Elfin forests & rugged coastline in Los Osos & Baywood Park
Exploring Highway 1, off the beaten path
Highway 1 has no shortage of natural beauty, but perhaps the most enchanting and mysteriously beautiful stretch is the portion around Los Osos, and Baywood Park. Massive volcanic rocks rise up from the ocean, twisted pygmy oaks stand in the gnarled elfin forests, tidal pools fill with tiny and strange ocean creatures, and hills of wildflowers bloom so brightly that it makes the ground look like it’s made of gold. And this region boasts a variety of lodging options, including a golf course resort, quaint hotels on the Back Bay and a variety of vacation homes. As you uncover the one-of-a-kind natural gems located just south of Morro Bay right along the coast, you might feel like you’re in a fairytale… so take your time treasuring the beauty here.
Before you even step foot into the museum, take in the panoramic view of the coast on top of the hill, overlooking the Morro Bay Estuary. The Museum of Natural History is a friendly little blast-of-the-past that any history buff or family looking for an afternoon activity will enjoy. The presentations are constantly changing, puppet shows are offered regularly, and this isn’t a location pushed upon tourists, so you’re bound to find easy parking, while not feeling overcrowded! Learn about a little bit of everything, from Native American history to oceanography. Admission is free for children; otherwise, it’s just a few dollars a person, a very affordable price for the family fun you’ll encounter. Even if a killer view of the bay is all you’re after, this stop is easily accessible and even close to a handful of parks and nature preserves!
Morro Bay State Park, only a short drive from Los Osos is right on the stunning lagoon. For years, Chumash or Salinan Native Americans used the marine resources the land offers– until Spanish explorers took the coast. This rich history can all be learned in full detail via the Museum of Natural History, conveniently located nearby. If you’re a fan of Pixar’s “Finding Dory”, you might recognize the iconic Morro Rock… Morro Bay is Dory’s hometown! At Morro Bay, you can sail, kayak, fish, hike the dunes, camp, and so much more.
In the southernmost part of the bay lies the Morro Bay National Estuary, spanning 2,300 acres and connecting Morro Bay and Los Osos. A sandspit in the center of the bay protects it from the open Pacific Ocean, altogether making this area unique and picturesque. It’s easy to see why the area takes pride in the estuary, especially considering that Morro Bay was designated a state estuary in 1994, and then an “estuary of national significance” the year after. This area is full of a variety of plants and animal species, including adorable sea lions! Rentable kayaks available along the front street encourage visitors to explore the area, or you can go on any of the many tours offered.
Adjacent to the estuary, the 90-acre Elfin Forest Natural Area truly makes Los Osos unique. It was adopted by the Los Osos/Morro Bay Chapter of Small Wilderness Area Preservation in 1994, and contains over 200 species of plants, in addition to dozens of animals. Less than a mile of looping boardwalk takes you through the well-protected property, and on this walk, you can see the bay and over to the state park. There is also an off-the-beaten-path short dirt trail that will lead you further in. The native Coast Live Oak is what truly makes this a special place, though. The wind, salt spray, and soil conditions cause this tree to grow in different directions, making the curvy branches stick out.
For a quick natural experience featuring even more stunning views, Baywood Pier is a perfect little slice of heaven. The small stretch of boardwalk allows you to take in the ocean breeze, perfect for sailing or kayaking, and the benches around the area provide a serene environment for those needing a break. The real treat while at the pier, however, is definitely Bay Back Cafe! Open daily for breakfast and lunch and located right on the water, this little cafe is popular among tourists and locals. The menu includes a full coffee selection, breakfast items including scrambles and fresh baked goods, and a few lunch staples such as BLTs. You can sit outside and enjoy the views on a cool morning with a hot latte and tasty meal, all for a great price! The Back Bay hosts live music at its “Beer at the Pier” concert series every Monday night, April through October, and prides itself on offering a must-attend event.
The loop trail at Sweet Springs Nature Preserve might only be half a mile, but a fantastic view of the estuary, eucalyptus groves, and Monterey cypress trees are all included. Sweet Springs Creek flows into the estuary and a bridge crosses over it, allowing you to see plenty of turtles and shore birds like blue herons. It’s amazing how much nature you can see on such a short walk! There is an observation deck here as well, giving you that sweet view of Morro Rock once more.
Right on the ocean and offering scenic views of the bay and Morro Rock, the Sea Pines Golf Resort is a great spot if you’re looking for a relaxing place to stay, or you just want to add a few holes of golf to your trip. The resort has a lodge, a spa, and top-notch dining options onsite, as well as a great location near Montaña de Oro State Park. The golf course itself is landscaped to perfection, offering stellar ocean views, and even includes foot golf and disc golf for the less traditional.