spanking new to explore. Fate must have hit when we connected with the wonderful fishing village of Morro Bay. At first glance, this 10,000+ person town may not have seemed like what we were looking for, nor did we have any previous knowledge about it, but I can tell you that after spending 3 days there, we are already looking to go back. Here’s a little snippet from our initial planning post:
My wife and I enjoy exploring new places together, and I especially love it when running and leisure can be combined into one memorable trip (she’s less excited about this). Our next mini-excursion will see us heading down to the Central California Coast to the little beach town of Morro Bay. Morro Bay is located right on the ocean near San Luis Obispo, and a good 3-4 hours from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is a fishing village with a ton of charm (named one of “The Best Little Beach Towns to Visit in Spring”), and has amenities that Oregon runners would enjoy. The city is steeped in local with fresh and local faire and has tons of opportunity to enjoy the outdoors – on land and sea.
Though Morro Bay has a local flavor to it, it seems to want to showcase their city as a destination for all outdoor enthusiasts. First and foremost, they have a wonderful boutique hotel experience, which takes waterfront travel to the next level. There are also great trails for running and so many activities tucked away that there seems to be something for anyone to enjoy. We can’t wait to reconnect a little with nature this summer.
You may not know it from looking at it, but it’s a serious outdoor hub, complete with a fun waterfront experience, and picture-perfect for travelers who seek food, wine and outdoor adventures found in nature. It’s located right along coastal Highway 1 in San Luis Obispo County just south of Big Sur, and pretty much smack dab in the middle between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s climate appears similar to the Oregon Coast (with cooler temperatures than inland and coastal clouds), though perhaps with more consistently fair temperatures. Thus, this allows for year-round activities in a quieter side of the state. Both me (a runner, explorer, and beer-drinker) and my wife (a non-runner, fine-food connoisseur, and wine-drinker) had a blast. There is something for everyone, even in a town of this size.
There are two major focal points of Morro Bay – the now-defunct smoke stacks that tower above the city, and the iconic and historic landmark Morro Rock, which greets everyone as they entered the town. I think I took no less than 1000 pictures of this rock alone (as you have seen, and will continue to see). But even though these things get the visual attention, there is a lot more to discover, learn, and experience about this town and we are blessed to have been able to visit.
First the Running:
Though there are more races if you expand things into San Luis Obispo (a mere 20 minute drive) or Paso Robles (35 minutes), Morro Bay offers three main racing events each year:
- Miracle Miles for Kids (May)
- Brian Waterbury Rock to Pier Run and Rock n Around the Pier Half (July)
- Morro Bay Triathlon (November)
Make sure you check out our recap of the Rock to Pier Run and Rockn Around the Pier Half and mark this one down on your calendar for the future. You won’t regret it.
Aside from the races, the Morro Bay and immediately surrounding areas are fantastic to “runsplore”. I would first start with the beach, specifically with the Morro Rock Beach at low tide. Yes, it’s where the Rock to Pier Run takes place, but if you aren’t able attend the race, this 6-mile beach from Morro Rock to Cayucos is second to none when it comes to running on sand. Additionally, a half marathon version of this race takes runners briefly up to Cloisters Community Park. This is a great spot to get a run in with kids, as there are open fields and playgrounds, as well as looped paved trails of about .75-1 mile.
During our trip, we spent some time running through town and into nearby Morro Bay State Park. There are a variety of trails that will offer views (check out the short trail near the Museum of Natural History, as well as the longer Black Hill Trail). The State Park, which is literally a mile from the main Embarcadero, has trails that can open up to get you over to the trail runner’s dream of Los Osos without having to do much, if any, street running.
Just a little bit further south of Los Osos (a 20+ minute drive from Morro Bay) is the splendid Montaña de Oro State Park. This is a huge oceanside park with rugged terrain that includes cliffs, beaches & hills, and plenty of trails for running.
To be honest, Morro Bay is a PNW-runner’s dream location from running. You can have a diversity of terrains (sand, road, trails) and really be rewarded with both a workout and some fantastic views each time. I didn’t even get to everywhere I wanted to run, so a return trip is definitely in order.
For a small town, Morro Bay has an eating establishment for every style and price range. There are great coffee shops, breweries and wineries, and restaurants for every palate. Being an active seaside fishing village, their fresh seafood dishes are the definite staple. Here are a few places we had the opportunity to try out:
Opened in 1942, Dorn’s has a rich history and offers warm family service, excellent food in a beautiful location overlooking Morro Bay. Fresh, local seafood is the heart of their menu, but they also offer excellent steaks, chicken, pastas and salads.
This cafe overloops the Back Bay Marina. It was established in 1986 by Cal Poly graduate Dawn Borst who originally opened it as a walk-up café with a few outside tables. She created the menu from her own personal recipes and the spot quickly became so popular that she expanded it to include the casual indoor dining area facing the bay. There are relaxing views of the marina and the bay, friendly ambiance and wonderful staff serving farm-fresh, local ingredients. There are delicious looking salads, albacore skewers, fresh fish, and sandwiches, and their specialty California chowder paired well with a beer from nearby Stone Brewing.
This restaurant combines seasonal, locally sourced ingredients with amazing bay views and sunsets (see pictures below for reference). Their wine list is huge (including a bunch from nearby Paso Robles) and their locally raised meats, seafood and organically grown produce makes this a Morro Bay staple and perfect spot for a fancy night out.
This restaurant is owned by Mark Tognazzini, a Morro Bay commercial fisherman and owns both Tognazzini’s on the Embarcadero – one being an indoor eatery that has been a local
waterfront favorite for decades, and the other (Dockside, Too) a fresh fish market and casual outdoor restaurant located right on the bay. So obviously, the fish here is top notch, super fresh, and the atmosphere is down to earth and won’t break the bank. The local Morro Bay oysters (Morro Bay Oyster Company’s Pacific Gold and Grassy Bar) are recommended and farmed in Morro Bay). Mark’s commercial fishing operation unloads their catch of the day, which was shark on the day we tried it out. Needless to say, I gave it a go – it was good!
Since 1966, guests have experienced the freshest, premium seafood while overlooking the beautiful harbor views at The Galley. The Galley’s fine food and impeccable service is complimented by hand-selected seasonal ingredients from their own farm and a world-class wine menu. Every day, they serve a variety of the best, most exotic seafood from local purveyors, and other regions around the globe.
As a runner, I highly recommend coming here. I met their owner and we immediately bonded over the fact that he used to do ultrarunning. He said that any Run Oregon reader who is interested in going for a run or just some running recommendations around the area should stop in and he’d be glad to hook you tup!
Though there are two breweries in Morro Bay (The Libertine and Three Stacks & A Rock), we got to do a tasting at this boutique, micro-winery which produces only 3,000 cases a year of award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, as well as Pinot Noir. Seeing that it was on the Morro Bay Embarcadero, it was a nice combo of beachside casual with delicious wines. Their main vineyard is just outside of Paso Robles, which is an absolute must-stop if you are driving through.
As you can probably gauge from the above words, I had an absolute blast in Morro Bay. It was sort of done on a whim and, again, it was to a place i knew literally zero about before jetsetting down there. Sometimes those are the best trips. I mean, we probably all have a spot in Oregon that we are familiar with and love to visit – be it Sunriver/Bend, the Gorge, or some fun spot on the Oregon Coast. BUT, while Oregon has a ton to offer, it’s still fun to explore new places as well. And we couldn’t be more glad we did.
It’s also not really an arm and leg to get there. San Luis Obispo has a small airport, but we found a cheap flight to San Jose and rented a car for the 3+ hour drive in. We ended up stopping in Paso Robles on the way in for breweries, and the way out for wineries. But there are other ways to make the most of your trip, like heading through Carmel and Big Sur on Highway 1. You could also find cheap flights to LAX and drive up through Santa Barbara as well. Exploring is fun and those hours will fly by with the scenery outside your windows.
The city of Morro Bay is super welcoming, is definitely geared towards the outdoor adventurer. It’s almost like a slice of Oregon Coast, but in California. So head here and start making your next runcation a #morrobaycation!
Many thanks to the city of Morro Bay and all these restaurants for allowing us to check out them out! Please read our transparency page for info on how we do our reviews.