Nature & Outdoors
Warm, sunny days, cool nights, mountains and beaches, and friendly people are good enough reasons to visit San Luis Obispo County. But you may want to venture into the great outdoors. For many people, a relaxing walk on the beach, a trip to see the famous elephant seal rookery, or a short walk at the Elfin Forest are enough. But if you have come seeking adventure, you will find more than enough to keep you entertained in the Morro Bay area.
San Luis Obispo County boasts some of the best views from hiking trails of any in the country! There are many well-maintained trails with a variety of difficulties, microclimates, and scenery. A few of the most popular and convenient hikes are listed briefly below. For more complete information, the local chaper of the Sierra Club maintains a comprehensive list (including directions to the hike, length, and difficulty) on its website. Mountain Air Sports (805-962-0049, directions), a local outdoor store, can supply you with trail books and maps if you would like further directions.
Montaña de Oro State Park: Local favorite with great ocean views and a variety of easy and moderate hikes
Montaña de Oro State Park is probably your best bet for close hiking and nature walks close by, with nine major trails of varying difficulty, terrain and views. This state park is miraculously free of charge. There are many places to enjoy a picnic lunch with a view of waves crashing against beaches and cliffs. The Coon Creek trail (click here for directions) is an excellent choice for a hot day. This trail follows a lush creek bed up from the coast for several miles with very little uphill. Shade from the native trees and cool water flowing next to the trail keep you cool. You can also choose to hike on a trail that follows the coast the entire way from the campgrounds to the end of the park. Finally, for the adventurous, try climbing the Ridge Trail, closer to park entrance. It will take you up several hundred feet for a panoramic view of Morro Rock, the entire park, and the bay.
Morro Bay State Park: Easy hike on the edge of town AND great views
In Morro Bay, the hike up Black Hill offers spectacular views as well as a modest cardio workout. This trail can be accessed from the Morro Bay State Park campground parking lot (click here for directions), which is five minutes on foot from the resort. The total hike is only about three miles roundtrip and should take less than an hour and a half at a relaxed pace.
Bishop Peak Open Space: Fun hikes, great views, large open spaces
The trail up Bishop Peak (1200’ elevation gain, 4.4 miles round trip) traverses several microclimates to arrive at panoramic views of the city. This trail is a local favorite for those who would really like to get some cardio exercise while taking in the best view in the county. The 360° view includes Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, the city of San Luis Obispo, and the vineyards of the Edna and San Luis valleys.
For a more relaxed hiking experience, try the well-marked Felsman Loop. This hike is easy-to-moderate with few uphill sections. It winds through oak woodland, chaparral, and expansive grassland areas. Red-tailed hawks and other birds sail overhead, hitching a ride on the breeze that comes up from the ocean.
Los Padres National Forest: Wide range of hiking options for every type of outdoor enthusiast
Los Padres National Forest encompasses nearly two million acres in the rugged coastal mountains of central California. The forest stretches across almost 220 miles from the Big Sur Coast in Monterey County to the western edge of Los Angeles County. The Sierra Club Trail Guide maps out eleven adventurous trails in this vast wilderness.
The Cerro Alto trailhead (directions) offers hikes just about a half hour’s drive from the resort. The trailhead is nestled in a lush riparian valley-a running creek makes this area dense with trees, green plants, and bird life year round. Starting at over 1000 ft (about 300m) in elevation, these hikes offer glimpses of some of the life in the higher elevations of San Luis Obispo County. You can hike to the top of Cerro Alto Peak, which at 2600ft (~800m) is one of the highest peaks in the western part of the county.
San Luis Obispo County offers world class mountain biking and excellent road bike opportunities. Mountain trails are easily accessed from downtown San Luis Obispo, Highway 101, and Montaña de Oro State Park. Several road ride loops offer an alternative to off-road riding, taking you through quaint beach towns and villages of the Central Coast with relatively few hills. The Bob Jones Bikeway, accessed from Highway 101 near Avila Hot Springs, is a local favorite, offering several miles of peaceful riding along San Luis Obispo creek away from motor vehicles. This path ends in the charming little beach town of Avila, an excellent place for a lunch stop or even some wine tasting. For more information on mountain trails and road rides, contact the SloPokes or SLOBC, two local biking clubs.
The waves in Morro Bay are great for beginning and intermediate surfers If you have a board and wetsuit, bring it along, or you can rent one at several surf shops in town, and arrange for a lesson too. In the bay proper waves tend to be smaller and are excellent for learning, while the big waves lie to the north and south ( click here for map of surfing locations in the area). For a great day of waves and soft sand, head out to the sand spit at Montaña de Oro State Park. Be sure to grab the latest surf report!
Fishing and Sailing
Long before Morro Bay established itself as a resort town, it was renowned for its excellent fishing. The ocean here offers a wide variety of fish depending on season and water temperature. Charter a boat for a day on the water at Virg’s Fishing, 1215 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, CA 93442, 805-772-1222 or through Bob’s Sportfishing.
Sailing and windsailing the Central Coast is a great way to see areas that aren’t reachable by car or foot. The Morro Bay Yacht Club, located at 541 Embarcadero in Morro Bay, (805-772-3981) is a great place to get in touch with boat enthusiasts who always need crew. If you are experienced, you may want to join in a race. The yacht club also offers sailing classes for those who already have the desire but haven’t got the skills.
Learning to kayak in an area with fairly calm waters such as the estuary or Morro Bay can be fun family experience. Kayaking the Morro Bay Estuary is perhaps the best way to see this serene nature preserve. The labyrinthine channels through the low tide of the estuary make for hours of casual fun as you paddle past birds, fish, and invertebrates that most people never get to see. Kayaks can be rented from Kayak Horizons in Morro Bay on an hourly or daily basis. Or, you can organize a guided trip through Central Coast Kayaks (click here for a 2 for 1 coupon), Central Coast Outdoors or Sea for Yourself Adventures just up the road in Cambria. These organizations can get you outfitted and guide you to some of the more interesting places for kayaking.
If you are away for the weekend and looking for some good rock, San Luis Obispo County will be happy to accommodate. Several climbing areas are within less than a half-hour’s drive from the resort and offer wonderful single pitch sport leads or top roping. Cabrillo Peaks (on the way to Montaña de Oro from the resort) offers single pitch climbs from 5.4 to 5.11 which can be top roped. Great open views make this a local favorite on a sunny day. For more information on climbing areas and finding local partners, go to www.climbingslo.com which has routes listed as well as some great photos.
Want an even better view? Helicopter rides offer you a spectacular perspective on our rugged coast and mountains. Besides sightseeing, Shoreline Helicopters (805 594-1355) offers photography trips and will help you celebrate special events such as birthdays and anniversaries.
For general information on these and other outdoors activities, visit the official Morro Bay site.
The Natural History Museum, the only museum of its kind in the State Parks system, offers a wealth of information about natural resources in this area. It is located in Morro Bay State Park, within minutes of the Heron Rookery, Montaña de Oro State Park, the El Moro Elfin Forest and Audubon’s Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. The museum overlooks Morro Bay which is both State and National Estuary. Entry fees are $2 for adults and free to children 16 and under. The Museum is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 p.m. every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The Audubon Society lists San Luis Obispo County as one of its top ten birding sites in the country. Morro Bay Estuary, one of the largest unspoiled coastal marshes in the state, is a major stopping point in bird migration and attracts over 200 species of native and migrating birds-waterfowl, shorebirds, birds of prey, and warblers. Impressive Peregrine Falcons, once on the verge of extinction, now nest and hunt from the cliffs of Morro Rock. The neighboring estuary attracts the graceful and elegant snowy egret.
Click on the links for a comprehensive list of San Luis Obispo County’s birding sites and map. A brochure listing local birds and birding sites can be obtained by phoning the Natural Resources Manager for San Luis Obispo County at 805-781-7211.
Other useful birding resources:
- Morro Coast Audubon Rare Bird Alert, 805-528-7182
- North Cuesta Audubon, 805-528-7182
- US Fish&Wildlife Service, Ventura Field Office, 805-644-1766
Elephant seals can be seen birthing, raising pups, and fighting for territory in California’s largest mainland rookery on the northern edge of Morro Bay, a short walk from Highway 1 in San Simeon. These marine mammals are truly massive. They can weigh more than a small car. Threatened California sea otters also make Morro Bay home. Look beyond the breakers and you may spot a sea otter floating in a bed of kelp. The Great Gray Whale makes its passage up and down the coast twice a year. The children will enjoy exploring the tidepools at Hazards Beach in Montana de Oro State Park.
Guided whale watching tours leave the San Luis Pier and Morro Bay on a daily basis in winter. For departure times and tickets, inquire at Virg’s Landing, 1215 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, 805-772-1222.
Monarch butterflies summer in the Sierra Nevada, Florida, Canada and the Great Lakes Region in North America, and migrate to California and Mexico in search of warmth between late October and early March. On the Central Coast, Monarchs winter in Pismo Beach, Pacific Grove and Morro Bay. The monarch grove at Pismo Beach, a 25-mile drive from your hotel, is one of the largest in the world, hosting an average of 100,000 butterflies.
Overwintering Monarchs form dense clusters, each covering the one below with its wing in layers like the shingles on a roof. This provides shelter from the rain and warmth for the group. The weight of the cluster helps steady it in windy conditions that might dislodge the butterflies. It is best to view the Monarchs on a warm day. They sleep in clusters, high up on the trees, when the temperature drops below 65° F.
The Pismo grove is located on Highway 1 at the south boundary of the city of Pismo Beach. From the Inn at Morro Bay, turn left onto South Bay Blvd and merge onto Hwy 1 South, driving into San Luis Obispo, 11 miles. Follow signs for US 101 South, and drive south on 101 for 12.2 miles. Take the Hinds Ave. exit and turn right on Hinds for .1 mile. Turn left onto Hwy 1/Dolliver St. Follow Hwy 1 for approximately one mile. The Monarch site will be on your right. Parking is available by meandering through the North Beach campground and following signs. Or drive just past the campground entrance and park on either side of Hwy 1, where you’ll find the main access point to the Monarch site.
You may want to take along a picnic lunch! A beautiful stretch of flat, sandy Pismo beach is a short walk away, and the North Beach campground has many shady spots for a leisurely picnic.
The Natural History Museum in Morro Bay (805-772-2694, email@example.com, is an excellent resource on Monarchs. Check out the following websites for additional information:
One of the many jewels of Morro Bay, close to the hotel, is the Elfin Forest Natural Area, described in the Activities for Children page. The 1.5-mile boardwalk meanders through coastal sage and 500-year-old pygmy oaks and offers views of the Estuary as well.
Central Coast Outdoors offers a wealth of outdoor activities. Adventures with Nature, a program supported by the Central Coast Natural History Association, offers docent-led walks in Oceano Lagoon, Hazard Reef, and other nature spots. Scheduled trips are published in the Your Calendar section of the San Luis Obispo Tribune. More information is available by calling 805-772-2694.
The Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo (ECOSLO) offers free monthly docent-led weekend hikes in and around the city of San Luis Obispo. The ECOSLO website (www.ecoslo.org) lists these hikes several months in advance.