Plan A Seaside Getaway To This Underrated California City

You've probably heard of San Diego, Santa Monica, and Santa Cruz, all well-known towns for sun chasers in search of some pristine California surf. But if you haven't heard of Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo, this charming destination is one to add to your (sandy) bucket list. Nestled halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the central coast, Morro Bay is best experienced through movement, be it kayaking, paddle boarding, golfing, hiking, biking, and surfing. This is the Golden State, after all.

The scenic town off Highway One is named for the Morro Rock that sits just offshore, a 600-foot tall "plug" formed 23 million years ago when magma cooled inside the vent of an active volcano. This California State Landmark is impossible to miss, no matter where you are in the area. As such, the rock has served as a natural lighthouse and guided seafarers safely into the harbor for centuries.

Water activities in Morro Bay

With its year-round temperate climate, Morro Bay is a natural host for dozens of maritime activities. From beginners to regulars, there's something for everyone. Kayaking is a popular pastime, as it allows nature lovers to see the local population of sea otters up close. You'll likely see these mammals with their pups from October through January near the South T-Pier, the Harbor Walk, and Target Rock. You can rent your gear from A Kayak Shack for $18 for the first hour and $9 for every hour after that.

For even more wildlife viewing opportunities, hop aboard a whale-watching tour. Gray Whales make an appearance from December through April. Humpback whales have been known to stop by from April through December. Blue Whales grace these waters from June to October. No matter what time of year you visit, you may be lucky enough to spot one of these giants. Morro Bay Whale Watching offers three-hour catamaran tours from $45 to $60.

If you've been keen to try stand-up paddle boarding, the waters around Morro Bay are calm enough for folks of all experience levels. Morro Bay Paddlesports provides on-shore instruction and equipment for $30 for 1 hour or $50 for 2 hours. When you're done in the water, watch the surfers catch a wave all along Morro Beach. It won't be long before you're tempted to try it yourself. Central Coast Surf School has lessons from $50 to $60 per hour.

Shopping and leisurely pursuits

Back on land, there's more fun to be had. The Embarcadero is a downtown waterfront area lined with shops, galleries, eateries, and souvenir stores. It's the perfect place to sample local seafood or hunt for treasures at the Shell Shop, which houses the largest collection of seashells on the West Coast and imports from 20 different countries.

Morro Bay also has its own 18-hole golf course, often called the Poor Man's Pebble Beach. Though lesser known, you'll see many of the same sweeping views of the Pacific coastline for far less cash. In Morro Bay, it costs $49 to $59 to tee up, depending on when you go. Three hours up the coast at Pebble Beach Golf Links costs $625. What you save on golf, you can spend on hearty seafood dishes instead.

To enjoy all the area has to offer, the best time to visit this coastal gem is during the Secret Season of September through November. It's that peaceful time of year when the summer tourists have disappeared, but the sunny skies remain. Even better, it hugs wine harvest season in nearby Paso Robles, which means you can enjoy a glass of vino while overlooking the surf after a long day on the water. It doesn't get much more Californian than that.