Getting Real in Morro Bay: Take a Break (and a Kayak) to the Central Coast Town Just outside San Luis Obispo, Where Things Still Feel Truly Authentic

By Jaffe, Matthew | Sunset, November 2008 | Go to article overview

Getting Real in Morro Bay: Take a Break (and a Kayak) to the Central Coast Town Just outside San Luis Obispo, Where Things Still Feel Truly Authentic


Jaffe, Matthew, Sunset


I'M SITTING IN THE MIDDLE of Morro Bay in an inch of water, my kayak grounded on a mudflat. Maybe growing up I read too many true-Life adventure books, but the prospect of quicksand--if not the body-swallowing variety, then something where I'm left thigh-deep in slime--keeps me from getting out of the kayak and carrying it into deeper water. (Maybe I really should read The Dangerous Book for Boys.)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The tide will start rising in about half an hour; however, I have no idea just how much time a bay needs to fill back up. My predicament has an upside: I have a frontrow seat to wildlife. Harbor seals swim by in a nearby channel. An otter cracks open a shell, and a great blue heron is on the wing. A white pelican tosses back its bill to swallow a fish.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I hadn't pictured my trip to this Central Coast town quite this way. Then again, being away from everything was kind of the point. Maybe it's the fishing boats and the long miles of beaches, an atmosphere more hardworking than precious, with just enough distance from the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles to stay out of either orbit. But whenever I'm in Morro Bay, I feel as though I've gone to a place a bit more authentic than much of the coast.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

So I'll skip a side trip to Hearst Castle, 30 miles north, and tastings in the always-expanding Paso Robles wine country on the other side of the hills. I'm here for some of California's best autumn wildlife-viewing on a back-to-nature weekend of beach hikes, as well as paddling on a big blue bay--at least when the tide is high.

I look up at Black Hill, a volcanic peak that I had summited yesterday: all of 661 feet. Modest, to be sure, but Black Hill is the place to get your bearings in Morro Bay. The scent of sunbaked sage filled the air as I looked down at channels braiding a delta of marshes and mudflats that looked Like something that original danger-loving dude Huck Finn would light out for. Instead of Big Sur's epic clash of rock and waves, on Morro Bay there's a mutual surrender: Land melts into water, and water gets slurped up by land.

From Black Hill, I headed over to one of the estuary's hidden spots. At the Elfin Forest, poor soil, salt air, and ocean winds have stunted the growth of stands of California live oaks. Some no more than 4 feet tall, these natural bonsai spread along the ground, all coiling limbs washed in broken, golden light. …

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