“It is very beautiful,” they replied, “but what is THAT?”
Morro Bay lies due west of Bakersfield on California’s Central Coast. This is the section of the state’s coastline that extends roughly from Santa Barbara on the south to just below San Francisco on the north end. Many of the state’s gems lie along this route: Big Sur, Hearst Castle, Monterey, and Santa Cruz just to name a few.
We start off in Bakersfield and take Highway 46 over the coastal hills. This is a lonely, scenic road and is historically one of the area’s more dangerous roads…it was nicknamed “Blood Alley” for the large number of head-on collisions. About halfway over the hills, in a pretty little valley is the intersection with highway 41, is the spot where the most memorable of these crashes occurred.
Just up the road is a small diner where a memorial to Dean sits in the parking lot. Walk around the back…signs warn you to watch for rattlesnakes…and you’ll see a line of trees. That is the spot where the San Andreas Fault cleaves the state in two.
Driving carefully over the rest of the route, we arrive at Highway 1 just north of Harmony and turn south. Somewhere in the hills to the left, another black day in the state happened when fired airline employee, David Burke, burst into the cockpit of PSA flight 1771 and shot the pilots dead. The plane dove into the ground at full speed, killing all 44 aboard including the supervisor who fired him.
After this tour of gruesome California history, we see our destination shrouded in fog up ahead with Morro Rock poking through the low-hanging cloud.
Our hotel for this trip is the Best Western San Marcos Inn, just two blocks from the waterfront. Barrier-free rooms with two queen beds are available and the hotel serves a free light continental breakfast along with a wine and cheese mixer every evening in the lobby. There is no pool but instead a large hot tub with views of the bay. Just about everything in town is within walking distance.
And the rock? It’s the town’s signature feature. A morro is a volcanic plug where the surrounding mountain has worn down exposing the rock underneat. There are nine of these ancient domes in the area, Morro Rock being the most famous, spectacularly sitting between the town and the waves.
Tummies full, we continue walking along the water until we get to the Morro Bay Aquarium. This old, frayed-around-the-edges, sea life facility will never be mistaken for its flashy cousin to the north in Monterey, but is a good way to while away some of your time and only costs a buck or two depending on your age. The small aquarium houses and rehabilitates animals from sea lions to sharks, octopi, and other creatures brought in by the local fishing fleet. Cal Poly uses them to board their collection of horseshoe crabs. A few pools outside hold sea lions that were injured or abandoned. Visitors can feed them.
After the cruise, we stroll around looking at the shops. A garden center across the street has quite an array of custom fountains. I come close to buying one for the yard, but decide not to when I think of how I will get it home.
I buy some fruit and cheese for a lunch snack as we sit back and listen. An orchid greenhouse nearby provides a quiet getaway from all the action on the streets.
Dinner tonight will be at Tognazzini’s, an out-of-the-way restaurant nestled in with the commercial fishing fleet at the north end of town, based upon a recommendation from the skipper of the tour boat. We are not disappointed with the fish and pasta dinner that we have.
Nearby is the Harford Pier, built in 1873, where another local restaurant…Fatcats…sits on the hillside. Many people, including my parents, swear by this little diner. It is very good, but the linguica omelet at the Custom House always beckons me.
When I was a kid, we had a family reunion type party here and the several of us fishing caught 250 red snapper and netted dozens of crabs for the boilers we set up on the camp fire. I don’t think there’s that much to catch anymore, but it’s still a nice place to drop a line.
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