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California's central coast holds great getaways: hidden treasures await a traveler who takes the time to explore near Morro Bay.

Mention California's golden coastline and most people think of Big Sur, Monterey or the crowded beaches along the southern coast, including in San Diego. But there's also Morro Bay.

Located between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Mono Bay is often referred to as the jewel of the California central coast. Although crowds often flock to the Embarcadero or the waterfront on weekends and during the summer months, the town of 10,000 is usually quiet at night. In fact, if you fancy clubs and such, you'll have to go elsewhere. Night life at Mono Bay is more often a stroll along the beach watching the stars or going to a movie.

Daytime activities are unlimited. Outdoor enthusiasts can play tennis, go fishing, sailing and surfing or windsurfing. They can play golf, jog, hike, bicycle, walk, kayak, canoe or row a boat and look for animal life. If one would rather spend time indoors, there are museums, a library and shops to explore. And, of course, there's always a drive along the coast.

The best times to visit are in the spring and fall; summer visitors must contend with coastal fog and overcast skies.

Morro Rock

Most visitors marvel at Morro Rock, an ancient landmark rising 576 feet above the doorway to Mono Bay. The last in a string of extinct volcanoes known as the Seven Sisters, Morro Rock was named by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, during his voyage of discovery along the California coast in 1542.

Once surrounded by water; Mono Rock provided stones for the breakwater leading to it. In the late 1800s, quarry workers earned $2.50 to $2.75 a day, working 10-hour shifts, crumbling the giant rock. Between 1880 and 1963, workers removed about 1.2 million tons of rock. By 1963, conservationists and politicians were calling for an end to the destruction of Mono Rock, and today it is a state-registered landmark. It is also home to the endangered peregrine falcon.

Morro Bay State Park

Morro Bay State Park is located by the harbor. There are 135 campsites located in a pine and eucalyptus forest that was planted during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The park offers an 18-hole golf course with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean, a Frisbee golf course, a marina and a cafe, as well as scenery and views from atop Black Hill.

Also in the park is the Museum of Natural History. Located on White Point, the museum also offers a wonderful view of the bay, where a bird-watcher might see some of the area's more than 250 species, including great blue herons, black brant, grebes, coots, pelicans, marbled godwits, greater yellowlegs, black-crowned night herons, egrets, gulls and swallows.

The museum displays some of these species and includes exhibits about American Indian history. The staff also provides field outings, slide shows, lectures, movies and puppet shows.

It's an easy walk from the museum to the Heron Rookery Natural Preserve. Located in a grove of eucalyptus trees, the preserve is one of the state's largest great blue heron rookeries. Nests are active between February and June. Other nesting birds there include cormorants and great egrets.

Montana de Oro State Park

From Morro Bay it's an easy drive south to Montana de Oro State Park, with its more than 8,000 acres and seven miles of coastline. The park includes sandy beaches to the north and rugged cliffs to the south. A number of small coves intrigue hikers; Spooner's Cove is the most accessible.

The park is truly a hiker's paradise with trails traversing chaparral-covered hills decorated with California live oak and Bishop pine. Willows, big-leaf maples, myrtles, black cottonwoods and box elders line the canyons. A trail leads to the 1,347-foot Valencia Peak, from which hikers can see nearly 100 miles of shoreline stretching from Piedras Blancas to the north, to Point Sal in the south.

Wildlife is abundant. There are common sightings of fox, bobcat, coyote, badger, raccoon, skunk, rabbit and mountain lion. The bird life is equally exciting. Wildflower lovers will want to visit the area in spring AND early summer when a brilliant display of delicate flowers--including the state flower, the poppy--blanket the landscape. Yellow is the predominant color, resulting in the name Montana de Oro, or Mountain of Gold.

Other Sights, and Sites

There's color of another sort along the California coast from early October through March when monarch butterflies gather in the region. The orange and black butterflies form dense clusters on trees, each creature hanging with its wings down to cover the one below. Like shingles on a roof, the method provides warmth for the group and shelter from the rain.

When traveling to or from Montana de Oro State Park, visitors will pass through the town of Los Osos and the Los Osos Oaks State Reserve, southeast of town. There one finds a one-mile, self-guided trail through a grove of coast live oaks. Some are dwarfs, measuring just 6 to 8 feet high when mature. Growing in the mineral-depleted soil of ancient sand dunes, the dwarfed oaks are stunted for life.

Another state park, Morro Strand State Beach, sits north of Morro Park. Formerly called Atascadero State Beach, the 104-site campground sits behind a series of small sand dunes that provide protection from the brisk, prevailing winds that usually kick up in the afternoon.

The small town of Cayucos is north of the state beach. It has a sandy beach and tidepools. Farther north is the town of Harmony, population 18, and Hearst Castle at the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument.
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Author:Ikenberry, Donna
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 16, 2003
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