Morro Bay is tough to miss. It's that beach burg off Highway 1 where the 576-foot rock (actually a volcanic landform) looms offshore. The rock is colossal, the vibe very small-town — the sort of charm I've come to expect in communities along the Central California coast. The tab: $538 for two nights at the Anderson Inn, $23 for lunch at Giovanni's Fish Market and $14 for a couple of beers at the Libertine Pub.
The Anderson Inn (897 Embarcadero;  772-3434, andersoninnmorrobay.com) is waterfront (and rockfront) in the heart of Morro Bay, so you'll never have to get in your car until checkout. All of the cozy, well-appointed rooms (there are eight) have balconies with harbor and rock views, though if you're in one of the over-the-water rooms, you have the added luxury of a fireplace and spa tub. The inn is also home to one of Morro Bay's longest-running restaurants, Galley Seafood Grill & Bar. Other amenities include spa services and the By the Bay Gallery.
Part outdoor restaurant, part fish market, Giovanni's (1001 Front St.;  772-2123, www.giovannisfishmarket.com) is as no-frills as it gets. You'll probably have to wait in line to place your order at the outdoor window, but that will give you time to peruse the extensive menu, which has items as varied as fish on a stick, barbecued oysters, fish and chips, and crab quesadillas. Don't leave without having a cup of homemade clam chowder. There are a couple of craft beers on draft to choose from, and they're cheap: the local hefeweizen and Firestone Walker 805 Blonde Ale for $3.99 (for a 12-ounce cup) or $9.99 for a pitcher. Save room for a deep-fried Twinkie or Oreo.
From outside, the Libertine Pub (801 Embarcadero;  772-0700, www.thelibertinepub.com) looks like any other bar, but inside it's a brew pub making its own beers while serving 48 draft beers in rotation. Libertine's own brews, of the wild ale style, are fermented using wine and bourbon oak barrels to give them complex, unique flavors. Although many of the creations it serves are local, the Libertine also features beers from beyond the California border in keeping with its commitment to craft brewing.
The lesson learned
Morro Bay, with its calm, flat waters, is ideal for kayakers and paddle boarders of all experience levels. It's also a state bird sanctuary and estuary, making it a refuge for wildlife. It's not unusual to get a glimpse of sea lions, harbor seals and a variety of birds while paddling around the harbor. Kayak Horizons (kayakhorizons.com) and several other outfitters offer rentals and guided trips.
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