Calling all outdoor enthusiasts and vitamin sea lovers! If you like to get your heart pumping with active excursions in nature but also enjoy the tranquility of a slow-paced beach town, Morro Bay is for you. This small city on the Central Coast of California offers endless recreation opportunities in a stunning setting.
Here, you’ll get to reconnect with nature without disconnecting from society. Ready to explore the best of both worlds? Read on for everything you need to know when planning a trip to Morro Bay, including activities, campgrounds, hidden gems, and other helpful tips.
With tons of van camping options from RV parks with full hookups to gorgeous remote campgrounds, Morro Bay is a van dweller’s paradise. To help you plan the most epic road trip, we’re also sharing spots to stop at on your way there.
About Morro Bay
Morro Bay is a small city in San Luis Obispo County. If you’re driving up the coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Morro Bay is perfectly halfway. Besides its ideal location, this charming community was named one of the best small towns in California by Country Living.
The most recognizable landmark of the area is Morro Rock, an extinct volcanic peak that rises dramatically from the ocean. Morro Bay is also known for its mild weather year-round, miles of pristine beaches, and unique wildlife. There are three state parks in the vicinity for hiking and biking as well as a protected estuary ecosystem to explore. The town itself offers a variety of small boutiques and casual dining options.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing seaside vacation with mouthwatering meals every night or an ultra-active outdoor trip–or a bit of both–you’ll find it in Morro Bay.
Where to Stop on the Drive Over
Morro Bay has plenty of activities to keep you entertained for multiple days, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the bevy of appealing attractions on your way. If you’re coming from San Francisco or Los Angeles and don’t mind adding a bit of time to your drive, opt to take the scenic route, a.k.a. the famous Pacific Coast Highway. If you take the direct routes from either of those destinations or are coming from the east, there is still no shortage of state and national parks and charming towns to stop for an afternoon or a full day.
If you’re driving up from L.A., check out Santa Barbara for a relaxed beach town that’s been dubbed “the American Riviera.” Quirky travelers will enjoy Solvang, a Danish-style town. Or explore the variety of landscapes, including wetlands and bluffs, surrounding Pismo Beach.
San Luis Obispo, the namesake of the county, is not to be missed. This college town is the place to sample craft drinks and food, lay eyes on historic Spanish mission architecture, and tour museums and galleries. Time your visit to San Luis Obispo during the farmer’s market that takes place every Thursday evening. This market is praised as one of the best in California.
Coming down to Morro Bay from San Francisco, consider stopping at one of the numerous nature parks in the area for a quiet stay amongst the trees. Your options include Big Basins Redwood State Park, Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, Henry W. Coe State Park, Pinnacles National Park, and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Or check out some of the iconic coastal towns along the way. Monterey is known for its rugged beaches and impressive aquarium. Nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea has a lovely village-like feel and a dramatic coastal landscape.
If you’re traveling from a city to the east like Las Vegas, Nevada, expect a striking transition of landscapes from the desert and Joshua trees of Mojave National Preserve to the beaches and redwoods of Los Padres National Forest. Both parks offer plenty of opportunities for hikers to put their boots to the trails. For something a bit more leisurely, wander through the vineyards and olive groves of Paso Robles, which is around 40 minutes away from your Morro Bay destination.
Outdoor Adventures at Morro Bay
When you finally reach Morro Bay, you’re in for a real treat. With such a variety of outdoor activities, you can spend each day doing something completely different. From hiking to whale-watching, you’ll get to enjoy it all on this vacation.
The Morro Bay area offers a variety of attractive trails at sea level and above. Check out the paved Morro Bay Harbor and Estuary trail for an easy walk next to the water. Or take the moderately difficult 1.5-hour hike up and down the Black Hill Trail for top-notch ocean views. Looking for more of a challenge? Trek the three-hour Cerro Alto Trail Loop in Los Padres National Forest.
Cover more ground by grabbing your bike (or a rental). Whether you prefer road cycling or mountain biking, the Morro Bay area has something for you. For a casual, mostly paved ride, take the Morro Rock Loop from Morro Bay. This 40-minute ride will bring you up close and personal with the towering 581-foot tall volcanic plug. Or head into Montaña de Oro State Park for the popular mountain biking route called Hazards Peak Trail.
The beauty of the bay is best enjoyed from the water itself. Surfing is a popular pastime here for good reason. Catch some waves in the shadow of the epic “Rock” or at Cayucos Pier. The Sandspit, a beach that can only be reached from Morro Bay by sea, forms a sheltered area with gentler waves. These mild waters are perfect for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Plus, you have the built-in destination of the Sandspit to head towards. Pack a picnic lunch to reward yourself and check out the bay from another viewpoint.
Another option for sightseeing on the sea is boating. You can rent a motorboat or opt for a guided private or public tour. These tours showcase the natural formations of the area, the harbor, and local wildlife. For more on wildlife viewing, check out our details below. In the mood for a romantic adventure? Try a sunset sailing cruise or a full-day sailing lesson.
Morro Bay is home to an impressive variety of animal species. Popular creatures to look out for are sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, and whales. You can also spot many types of birds year-round, including the peregrine falcons that nest on Morro Rock. Birdwatching is so popular here that the city has an annual Winter Bird Festival. Also, the Audubon Society has labeled Morro Bay an “Important Bird Area.”
After working up a sweat with a long list of outdoor sports and adventures, nothing sounds better than having a mellow beach day. If that’s what you’re craving, you’re in luck! Morro Bay’s beaches are postcard pretty and have an unusual amount of sand dollars to collect. Morro Beach features excellent views of Morro Rock along with public fire pits so you can stay for sunset and beyond. Morro Strand State Beach is a pristine beach with sand dunes while Morro Bay State Park Beach is known for excellent wildlife viewing. Dog-friendly Toro Creek Beach is the perfect place to while away an afternoon with your canine companion.
Van Camping in Morro Bay
Because Morro Bay is such an appealing destination for road trippers, there are plenty of places in the city and nearby for van lifers to set up a home base. They broadly fall into two categories, RV parks and campgrounds.
- Bay Pines Travel Trailer Park- enjoy full hookups and amenities including a heated pool and spa at this park.
- Cypress Morro Bay RV & Mobile Home Park- this location offers basic amenities but truly shines in its downtown location close to the bay.
- Morro Dunes RV Park- wake up to a view of the ocean and dunes right outside your doors at this park.
- Morro Strand RV Park- this landscaped park is within walking distance of Morro Bay’s main attractions.
- Rancho Colina RV Park- relax in this clean, quiet RV park just outside of Morro Bay.
- Morro Strand State Beach Campground- this coastal campground offers some sites with hookups and a picnic area.
- Cerro Alto Campground- this dry camping area is 15 minutes inland from Morro Bay in Los Padres National Forest.
- Morro Bay State Park Campground- dry camp surrounded by the majestic lagoon and bay landscape.
Morro Bay is a tempting destination year-round, but the prime weather conditions start in August and last throughout the fall months. In fact, the town uses the term “secret season” to describe October and November. Plan a Morro Bay vacation during these months for a Mediterranean-style climate of clear days and warm sun without as many other visitors.
Hidden Gems in Morro Bay
While this post is mainly focused on outdoor adventures, you’ll also have access to delicious seafood, charming shops, and cultural events. Below, you’ll find some unique attractions to check out on your trip.
- Avocado Margarita Food & Drink Festival- from September 9th-11th, the town comes alive in celebration of some of our favorite green produce and cocktails.
- Mural Mile- explore Morro Bay’s street art with the help of a map from the visitor center.
- The Embarcadero- stroll along the waterfront lined with quaint shops and restaurants. Carousel Taffy and the Morro Bay Maritime Museum are must-visits.
Find the Adventure Van of your Dreams Today
Camper vans and beach towns go hand in hand. You can truly enjoy a slower pace of life and the wonders of the outdoors with the flexibility afforded by van life.
Ready to find your new rig? Browse a wide variety of state-of-the-art camper vans at Rec Van.