Approximately halfway between the sprawling cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, coastal San Luis Obispo County is a laid back destination with beautiful coastal views in Central California. From San Simeon to Morro Bay to Pismo Beach, discover the best things to do along the Central California Coast in this Everyday Postcard from Ruth Rieckehoff of Tanama Tales.
With seven continents, nearly 200 countries, and more than 7.5 billion people in the world, there is a lot to experience. The world is so vast and amazing that even the most avid traveler with a large bank account couldn’t truly do it justice in one lifetime!
Through the Everyday Postcard series, one of the world’s everyday wanderers shares postcard-worthy photos and real-life travel experiences to bring a piece of the big wide world to you.
After breathing in the salty ocean breezes and spotting some elephant seals snoozing in the sand, Ruth dashed off this Everyday Postcard from coastal San Luis Obispo County:
For my end-of-year break, I decided to spend several days in Morro Bay. I cannot get enough of this small coastal city in San Luis Obispo County and its surroundings.
While there, I had the opportunity to do morning beach walks, hike to the top of a volcanic hill, spot otters and eat tons of clam chowder!
Meet Ruth Rieckehoff
Born and raised in tropical Puerto Rico, Ruth moved to Southern California over a decade ago to pursue careers in engineering and data analytics. California was the perfect place to fuel a long-time travel passion and the inspiration to share a bucket load of adventures on her blog Tanama Tales.
In addition to her blog, be sure to follow Ruth’s adventures via social media:
For those of us who haven't visited yet, give us an overview of coastal San Luis Obispo County
Morro Bay is a coastal town located in San Luis Obispo County. The town can be accessed through the famous Pacific Coast Highway or CA-1. Even though it is a stop on this famous road, it does not get crowded or overrun with visitors.
This town is unique because of Morro Rock (hence the name), a huge volcanic plug located off the coast. The rock, in conjunction with a long sand spit, forms a big bay full of marine mammals, birds, and plants.
Morro Bay is a great base to explore other beach towns in the county. There are tons to see and do in nearby Pismo Beach, Avila Beach, Cayucos, Cambria, and San Simeon.
How did you decide to visit Morro Bay?
I am a die-hard fan of the Californian Coast and it is my desire to explore every nook and cranny of it. Apart from that, Morro Bay is located relatively close to Los Angeles. We can complete the drive in about 3 hours.
We keep returning to the area because of the natural beauty, the good food, and the friends we have made. Plus, prices here are cheaper than in other parts of the coast. (Parking is even free!)
What's the best way to travel around coastal San Luis Obispo County?
The best way to explore coastal San Luis Obispo County is by car. That way, you have the flexibility to visit towns, parks, and trail heads without any worries.
The Pacific Surfliner (train) travels to San Luis Obispo, from Los Angeles or Santa Barbara, every day. San Luis Obispo is located 13 miles from Morro Bay.
Did anyone travel to Morro Bay with you?
My husband is my favorite travel partner. We have quite different travel styles but we have adjusted over the years.
The beach towns in San Luis Obispo offer things both of us enjoy: outdoor activities, easy walking/hiking trails, beaches, seafood, wine tasting and, opportunities to interact with locals.
When's the best time to visit coastal San Luis Obispo County?
Given California’s Meditteranean weather, San Luis Obispo County is a year-round destination.
I have visited during all seasons. If I have to pick the best time to visit, I would say May and September. During those months, temperatures are warmer and crowds are minimal.
March and April are prime time to see the flowers blooming at nearby Montaña de Oro State Park. During December, temperatures are in the mid-60s so, to me, that is the perfect weather for hiking.
What sights cannot be missed when visiting Morro Bay and coastal San Luis Obispo County?
When visiting Morro Bay, make sure to take a close look at Morro Rock. You can make it to the bottom of the rock by walking or driving. There are nice beaches in the vicinity. Take the proper gear if you want to spend some hours basking under the sun.
You want to explore the bay as well. You can do this by renting a kayak or paddle board or by taking a nature cruise. Whale watching tours are available too (in season).
In town, you can check the shops, eateries, murals and coffee shops of Downtown. Another option is to walk around the Embarcadero. It is very easy to spot otters from the area. And, It is almost guaranteed that you are going to hear the sea lions barking.
Nature enthusiasts will want to visit Montaña de Oro State Park, Morro Bay State Park, the Elfin Forest or the Sweet Springs Preserve. For the best views of the city, hike to the top of Black Hill, another feature of volcanic origin.
I recommend leaving sometime on your itinerary to visit other beach towns. Cayucos is smaller and cozier. It counts with a pier, long main beach and a shop selling the best smoked tacos in miles.
Things to do in Cambria include hiking in coastal preserves, walking the Moonstone Beach boardwalk, visit a museum or art gallery and tasting wine in the Village.
San Simeon is home to one of California’s top attractions: Hearst Castle, a residence built for media mogul William Randolph Hearst by architect Julia Morgan.
Moreover, San Simeon attractions include the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse (some say it is haunted), an elephant seal rookery and the William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach.
What was your favorite moment in Morro Bay?
I enjoy how easy it is to observe otters, harbor seals, sea lions, elephant seals, pelicans and other animals in the area. They are everywhere!
In addition, I feel at peace exploring the wild and rough beaches in the area. I have visited parks and preserves such as Montaña de Oro, Point Buchon, Estero Bay and Harmony Headlands. Those are full of coves, cliffs, sea stacks, caves and rocks shaped by volcanic forces.
One of the best parts of travel is experiencing the local flavors. What was your favorite meal in coastal San Luis Obispo County?
There are so many good eats in this part of the coast.
In Morro Bay, I enjoy eating seafood dishes (clam chowder, fresh oysters, Parmesan-panko crusted halibut, crab cakes) at Dutchman’s, The Galley, and Giovanni’s. For breakfast, Carla’s Country Kitchen serves omelets, scrambles, and pancakes.
The smoked tacos from Rudelle’s Smokehouse in Cayucos are on a different level. The flavor is so intense. I tend to order the different fish options for the day (my husband and I share). The Brown Butter Cookie Company is located across the street.
We hear a lot about “smooth sailing” travel moments, but were there any rough patches during your visit?
Once, we headed to Morro Bay during Labor Day weekend. It was a “spur of the moment” camping trip. We didn’t make any reservations.
As you can imagine, every public campground in the area was full. We weren’t having any luck with hotels either. Finally, after some stressful hours, we found a spot at a private campground.
On that same trip, we forgot to pack towels. I am not going to get into details, but we ended with paper-thin towels from the 99 Cents store.
Did you meet any of the locals? What were they like?
Locals are one of the main reasons we like the San Luis Obispo beach towns so much. Since life is unhurried there, we are able to engage in long talks with residents and business owners.
A lot of people living in the area moved here after many years in the big cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco. Talking to them gives us the desire to do something similar in the future.
Did you bring home any memorable souvenirs from your trip?
Every time we visit, we head to the supermarket or a specialized store and stock on local products. We buy hot sauce (Pepper Plant or Cayucos), olive oil, balsamic vinegar, wine or beer.
What's one thing travelers can't forget to pack when they visit San Luis Obsipo County?
I recommend packing clothes that can be used to dress in layers. Mornings and night can get chilly (even during summer) but days are warm.
Walking and hiking shoes are a must since outdoor activities abound.
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- Need something else to plan your perfect trip? Visit my travel resources page for more trusted partners. Happy wandering!