Take you to Morro Bay!

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Think about Morro Bay and some defining iconic features that inevitably and reassuringly grab the mind. There is, of course and undoubtedly, the Rock – a huge seaside mound of volcanic unrest, actually more massive before historic monument status in 1968 prevented mineral quarrying. The Rock stands mightily, monolithically, a few steps from Herculean just steps from the archaic triple chimneys of a 1950s powerhouse (closed since 2014 and now in limbo). There’s also the ever-ready outlook of seafood prepared right off the peaceful bay, and the sure temptation of that civic palindromic vessel – the kayak.

But recently, when my wife, Peggy, and I chose to solemnly end our house arrest with a nearby road trip, with the dog Harper in tow, new features presented themselves. Take, for example, the Cormoran and Cold Shoulder condos. The first is a striking suburb – aka rookery – of cormorant nests in high eucalyptus perches adjacent to our dog-friendly room at the Inn of Morro Bay. The slender, y-necked birds were busy building and maintaining nests, and uttering their strange atavistic croaks, like little dinosaur roars (or at least, we were programmed to imagine it).

Credit: Josef Woodard

And the cold shoulder? It’s one of the mouth-watering sandwiches – this one filled with pork shoulder and other produce – at Morro Bay Butcher and Deli. The ambitious and sustainable ‘end-to-end’ butcher’s shop, which opened in December in the proudly old-fashioned Streamline Modern building on Main Street, is a new must-see destination in Morro. Had to come back to try the “Hot Mess” barbecue sandwich. Lo, it was those things, plus a treat for the meat eater’s taste buds. Peggy opted for a healthier menu at the well-established vegan Shine Café / store complex two blocks away (everything is close by in this fishing village of 11,000 people).

In other cross-species feeding news, gentle Butcher and Deli co-owner Jillian Montgomery pulled out some raw meat scraps for Harper, who ate them with animal voracity and gave a little shiver of ecstasy, as if he was thinking, “I’ve been wanting to eat this all my life!”

During our few days in town mostly shrouded in fog, the sound of the bleating foghorn maintained an ultra-slow tempo and a grounded aural presence. We heard it everywhere we went, taking a merry Harper into the Elfin Forest, with its curious pygmy oaks, and into the expansive Del Mar Park, with a fenced dog park and the newly ubiquitous site of pickleball on hiking trails. property.

During last year’s enforced disruption and tourist moratorium, the famed Inn at Morro Bay has been busy renovating, remodeling the rooms in a laudably new nautical decor theme. A large collective patio outside our back door allowed for idle wandering and admiration of the rituals of the cormorant and the nesting nearby. With no dog bed in the bedroom, Harper had the privilege of sleeping with her pals on the king-size bed.

Being there now, as the trips start to pick up, makes for a leisurely stay by the bay, especially if you manage to get there mid-week, between the weekend tourist gusts. Surreal reminders of pandemic times and social distancing protocols serve as reality checks, including the forced closure of the charming hotel bar and restaurant with great views of the bay, off the radar for the time being.

Accommodation abounds in this tourist town, but the hostel has a special feel, located on the edge of the ‘town’, opposite the Morro Bay golf course, and above that, the panoramic viewpoint at the top. from Black Hill. Further down the road we find the lovely and charming Natural History Museum (currently closed, but hopefully not for long), the main kayaking dock and the Morro Bay and Montana de Oro campgrounds, offering their own more earthy accommodations.

Morro Bay remains a special getaway option for Santa Barbarans, who can feel effectively transported to “another” location, less than two hours away, but far enough from the central 101 thoroughfare to detach themselves from Cali’s cliché vibe. It also still feels like an enchanted city, slightly funky around the edges of a simpler time and place. The gentrification marauders, so pervasive in Santa Barbara and elsewhere in California, have yet to receive the Morro Bay memo.

Spend time browsing and intellectual partying at the Coalesce Bookstore (founded 1973), a proudly independent and evocative bookstore right in the city center, where you could also be a silent witness to a wedding in the Wedding Chapel of the back garden (as we were). Pop by the Top Dog Café and the Beer Garden next door, where charged and attitude-adjusted liquids are freshly brewed and poured, with a vibe-led jazz trio on the weekly entertainment schedule.

At the edge of the bay, along the Embarcadero, tourists (like us, sometimes attached to dogs) reel and wander in a daze, lazily rummaging around the emporium yard ‘n’ garden Garden Gallery or the Shell Shop frozen in time. The Maritime Museum, overshadowed by the oddly sleepy power station next door, has grown and acquired a compact but crowded building added to its display of disembarked ships.

When considering dining options, we envisioned Dorn’s Breaker’s (born 1942) on top of a ramshackle hill, but wanted closer proximity to the bay. We had to cross The Galley off the list after being told dogs weren’t invited (a bite / litigation incident put their dog-friendly policy in the doghouse), but we ended up at the vintage dock in Tognazzini, whose logo / mascot is a cute Mermaid. (Either way, the naked mermaid doesn’t seem all that fun kitsch in the Me Too era.) Suffice to say, gastronomically, my seafood quesadilla was a crescendo of delicacies. Harper, my food critic assistant, agreed.

Speaking of the convergence of seafood and Mexican cuisine, if you’re new to Taco Temple, a pilgrimage is a must. Located along Highway 1, with its festive and outgoing signage, the Temple offers famous variations of Mexican cuisine, with giant portions and mouthwatering style. Crab tacos have never tasted so good. The next morning, a visit to another MB establishment, the Buttercup Bakery, rewarded my epicurean curiosity with the sumptuous (and healthy) Brent’s Breakfast Sandwich.

After all is eaten and walked, and its great outdoors and small town charms appreciated, Morro Bay is primarily an unpretentious balm for the senses. Especially in these days of a pandemic, hopefully the healing pleasure can be found in the simple act of strolling around The Rock or watching your pooch playfully frolic along the beach north of said Rock. And a belly full of seafood doesn’t hurt.

Take yourself to the Rock!


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