Fish, Fog and Fun in Coastal California’s Morro Bay

By posted on December 7, 2017 5:28AM
Fishing Fleet & Morro Rock

Home to one of California’s last true remaining fishing fleets, Morro Bay located on California’s majestic Central Coast is one of those magical surprise destinations you’re not sure should be shared. But then, you find you’re compelled to. Because you ask yourself how you’d not visited this captivating location before.

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

Locals here will tell you with a grin “we’re all about the fish and the fog.” And on a recent weekend adventure, we experienced quite a lot of both and were not disappointed in the least. As a matter of fact, the magic mix of the two served to only enhance the ambiance.

So much that fishing boats shrouded in the misty fog will forever stick in our memory.  A sign in one of the promenade shops explains it succinctly “Sometimes we need the fog to remind ourselves that all of life is not black and white.”

456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites
456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites

456 Embarcadero Inn and Suites were our welcoming hosts to Morro Bay. The family owned and operated, pet-friendly inn’s location was a perfect choice. As the name implies, it’s right on the Embarcadero with views of the bay and walking distance to practically everything in town.

And to boot with windows cracked open in the evening, the distant barking of sea lions and the low mournful fog horns were our nighttime lullabies.

Morro Bay’s True Nature

Morro Rock
Morro Rock

It’s all about the outdoors here on a coast blessed with incredible natural beauty. Morro Rock is their defining landmark. Indeed, it’s one of the most distinctive and recognizable geographical features along the entire California Pacific Coast.

The 576-foot towering volcanic formation can be seen from practically every vantage point along the bay. Home to the once endangered peregrine falcon, the “Rock” is the separation point between the sands of Morro Strand State Beach and the azure waters of Morro Bay Harbor.

Paddle boarding and kayaking are immensely popular here and it’s not hard to see why. Some of the best Morro Bay views are seen from the ocean. And due to the calmness of these protected waters, even fishermen use kayaks to catch an evening meal.

Kayak Adventures
Kayak Adventures

One of the best ways to take in the natural beauty of the bay and learn about its history and fascinating mammal and avian population is on a half-day kayak tour. Nature guides from Central Coast Outfitters lead small groups through pristine waters to hidden beaches, secluded sand dunes and visits to a heron rookery and oyster farm. There’s no better way to experience nature at its finest.

Hiking opportunities abound here but one of the most highly recommended is the Black Hill Trail. Accessed through Morro Bay State Park campground, the moderate short hike leads 660 feet to a summit with spectacular views of the entire bay, sand spit and of course, the famous Morro Rock. We have to say that hiking through the low-lying clouds gave the experience quite a memorable twist.

Strolling the Embarcadero provides the opportunity to really get to know what the town of Morro Bay is all about.

Fishermen returned to the harbor with their daily catches followed by flocks of seagulls hoping for a few leftovers. Sea otters frolicked in the waters of the bay putting on quite a show for passers-by.

Morro Bay Waterfront Boutiques
Morro Bay Waterfront Boutiques

Charming boutiques filled with mermaid and eclectic decor, art galleries, an old-fashioned salt water taffy store, surf and shell shops all welcomed us. All served as a comforting reminder there are still these small town coastal communities that embrace life by celebrating the sea.

Morro Bay’s Fresh Fish

For a small town, Morro Bay has a multitude of dining options. But, to be honest, we came for the fish. The Bay is successfully leading the way in sustainable small fleet fishing practices nationwide and here you’re guaranteed to get it as fresh as it gets.

Though we couldn’t try out all the restaurants during our weekend stay, we found some incredible ones well worth mentioning for both the superb cuisine and the stunning views they provide their patrons.

Bayside Cafe
Bayside Cafe

Bayside Café was established in 1986 by Cal Poly graduate Dawn Borst. She created the menu from her own personal recipes and the Café, originally a walk-up order window became so popular with the locals and visitors that a casual indoor dining area was added.

Its bayside location on the Marina is perfect and food here is extremely creative using farm-fresh local ingredients. My Crab Louie salad had a generous portion of succulent sweet Dungeness crab while my hubby’s Fish and Chips were tender, flaky and cooked to perfection.

We heard desserts here are the bomb so we tried to make room for one of the Café’s specialties, a Boysenberry Crisp served with fresh whipped cream. Needless to say, it more than lived up to its reputation. It’s a shame we decided to share.

Tognazzini's Dockside
Tognazzini’s Dockside

Serving the Morro Bay community since 2004, Tognazzini’s Dockside situated right alongside the Morro Bay Harbor is a great choice for fresh seafood without breaking the bank.

Co-owner Mark Tognazzini is a commercial fisherman whose fresh fish market literally sits right next door to the eatery.

Oysters are one of the restaurant’s specialties so we had to try the local Oysters Rockefeller. Large, meaty, tender and bursting with flavor, these loaded oysters could be a meal onto themselves. And they’re likely the best we’ve ever had.

Oysters Rockefeller
Oysters Rockefeller

Daily specials are dependent on what’s brought in fresh from the sea and our server’s recommendation of the day was the Black Cod. Tender, buttery and soft, this delectable fish was topped with a savory Mediterranean sauce rich with artichokes and black olives.

It’s no wonder the restaurant is so popular with the locals. Between the harbor front location and the excellent food, Tognazzini’s delivers a winning combination.

Fish is king here in Morro Bay. And the monarch of Central Coast’s finer-dining establishments is without a doubt, 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 to perfection highlighting the natural qualities of each, then served with the choice of light sauces on the side.

Ahi Tuna at The Galley Grill
Ahi Tuna at The Galley Grill

After tasting the Ahi Tuna (Seared Rare) and Pan-Seared Scallops, we are in total agreement. The seafood here 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.

Evening Fog Rolling In
Evening Fog Rolling In

Strolling along the Embarcadero in the evening as the fog came rolling in, we couldn’t help but think of Carl Sanberg’s famous poem that says “The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on.”

On our last morning of our visit, the fog finally lifted. But its memory lingers.

Noreen L. Kompanik is a registered nurse and freelance writer and photographer based in San Diego, California. Fortunate to have lived overseas as a Naval Officer’s wife, she has traveled extensively and her many Italian and other European adventures have sparked her passion for cooking and wine tasting. A member of the International Travel Writers and Photographers Association, Noreen is a frequent contributor to several online and print publications. She shares her latest adventures, photos, and published stories on her What’s In Your Suitcase? Facebook page. Her stories reflect her love for travel, history, adventure and family.

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