Warm, sunny days, cool nights, mountains and beaches and friendly people are good enough reasons to visit San Luis Obispo County. But don’t forget our flora and fauna! For starters, find the latest in whale watching, orchid shows, elephant seal watching, birding, dunes walks, and other activities, by consulting the comprehensive, regularly updated calendar of nature events in San Luis Obispo County.
Pismo Beach and the Central Coast play host to millions of migrating Monarch butterflies each winter. Drop by the famous Pismo Monarch Grove to see eucalyptus trees covered with these colorful butterflies.
The grove is located on Highway 1 at the south boundary of the City of Pismo Beach. Parking is available by meandering through the North Beach campground and following signs, also past the campground, on either side of Hwy 1 at the main access point to the Monarch site. The beach is only a short walk away.
The Audubon Society lists San Luis Obispo County as one of its top ten birding sites in the country. Morro Bay Estuary, one of the largest unspoiled coastal marshes in the state, is a major stopping point in bird migration and attracts over 200 species of native and migrating birds—waterfowl, shorebirds, birds of prey, and warblers. Impressive peregrine falcons, once on the verge of extinction, now nest and hunt from the cliffs of Morro Rock. The neighboring estuary attracts the graceful and elegant snowy egret.
A brochure listing local birds and birding sites can be obtained by phoning the Natural Resources Manager for San Luis Obispo County at 805-781-7211.
Other useful birding resources are:
- Morro Coast Audubon Rare Bird Alert, 805-528-7182
- North Cuesta Audubon, 805-528-7182
- US Fish & Wildlife Service, Ventura Field Office, 805-644-1766
Elephant seals can be seen birthing, raising pups, and fighting for territory in California’s largest mainland rookery on the northern edge of Morro Bay, a short walk from Highway 1 in San Simeon. These marine mammals are truly massive. They can weigh more than a small car. Threatened California sea otters also make Morro Bay home. Look beyond the breakers and you may spot a sea otter floating in a bed of kelp. The great gray whale makes its passage up and down the coast twice a year. The children will enjoy tidepooling at Hazards Beach in Montaña de Oro State Park.
Guided whale watching tours leave the San Luis Pier and Morro Bay on a daily basis in the winter. For departure times and tickets, inquire at Virg’s Landing , 1215 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, 805-772-1222.
Los Padres National Forest encompasses nearly two million acres in the rugged coastal mountains of Central California. The forest stretches across almost 220 miles from the Big Sur Coast in Monterey County to the western edge of Los Angeles County. The Sierra Club trail guide maps out eleven trails in this vast wilderness, including three in Lopez Lake area.
Central Coast Outdoors offers a wealth of outdoor activities. Adventures with Nature, a program supported by the Central Coast Natural History Association, offers docent-led walks in Oceano Lagoon, Hazard Reef, and other nature spots. Scheduled trips are published in the Your Calendar section of the San Luis Obispo Tribune. More information is available by calling 805-772-2694.
The Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo ( ECOSLO ) offers free monthly docent-led weekend hikes in and around the city of San Luis Obispo. The ECOSLO website lists these hikes several months in advance.
Morro Bay Natural History Museum offers a wealth of information about natural resources in this area. It is located in Morro Bay State Park, within minutes of the Heron Rookery, Montaña de Oro State Park, the El Moro Elfin Forest and Audubon’s Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. The Museum overlooks Morro Bay which is both a State and National Estuary. Entry fees are $2 for adults and free to children 16 and under. The Museum is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Hiking: Views, views, views
Many well-maintained trails with a variety of difficulties, micro-climates, and scenery wait to be explored. A few of the most popular and convenient hikes are listed briefly below. For more complete information, the local chapter of the Sierra Club maintains a comprehensive list (including directions, length, and difficulty) on their website.
Montaña de Oro State Park is probably your best bet for close hiking and nature walks close by, with nine major trails of varying difficulty, terrain and views. This state park is miraculously free of charge. There are many places to enjoy a picnic lunch with a view of waves crashing against beaches and cliffs. The Coon Creek trail is an excellent choice for a hot day. This trail follows a lush creek bed up from the coast for several miles with very little uphill. Shade from the native trees and cool water flowing next to the trail keep you cool. You can also choose to hike on a trail that follows the coast the entire way from the campgrounds to the end of the park. Finally, for the adventurous, try climbing the Ridge Trail, closer to park entrance. It will take you up several hundred feet for a panoramic view of Morro Rock, the entire park, and the bay.
In Morro Bay, the hike up Black Hill offers spectacular views as well as a light cardio workout. This trail can be accessed from the Morro Bay State Park campground parking lot, a twenty minute drive from the Sea Venture. The total hike is only about three miles round-trip and should take less than an hour and a half at a relaxed pace.
The trail up Bishop Peak in San Luis Obispo (1200′ elevation gain, 4.4 miles round trip) traverses several micro-climates to arrive at panoramic views of the city. The 360º view from this local favorite includes Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, the City of San Luis Obispo, and the vineyards of Edna and San Luis Valley.
For a more relaxed hiking experience, try the well-marked Felsman Loop , in the Bishop Peak area. This hike is rated easy to moderate, with few uphill sections. It winds through oak woodland, chaparral, and expansive grassland areas. Red-tailed hawks and other birds sail overhead, hitching a ride on the breeze that comes up from the ocean.
Los Padres National Forest encompasses nearly two million acres in the rugged coastal mountains of Central California. The forest stretches across almost 220 miles from the Big Sur Coast in Monterey County to the western edge of Los Angeles County. The Sierra Club Trail Guide maps out eleven adventurous trails in this vast wilderness, including three beautiful trails in the nearby Lopez Lake area.
The Cerro Alto trailhead ( directions ) offers hikes just about a half hour’s drive from the resort. The trailhead is nestled in a lush riparian valley—a running creek makes this area dense with trees, green plants, and bird life year round. Starting at over 1000′ (about 300m) in elevation, these hikes offer glimpses of some of the life in the higher elevations of San Luis Obispo County. You can hike to the top of Cerro Alto Peak, which at 2600′ (~800m) is one of the highest peaks in the western part of the county.
San Luis Obispo County offers world class mountain biking and excellent road bike opportunities. Mountain trails are easily accessed from downtown San Luis Obispo, Highway 101, and Montaña de Oro State Park. Several road ride loops offer an alternative to off-road riding, taking you through quaint beach towns and villages of the Central Coast with relatively few hills. The Bob Jones Bikeway, accessed from Highway 101 near Avila Hot Springs , is a local favorite. It offers several miles of peaceful riding away from motor vehicles along shady San Luis Obispo Creek. This path ends in the little beach town of Avila, an excellent place for a lunch stop or even some wine tasting.
After you have surfed Pismo Beach, give the waves of Morro Bay a try. You can rent a board and wetsuit at several surf shops in town, and arrange for a lesson too. In the bay proper waves tend to be smaller and are excellent for learning, while the big waves lie to the north and south (click here for map of surfing locations in the area). For a great day of waves and soft sand, head out to the sandspit at Montaña de Oro State Park. Be sure to grab the latest surf report !
Fishing and Sailing
The nearby town of Morro Bay is renowned for its excellent fishing. The ocean here offers a wide variety of fish depending on season and water temperature. Charter a boat for a day on the water at Virg’s Landing, 1169 Market Ave. Morro Bay, CA 93442, 805-772-1222.
Sailing the Central Coast is a great way to see areas that aren’t reachable by car or foot. The Morro Bay Yacht Club , located at 541 Embarcadero in Morro Bay, (805-772-3981) is a great place to get in touch with boat enthusiasts who always need crew. If you are experienced, you may want to join in a race. The yacht club also offers sailing classes for those who already have the desire but haven’t got the skills.
Learning to kayak in an area with fairly calm waters such as the estuary or Morro Bay can be fun family experience. Kayaking the Morro Bay Estuary is perhaps the best way to see this serene nature preserve. The labyrinthine channels through the low tide of the estuary make for hours of casual fun as you paddle past birds, fish, and invertebrates that most people never get to see. Kayaks can be rented from Kayak Horizons in Morro Bay on an hourly or daily basis. Or, you can organize a guided trip through Central Coast Kayaks ( click here for a 2 for 1 coupon), Central Coast Outdoors or Sea for Yourself Adventures in Cambria. These organizations can get you outfitted and guide you to some of the more interesting places for kayaking.
Want an even better view? Helicopter rides offer you a spectacular perspective of our rugged coast and mountains. Besides sightseeing, Helipro ((805) 543-2713) offers photography trips and will help you celebrate special events such as birthdays and anniversaries.
If you are away for the weekend and looking for some good rock, San Luis Obispo County will be happy to accommodate. Several climbing areas are within less than a half-hour’s drive from the resort and offer wonderful single pitch sport leads or top roping. Cabrillo Peaks (on the way to Montaña de Oro State Park) offers single pitch climbs from 5.4 to 5.11 which can be top roped. Great open views make this a local favorite on a sunny day. For more information on climbing areas and finding local partners, go to www.climbingslo.com which has routes listed as well as some great photos.