Los Osos Valley Road, just before the off ramp to sleepy Morro Bay on the 101, drops you into Steinbeck country. Tidy rows of vegetables fan to the road from turn of the century farmhouses. The rich smell of fresh hay fills the air with the fecund aroma of freshly turned earth. This road delivers you to the entrance of 8,000-acre Montana De Oro State Park. Pecho Valley Road marks the beginning of the eleven-mile drive through eucalyptus groves atop rugged bluffs overlooking a four-mile spit; part of the Morro Dunes Nature Preserve. In the distance, 575-foot Morro Rock stands like a sentinel to the entrance of Morro Bay.
Soon you reach Spooner Cove, a strip of sand scalloped into the cliff that marks the beginning of one of the most beautiful bluff walks on the coast of California. The trail meanders through wildflower meadows along the edge of sea cliffs overlooking mountains of water crashing against the sea wall. Oyster Catchers pick through the tide pools below while pelicans fly in V-shaped platoons above.
Once sated with the scent of the sea, return to Los Osos Valley Road and turn left onto South Bay Blvd. This will take you through the famed Morro Bay Estuary where thousands of migratory birds blacken the skies each February. The Natural History Museum, which houses a fine collection of local birds and Chumash Indian relics, is on the way to Morro Bay. If you would like a quiet stroll, take the board walk that wraps a tiny marina across from the State Park Camping Grounds.
The coastal town of Morro Bay is just around the bend. Restaurants overlooking the harbor are in a fierce competition for the best seafood offerings. The Tagnazzini’s Dockside at the north end of town is a local favorite. Otters floating on their backs with a kit on their belly are often viewed from the casual dockside patio. For a hearty breakfast try the Sky-Blue Bistro. If you have time for a boat ride around the bay, you are sure to see more sea life.
Cayucos, just up the coast on Hwy 1, is a laid-back surf town. Stroll the pier, jutting out into the sea at the golden hour. A wide sandy beach with rolling surf and thousands of shore birds drilling the sand for tidbits calls to the beachcomber in me. The Schooner restaurant overlooking the pier with outdoor patio boasts wonderful seafood dishes. Further north, the famous Moonstone Beach across from the charming village of Cambria beckons. Do a little antiquing and try a piece of Olallieberry Pie.
The strip of the coast between Cambria and Big Sur is rugged, windswept, and for the most part owned by the state with many hiking options. Across from the infamous Hearst Castle, built by newspaper magnet William Randolph Hearst, is the lessor known San Simeon Pier and beach. At the San Simeon Café, indulge in juicy quarter pound hamburgers made from the beef grazing on the Hearst Land, or have a picnic on the sands. On the north side of the swimming beach is the trailhead to a bluff walk cooled by tangy sea breeze with views of the curvaceous coast.
At Piedras Blancas on Highway One, four miles north of San Simeon, tourists line up overlooking a sandy beach to ogle massive Elephant seals. They congregate here in spring and early summer to fast and molt their top layer of fat. One might lift its head and make a noise that sounds like a snoring pipe organ, but there is not a lot of movement. However, if you come in February, you can witness fierce battles between 12-foot-long males weighing in at 6,000 pounds for the privilege of mating with one of the hefty temptresses sprawled on the shore.
You can see the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, built in 1975, sitting on a lonely peninsula from the elephant seal rookery. You have to make reservations for a docent led tour, but it is worth the extra effort to explore the manicured grounds that garner stunning views. It is one of the six viewing sites on the Central Coast as part of the Whale Trail from Canada to Mexico.
Time to head back to L.A. with the thought that I will return to explore more of the Central Coast. You will find 32 of my favorite daytrips on the coast of California in my handbook, Lost Angel in Paradise.