Morro Bay

Morro-Photo Bomb
Morro-Sunset without seagull

Morro Bay

The Rock
Driving up the scenic central California coast I am always impressed by the sleepy little towns dotted along the way.

One such town standing out from the rest is the seaside village of Morro Bay. Morro Bay may not be the smallest of communities in the area but it does have one unique landscape feature that the others don’t have, the enormous Morro Rock.   “The Rock” as locals call it stands 576 feet tall and looks like a landed meteorite straight out of a science fiction movie.

Morro Rock was originally surrounded by water but a breakwater was built so that people and cars can easily have access to its base. At present there is a paved road and a huge dirt area that serves as a parking lot for the surfers as well as the fishermen (and women) who fish at the harbor nearby.

Morro-Surfing right of rock
Morro-Sufing looking north 2

There is no climbing allowed on the rock as the foundation is unsteady and rocky. Locals tell us that once in a great while someone will get caught climbing the rock only to be met with a hefty fine.

How to get there
Morro Bay is a coastal community located on scenic Highway 1 and nestled roughly 125 miles north of Santa Barbara and about 140 miles south of Monterey. This picturesque city has a population of just over 10,000 as of the 2010 census.

Morro Bay From the rock

The Harbor
This part of the coast was lacking in natural harbors so the Army Corp of Engineers decided to build a small bay with the intention to house recreational and commercial boats. It is now the only harbor between Santa Barbara and Monterey that can accommodate smaller boats.

Protected by a large sand dune or sandspit , the harbor is calm and serene and home to boats moored peacefully against the backdrop of “The Rock”.

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Morro the riock with boats in front
Morro- The rock from the harbor

With its close proximity to the hotels, the embarcadero is the place to go for food, shopping, or simply strolling around the harbor.

It is home to water front restaurants, cute cafes, galleries, gift shops, and much more. Since Morro Bay has an active fishing industry, the local restaurants feature fresh catches and additionally serve outstanding wines from the local wineries. As proof, one visitor mentioned to us that the fish and chips he had just eaten were the best he had ever tasted and was later told by the waiter that the fish was just brought in from the boat.

Morro-Street
Morro-Cafe 2
Morro-Cafe
Morro- Back bay

You can easily walk or bicycle along the embarcadero and see all it has to offer in a day or a weekend. For water activities, you can rent kayaks, SUP’s , charter boats, or take a whale watching tour.

Morro-Looking south in harbor

Whether you are on the water or the shore, be on the lookout for playful otters and seals as the bay is home to quite a few. I saw an otter on his back enjoying his meal when a seagull came along and trailed him trying to get some scraps.

The otter would dive in hopes of ditching the seagull but the seagull was persistent and would flap his wings to join the otter at the new spot. This went on for awhile and was the kind of natural entertainment you can expect around the bay.

Morro- Otter

A perfect weekend
Morro Bay is the perfect getaway for the weekend or even a whole week. You can relax and enjoy the peaceful charm of the city or you can stay active and take pleasure in all it has to offer on the bay or the sea. Actually, you can easily do both.

So the next time you are traveling in Central California, stop by Morro Bay. Head west from Highway 101 to Highway 1 and as soon as you smell the fresh ocean air, be on the lookout for the gigantic meteorite…er…rock.

Oh, and one last warning, be prepared not to want to leave!

Morro--Sea Gull

 

 

 

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Fort Bragg

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FORT BRAGG

Fort Bragg: Living Life in the Slow Lane
When you hear about popular vacation destinations in California you usually hear about the well known areas such as San Diego, Catalina, Hollywood, San Francisco, and Palm Springs. You don’t usually hear the name “Fort Bragg” in a conversation of someone planning their next vacation. Yet, Northern Californians have been flocking here for years just to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Recently, more and more international travelers have been visiting this area. too.  They are intrigued by the rocky coast and the breathtaking Redwoods that are spread out in the  inland area.

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Mendocino Will Have to Wait
When we decided to do a Northern California staycation, we originally had our sights set on visiting Mendocino. We had seen pictures of Mendocino and the amazing coastline caught our eye. It was nothing short of spectacular from what we could tell from Google photos. So what took us 10-miles north to Fort Bragg instead? It was the hotel. After researching accommodations along the coast, we saw a perfect hotel nestled right on a cliff with a 180 degree view of the ocean, a beach nearby, and an 8-mile trail right out front. So Mendocino was set aside and Fort Bragg it was. We did wander over to Mendocino for the day but that adventure will be told in another staycation story.

The Perfect Accommodations
The hotel turned out to be everything we had hoped for. The Beachcomber Hotel in Fort Bragg has almost every room facing the ocean. Thanks to Oscar at the hotel, we were hooked up with a great room with its own patio, an unobstructed view of the ocean, and an amazing giant Cypress tree right out front.

The hotel is dog friendly and even has its own fenced in dog run. I had a cocktail every night as we sat on the patio watching the sunset. It doesn’t get much better than that. Even though it was January, the weather was mild during the day, yet was a little nippy at night.

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Glass Beach: Where Trash Meets Beauty
Only a mile from our hotel sits the world famous “Glass Beach.” To make a long story short, back in 1906 a devastating earthquake turned the streets and houses into rubble and debris. Facing all of this wreckage, the locals thought it would be a good idea to use the ocean as a trash dump to carry the debris out to sea. Their hopes were that the ocean would take it all away never to be seen again.

However, the debris got trapped in the coves and everything was forced back to shore. Through the years, only the glass remained as well as some pottery and various other, harder materials. The glass that is still here today adds a beautiful backdrop against the rocky shore. It is funny how something so beautiful was created by trash.

There are actually 3 different sites. The original site is only accessible by boat or kayak, but the other sites can be found by existing trails. The first cove we went to was a bit of a disappointment as the glass was in smaller pieces and not as abundant.

Luckily, a few local residents gave us directions to the second cove where the glass pieces were sizable and in larger quantities. The trail was hidden away and looked steep, but we knew it was safe when we noticed a family with younger kids traversing it very easily. So off we went to find the second cove.

When we reached the beach, nobody was there except the family!!!!! I turned the corner and there it was, Glass Beach in all its glory, with the 3-4 inches deep glass everywhere, as promised. They say the third inaccessible cove has knee deep glass but I was happy with this.

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I admired the different colors of glass and sifted through it as if I were on a treasure hunt. I then shot a few pics and went on my way. A stairway is currently being built at the sight so it will soon be much easier to get to that beach. Technically, Glass Beach is part of MacKerricher State Park and it is a misdemeanor to take artifacts from a state park. At this time they are not citing people, but that may one day change as the glass starts to deplete.

Near Glass Beach you will find the International Glass Museum where Capt. Sass has legally collected pieces of every size and color glass imaginable as well as porcelain, terracotta, insulators, and other various artifacts.

We were grateful for the help from a few local residents who guided us to the other Glass Beach site where we were able to fully enjoy this historical and amazing cove with just a few other people.

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The History
Fort Bragg was originally a military post on an Indian reservation that was formed in 1857. It was named after a commanding officer by the name of Capt. Braxton Bragg. The reservation was discontinued in 1866 and the land was then opened for settlement three years later. Today’s population is just over 7,000.

The Locals: They Love it Here
The locals are friendly and love to talk about their home. We were told that a good portion of the residents are retired and settled down here to relax and enjoy the easy life. They, in part, consist of retired government workers, military, and business people. Yet because of its beauty, it also brings out an eclectic group of people, many who have that creative flair such as artists, sculptors, glass blowers, etc. One interesting local lady told me that if you can’t be creative in Fort Bragg, you might as well head for the ocean and drown yourself. Well, it was something like that but you get the point. As another local described it, the negative ions from the ocean bring life back into people.

Noyo Harbor: Where Rustic Meets Charm
I don’t even know what to tell you about Noyo Harbor. I have visited many harbors in California and have even lived next to a few, but I have never seen anything like this. Let’s call it, unique. It is a small working harbor with fishing boats lined about. Next to the Noyo River, pleasure boats mixed in with fishing boats are protected by a metal wall that forms a small marina.

To satisfy the tourists, the harbor features your usual bay front restaurants, whale watching tours, excursions, bait and tackle shops, and more. There is also a hotel that looks like something out of an old western, a small RV park, and a Buddha Store. Yes, a Buddha store. Not something you would expect to see around a harbor. Amazingly, the shop houses over 10,000 statues of Buddha in various sizes and materials. You can’t leave without visiting this unique store.

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The harbor looked worn and torn but I loved every bit of it. As I mentioned before, it was rustic. It wasn’t pretentious and didn’t try to be anything more than it was. It was so “Fort Bragg.” The Noyo River spilled out into the harbor and it was also lined with a few fishing boats. Some of the boats didn’t even look seaworthy and a dock or two looked like they may collapse at any moment. All of this added to the charm in my opinion. As with “Glass Beach,” you felt the history here. Wildlife was abundant and I enjoyed watching a white swan feed against the backdrop of an old abandoned boat.

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The Skunk Train:
Although we didn’t do this excursion, it is a very popular attraction in Fort Bragg. The train takes you up into the Redwoods on a 1 ½ hour trip. It’s approximately a 4-hour round trip.

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The Area:
Face it, the scenery is the main appeal with the cliffs against the water, the rock formations along the coast, the green meadows, the trees, the expansive white beaches, and the redwoods just a short distance away. It also had a small town feel. A Dollar Tree just opened a few days before we arrived and, of course, every town has to have a Starbucks. They did. There is also a botanical garden and national monuments with waterfalls. There is kayaking and fishing as well as other activities to choose from. It was also named as one of the most dog friendly areas in the U.S.

FB-DowntownFB-Beach by our hotelFB- Bluffs

Whales, Whales, and More Whales:
Migrating south towards Mexico, whales were visible from shore. It felt as though you could reach out and touch them if you were standing on the end of one of the many bluffs in the area.
We saw at least 30 whales. They were so close that we could see the air spouts from their blow holes. In some cases there were 5-6 whales all bunched up and their spouts would rise above the ocean as if in a mini Las Vegas water show. We saw a few whale watching tours and I am sure they got a great view from the water.

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How to Get There
It is a long hike if you are coming from Southern California as we were. We took Highway 101 on our way up and I-5 on our way home. On our way up we made an overnight stop in Morro Bay and drove the rest of the way the next day. Expect at least 11 hours of driving time from So Cal. A winding road off of 101 gets you there either by Highway 128 or 20. Highway 20 is the shorter route. Heading back home I grinded it out and drove the whole way.

Now I know why the Northern Californians love this place. I wish it was closer to where I live. It has such a different feel from Southern California. I would be there every weekend walking through the colorful glass, bicycling on the bluff trail, photographing everything in sight, or just simply relaxing. Sadly, it is 627 miles away. Not exactly an over-nighter.

So, the next time you are planning your California vacation and are debating on where to go, think of Fort Bragg. It might not have all the excitement of San Diego, Hollywood, or Los Angeles but it has scenery to die for, pretty glass, a quaint harbor, and whales!!!!

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Photos: Debbie Colwell

Malibu

Malibu black and white 1
Malibu
A Sunday Drive through Malibu:
One of my favorite things to do in California is to cruise down Pacific Coast Highway in my car with my favorite music blasting. It‘s even fun alone as I can sing out loud with no one having to suffer through my lousy singing. With guests in the car my singing is a little more subdued and barely over a whisper as not to scare anyone away.

Singing or no singing, one of the best routes to cruise PCH is along the 20 or so miles of the affluent and iconic Malibu Beach. We have seen it a million times on TV or in the movies, with the actor sitting happily in their convertible, the wind blowing in their hair, and the crystal blue Pacific Ocean in the background.

Malibu Lifeguard
Malibu himnes on the water far awayMalibu Sea Gull

In those scenes their car cruises along like it is the only car on the road with the traffic appearing to be nonexistent. Unfortunately, that is not how it really is. In real life the beautiful Pacific is still there, the cliffs on one side and the magnificent homes on the other side are still there, the ocean breeze is still there, but you are definitely not alone.

On this Sunday afternoon in January it seemed like everyone else in Southern California wanted to be on that same stretch of highway. This was understandable as it was a gorgeous Sunday and an unusually warm winter day even for California standards.

After taking the 10 exit onto PCH, we were greeted by bumper-to-bumper traffic headed north. Amazingly, gridlock isn’t so bad when you have the wonderful view of the Pacific Ocean to the west.

The Area:
The cliffs to the east were either full of stunning homes or were torn up due to mud or rock slides. Slides are a common occurrence in Malibu along PCH.

Malibu house on the hill

The star of the trip is the crystal blue ocean which is the favorite playground for surfers and stand up paddlers who were enjoying the waves and the sea with each other. Along the coast, rock formations are scattered about, lending a nice aesthetic to the area.

Malibu surfers and coastlineMalibu surfers in waterMalibu looking at surfersMalibu beach formations

The coastline wraps around allowing you to see all of the beach cities that line the South Bay. Gazing out across the sea, you can clearly see Catalina Island which sits out about 50 miles from shore.
Crawling along PCH at a mere 2 miles per hour wasn’t so bad as it gave you time to admire the beach homes that proudly sit at the oceans end. In some cases they were only a few feet from the breakers and made me wonder what happens when the surf and the tide are high.

Malibu House on beach 2

Malibu Homes on water

Further north we passed by the Malibu Colony which is home to movie stars, musical artists, and various other entertainment people. A guarded gate keeps us crazy fans and looky-loos away, at least from the road side. A nearby trail actually dumps you off at the beach and eventually in front of the impressive beach homes.

Nobo:
As traffic continued to creep slowly along PCH we drove by the world renowned Nobo restaurant which is a favorite eating establishment for the rich and famous. Just as we were passing by the front door, a shinny jet black Ferrari pulled up to the valet. As its winged doors swung open skyward, we were anxiously waiting to see who would exit. Was it someone famous? Out popped a nicely dressed man and a blond woman. I didn’t recognize the man and the blond wasn’t facing us. She finally turned our way as if in slow motion and we were ready to be delighted by our sighting of someone famous.
It turned out to be . . . nobody I recognized. Sorry. I wish I had a better story to tell. It was probably some “behind-the- scenes” industry folk out for a Sunday dinner and a cruise along the coast. Kind of like what I was doing except my car was a jet black Camry and my dinner would be inland at a local Denny’s.

However, on any given day if you look for the expensive cars and motorcycles, you might just see your favorite movie star or rock star. After all, it IS Malibu, and Hollywood is just up the hill.

PCH:
Sitting majestically on the hill above Malibu was our cut off point, Pepperdine University. Pepperdine is known as one of the most beautiful places to study in California. We drove up the hill and discovered why. It had a spectacular view all down the coast and beyond.

Malibu view from PepperdineMalibu colony from above

As we turned around to make our way down south we were hoping to park and walk along the Malibu Pier. Much to our disappointment the parking lot was full and there was nowhere else to park. I made a mental note to come back and visit this charming pier another time.

Malibu pier in the distance

Along the route there were a few places to pull over and park for awhile to marvel at the amazing view. In certain areas there was plenty of sand to enjoy the day without sitting on top of your fellow beachgoer. Also adorning the route on both sides are fancy as well as quaint restaurants and a small number of fast food establishments thrown in just for good measure. We also saw quite a few “pay to park” lots that actually had spaces open. Too bad that wasn’t the case by the pier.

Our tour of Malibu was mostly along PCH and I am told that most of the population resides off or near this road anyway. This is an extremely scenic part of our coast and is rich full of history in the entertainment industry.

Overall, you can’t beat Malibu for a Sunday afternoon drive. And if you are so inclined to sing out loud just remember . . . you are not alone on the road. Unless you have a voice like Whitney’s or there’s a talent agent right next to you, it’s best to leave the windows up.

 

We leave you with some sunset picks.
Photos: Debbie Colwell

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Sunset Malibu G
Malibu sunset telephot G