Go fall in love with Morro Bay


©Copyright 2001,2002, Debra Lo Guercio, all rights reserved

    I'm supposed to be write about Morro Bay, but I can't. Because my research on the area was wholly inadequate, I'll have to go back and do some further investigation before I can finish the story.

    You believe me, don't you?

    Yeah, the travel editor wasn't buying it either. Okay, okay, I'll write the story. But I'm still going back.

    Put quite simply, I fell in love with this place. I actually checked the Help Wanted ads while I was there, and real estate ads as well. I found myself thinking, "I could live here." However, based on the average wage and housing prices in the area, unless I can pay for a $400,000 one-bedroom condo on an $8 an hour bartending wage, visiting will have to do.
    Located on the Central Coast along Highway 1, about 20 minutes west of San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay is often blanketed with cool, gray coastal fog, but coming from the heat of a valley summer, that can be a welcome relief. Like many towns in the central and northern California coast, some of the coolest days are often the very same ones that are the hottest in the valley. If you want warm weather on the central coast, fall and early spring are your best bets.

    If you choose a hotel along The Embarcadero, the main street paralleling the bay, you'll find plenty of gift shops, restaurants, bars and boutiques. The touristy shops, full of seashells, candy and T-shirts line The Embarcadero, but the really interesting places are deeper into the town, where you'll find everything from hand-made crafts to crystals to wind chimes.

    We chose The Blue Sail Inn, which is perfectly situated to walk anywhere along the shore or into town. Best of all, it's perched on a hill with a wooden staircase leading straight down to a quirky little shop that has cappuccino, cookies and muffins available, whether after an early morning bayside stroll or to warm your tummy late at night.

    Our room included a king-sized bed, balcony with a bay view, microwave, refrigerator and gas fireplace. Decorated in cheery soft yellow and delicate blues with a nautical theme and clean as the proverbial whistle, it didn't take long to feel right at home, particularly when you can put your own sodas and fresh fruit in the fridge for a late-night snack and kick back on the bed with the remote in hand when you've had enough fun for one day.

    With rooms starting at an astounding $75 per night and ranging up to $145 for a double suite, the place is a bargain and the hotel manager, Helen Luellen (is that just the cutest name or what), is a peach of a lady who goes out of her way to be sweet and accommodating. It's the kind of hotel that builds a loyal clientele, and receives top marks in every area, from price to quality.

    Now that we have a place to stay, where do we eat? To be honest, I didn't find a restaurant that I absolutely loved (bear in mind that I'm excruciatingly picky, so don't let that scare you off) but I did enjoy Rose's Landing's tequila shrimp, and found the Captain's Platter (a classic arrangement of fried seafood such as calamari and scallops) at the Outrigger delightful. If you're going to splurge and have fried fish, the only place to do so is on the coast. The Outrigger's was light and flaky, and earned the place a "good enough to return to" ranking.

    One restaurant we visited, however, earned "I'd rather starve" marks and in the interests of good taste (pitiful double entendre intended) I won't mention it by name. If you'd like to know which restaurant to definitely avoid, email me and I'll pass along the warning.
    I would've liked to visit more of the local eateries, but my traveling companions for the weekend, who also double as my kids, insisted on driving in to downtown San Luis Obispo for cuisine more to their liking: pizza, pizza and more pizza. And a stop at the funky used CD store while we're at it.

    This is another plus about visiting Morro Bay. If taking long walks by the water and enjoying a cold beer at Dorn's Café right next door to the motel and relaxing on your balcony in the sun and feeling the stress seeping out of your body becomes boring (you sick little monkey), the drive in to San Luis Obispo, which is packed with activity, is a snap.

    So what else is nearby? Head north on Highway 1 to Hearst Castle, an easy 30 minutes away in San Simeon. This is one of the Great American must-sees, like the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore. It's good old American extravagance, born of good old American capitalism, and were the astoundingly lavish mansion and grounds of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst hoarded merely for himself, it would be a symbol of grotesque greed and consumption.

    However, in sitting through the informative short film on William Randolph Hearst before touring the grounds, you discover that he shared his stunning home with a wide range of people, even inviting groups of paper boys and their parents over for movie matinees in his private theatre.
    There's beauty and history in the mansion. You can see it in the decades-old tapestries adorning the walls, and the Greco-Roman styled pools, and the ornate classic bedrooms that looked as if Clark Gable and Carol Lombard might be arriving at any moment for a weekend away.
    True, you can't help thinking, "I will never, ever live like this" as you wander through gorgeous room after gorgeous room, and hear tales of the late night dinner parties and billiard room celebrity face-offs. But you can't help imagining, just for a moment, what it might have been like. You can almost feel it.

    If you'd rather just stay in town, however, because you're already falling in love with Morro Bay, here are a few other highlights: at the bottom of the staircase below the Blue Sail Inn, right next to your favorite cappuccino shop, is a tiny park that features giant chess pieces if you want to experience life from a Munchkin's eye view, as well as regular-sized chessboard tables on the perimeter if you'd rather just play chess and enjoying the ocean breeze. The park also features open-air music from time to time.

    Another lovely feature of Morro Bay is its walkability. The walking path along the bay is serene and easy, with a full view of the massive round dome in the bay known as Morro Rock. Not a mountain of rocks, but one huge boulder, Morro Rock is actually a volcanic formation and quite spectacular to behold. In through town, if you need to work that fried fish off your thighs, the small, quiet streets are just perfect for a brisk walk. You feel safe there, even though it's unfamiliar territory.

    While you're on that walk, you'll surely notice the cutest little theater on Earth in downtown Morro Bay. Quaint and tiny, and surely a historic jewel, it's literally the only show in town and plays just one movie at a time. No arguing with the kids, that's the movie, take it or leave it. Do take it though. It's like taking a step back in time.

    Morro Bay is also home to a variety of street festivals throughout the year, and two of its annual festivals take place on the first weekend of August and over Labor Day weekend. To find out more about local activities around which to plan your vacation, visit the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce website: www.morrobay.org. Or just visit Morro Bay, do nothing, and fall in love with a town.

Contact information: The Blue Sail Inn -- 851 Market Street, Morro Bay CA  93442. (888) 337-0707. www.bluesailinn.com.  Hearst Castle - reservations, (800) 444-4445; showtimes, (805) 927-6811

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