When your town has one of the most scenic natural harbors along the Central California Coast, why not celebrate it?
That's exactly what the folks of Morro Bay will be doing Oct. 5-6, and you're invited to the party. A weekend of family activities is planned for the 4th annual Harbor Festival at this colorful fishing port.
Many events will take place next to the town's namesake, Morro Rock, a landmark since 1542 when European explorers first sailed up the coast. The volcanic monolith is a 21-million-year-old outcropping that's been quarried over the years for rocks to build breakwaters at Morro Bay and elsewhere.
Man stopped cutting away when Morro Rock was named a state historic landmark in 1968. These days it also serves as the protected home of endangered peregrine falcons.
Island at High Tide
Until a road was built from the mainland, Morro Rock became an island at high tide. Visitors now congregate at its base in a huge parking area, which is the festival's main site.
That's where you'll find stages with continuous musical entertainment, as well as arts and crafts and food booths. A clam chowder cook-off will determine which local restaurant has the best chowder.
Children vie for prizes in treasure and scavenger hunts and a sand sculpture contest. And you can cheer contestants in a run-bike-swim triathlon and a windsurfing regatta.
Buses leave from Morro Rock for tours of the home of a silent-screen star, Gladys Walton, and the PG&E steam power plant that makes its own landmark with a trio of candlestick chimneys.
Closer to the harbor on the Embarcadero, costumed performers become the pawns in a live chess match on the city's giant chessboard. The living chess pieces move on a 16-square-foot board patterned after the outdoor public chessboards in Europe.
Get more information about the Morro Bay Harbor Festival by calling the chamber of commerce, (805) 772-4467.
If you can't make it to those festivities, head to Morro Bay two weeks earlier and join in the fun of the 11th annual California Challenge Fireman's Muster. It's set for Sept. 20-22.
Teams of firemen from all over the state meet in rowdy competition to decide who has the best fire department. They challenge each other with old-time bucket brigades, hose carts, hand and motorized pumpers and a tug of war called waterball.
You'll also enjoy the parade of antique fire equipment, a barbecue and street dance. Call (805) 772-1214, extension 238, for more details about this firemen's fling.
With or without a special event, Morro Bay makes a pleasant destination. Get there from Los Angeles by driving north on U.S. 101 to San Luis Obispo and exiting west on California 1 to the ocean.
The Main Street turnoff takes you into town. Turn south on Harbor Street to reach the Embarcadero. That road leads to Morro Rock, but in the opposite direction are seafood restaurants and other attractions along the waterfront.
From a pier at the Harbor Hut restaurant you can board Tiger's Folly II for an 80-minute scenic cruise of the bay. The pseudo-paddle-wheeler makes three tours daily on weekends; a brunch cruise is featured on Sundays. Adults pay $5, children $2.50.
Host of Marine Creatures
For a look at what's under the water, visit the Morro Bay Aquarium at 595 Embarcadero. You'll see a host of live marine creatures, including some playful seals. Hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends, to 6 p.m. weekdays. Entry costs $1, kids 50 cents.
Fourteen restaurants line the Embarcadero and many feature fresh seafood; Rose's Landing is a local favorite. Others to try are the Galley, the Anchorage, Great American Fish Co. and Harbor Hut. Also popular is Dorn's Original Breakers Cafe above the Embarcadero on Market Street.
In the harbor you'll find an assortment of commercial fishing boats, as well as sportfishing vessels that make excursions for rock cod, halibut and other ocean fish. Inquire at Brebe's, Bob's or Virg's sportfishing about departure times.
Morro Bay is flanked by two public playgrounds, Morro Bay State Park and Atascadero State Beach. In the state park you can rent a boat to cross the bay and go beachcombing on a sand spit that protects the harbor from ocean waves.
The park is home to all sorts of bird life; trails lead to viewpoints of feeding and nesting areas. Visit the Museum of Natural History to learn more about the birds' habitats.
An 18-hole public golf course is another attraction of the park. You also can follow a road that cuts through the fairways to an overlook on Black Mountain, one of eight volcanic peaks that dot the landscape from the ocean's edge to San Luis Obispo.
Near the golf course on Country Club Road is the area's largest lodging, the Inn at Morro Bay. The renovated 98-room resort also boasts a gourmet restaurant. Doubles begin at $40; call (805) 772-5651.
Visitors can camp in the state park, where 135 RV and tent sites cost $6 a night ($12 with hookup); make reservations through Ticketron.
Morro Bay has more than two dozen lodgings, mostly small motels. Especially recommended is the Breakers on Market Street overlooking the bay. Dorn's cafe is adjacent.
Campers also can bed down at Atascadero State Beach, where 104 sites are $6 a night, first come, first served. You'll find half a dozen private RV parks and campgrounds in the area, too.
For lists of lodgings, restaurants and other information about this San Luis Obispo County fishing village, visit or write the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce, 385 Morro Bay Blvd. (P.O. Box 876, Morro Bay, Calif. 93442). The office is open daily except Sundays.
Return to Los Angeles by rejoining California 1 and U.S. 101 south. Round trip from Los Angeles for a fall frolic in Morro Bay is 440 miles.