The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Marked by the Gibraltar-like monolith of Morro Rock, which was noted by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542 and now serves as a peregrine falcon preserve and nesting site, Morro Bay (pop. 10,436) surrounds a busy commercial fishing harbor a half mile west of Hwy-1. A thin, three-mile-long strip of sand protects the bay from the Pacific Ocean, forming a seabird-rich lagoon that’s included within Morro Bay State Park, a mile southeast of Morro Rock. There’s an excellent museum ($3 adults) with displays on local wildlife, and the park also contains the friendly Bayside Cafe (10 State Park Rd., 805/772-1465), serving lunch and dinner. Next door, when the weather’s nice, you can rent kayaks (805/772-8796) and paddle around the estuary.
The rest of Morro Bay is pretty quiet; one unusual sight is a giant outdoor chessboard (with waist-high playing pieces) at the foot of Morro Bay Boulevard on the waterfront in City Park. For clam chowder or fish-and-chips, try Giovanni’s (1001 Front St., 805/772-2123) in the strollable waterfront neighborhood. Very good, fast, Mexican-themed “fusion” food is available at the Taco Temple (2680 Main St., 805/772-4965), an often crowded and grandly named fish shack on the land side of the Hwy-1 frontage, a mile north of town.