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. 10,234) 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 Café (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 ’n’ chips, try Giovanni’s (1001 Front St., 805/772-2123) in the strollable waterfront neighborhood. 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.