Exploring the Morro Bay Embarcadero with kids is one of our hands-down favorite adventures. So much so, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write about it. This day includes rides, treats, pretty views, TAFFY and a chance to feed some awesome seals.
This adventure takes you to the lovely sea fishing town of Morro Bay, California. It’s famous for the iconic Morro Rock, one of SLO County’s “Nine Sisters” of volcanic peaks stretching along Highway 1. Morro Rock is the only one of the peaks sitting in the water. Elsewhere, the city is made up of a small but vibrant downtown, homes, beach life and a bustling harbor. Along that harbor, you’ll find The Embarcadero.
Things to know:
- This particular adventure is basically an all day thing. Especially when traveling to Morro Bay from where we live in Paso Robles, which is about 30 miles one way in the car.
- This is a CASH ONLY adventure. Ugh, right? I know. I almost never carry actual cash. You’ll also need some quarters for some little supermarket type rides on the Embarcadero. But I’m not opposed to raiding the kids’ piggy banks for such an occasion. #noshame.
The Embarcadero is a street with sidewalks, courtyards and lookouts that takes you west to east from a boat loading area to various shops and and eateries west, until eventually (if you walk long enough) you’ll reach the boardwalk to Morro Rock and Morro Strand State Beach. Personally, we separate our boardwalk and the Embarcadero trips -because that’s a little much with toddlers.
So, for our day of exploring the Embarcadero, here’s our specific route and order of events:
First up: We drive to Morro Bay and park on Marina Street off the Embarcadero.
Usually, we eat a packed lunch in our car. I know, that’s pretty boring. It’s cheaper that way for sure, but the main motivation behind it is because I’m solo-parenting on these adventures and managing small children in a restaurant is … as you know … so not fun. The kids are everywhere, knocking over cups of ice water on your lap ( spoiler alert: this has happened to me. Twice), wiggling to get out of their seats, running around, getting food everywhere. Basically, no on even eats. Especially me.
In the car, however, the little rascals are at least contained long enough to eat a few bites so they’re not meltdown messes later and Mrs. (or Mr.) Solo Parent might even get to eat, too. Woot.
► EATING TIPS: If you’re not alone, have older kids who are sane, or you’re feeling extra adventurous, some of our favorite family-friendly places to eat along the Embarcadero are:
A) The Hofbrau, 901 Embarcadero
B) The restaurant at Giovanni’s Fish Market, 1001 Front St.
►Both of these eateries are walkup/order at the counter places (so no long wait time with kids), with views of the waterfront, which the kids love (and are distracted by so you can get in a few bites). And both come without the huge price tag or embarrassment of bringing your crazy kids into a fancy restaurant. They also both have outdoor seating options, but only Hofbrau has indoor seating as well. If you choose Giovanni’s, note that it’s on the other side of the Embarcadero from where the aquarium is — but worth it.
C) Totally off the Embarcadero, big shoutout to Taco Temple at 2680 Main St. It’s an awesome inexpensive/delicious/family-friendly place to eat in Morro Bay. A local fave!
After lunch, we grab all our gear from the trunk, which includes a stroller for Wyatt (and to hold our waters, snacks and jackets so mom isn’t a pack mule), some cash, my backpack and my car keys.
I should note here that ALWAYS clip my car keys to my pants or backpack, because if my keys aren’t attached to me I always lose them with the kids. For the clip, I use a silver Carabiner like the ones backpackers use, because I’m so tactical like that. 🙂
FEED THE SEALS AT THE MORRO BAY AQUARIUM
***UPDATE SUMMER 2018****
The aquarium is now closed, (the article says its closing soon, but it’s def closed now) and the seals have been reportedly moved to San Diego. But here’s the run-down of what once was:
OK, so back to the Morro Bay trip. Our first stop is to the Morro Bay Aquarium, 595 Embarcadero.
This aquarium is super small. Like, one room small with a gift shop in the front. But …. it has the best thing ever for kids. An outdoor tank/cage/exhibit where you can feed the seals! There are two seals, and they eat diced fish which you can purchase for a delightful 50 cents a bag at the window facing the exhibit. I think you can get up to three bags of food per person, so just go ahead and buy that much upfront because your kids are going to LOVE throwing the little pieces of fish into the tank.
The seals are SUPER excited and animated and happy to be fed by visitors. They jump up right in front of you and swim around and waddle to the food, racing to wherever it lands. It’s really a delight to see. In fact, as an adult, I’ve never experienced anything like it. And, due to the controversy surrounding this aquarium, no one will after this fall.
The Morro Bay Aquarium has been around since the 1960, according to this article about its owners. It’s a staple attraction for locals, many of whom remember going there as a kid and it looking almost exactly the same as it does today. Which gives off major nostalgia points for people. On the other hand, it’s a fairly controversial place because looking the same also means it’s old and some people feel like the animals need more space. It also has some building code compliancy issues and is no bueno in the animal rights crowd. In short, the owners’ lease wasn’t renewed by the city and the aquarium will be closing in September 2018. It might reopen at some point, I don’t have all the info there. But here’s an article from 2016 about how the Morro Bay City Council approved plans for a new aquarium.
Until then, though, the clock is ticking on this adventure.
But …. all that stuff aside, the whole feeding the seals aspect as it is now, is genuinely fun and cute to watch, especially for the kids who really take joy in this unique experience.
After you feed the seals, head into the fish tank part of the aquarium inside. It’s …. pretty dinghy and it’s a quick-hit to walk through. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes. It reminds me of being in an old military submarine. Not that I’ve actually been in one.
There’s also a fairly disturbing history exhibit on the south wall, with what I *think* is taxidermy animals and skeletons. Kids might want to skip that one because mine always ask why those animals aren’t moving. Or maybe it could serve as a super fun lesson! I don’t know. Lol. Depends on your family.
There’s no website for the aquarium …. but you can find info on it on Yelp and TripAdvisor. I also called just for this blog post and got all the Admission and Hours of Operation deets for you:
► HOURS: Open 7 days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with the last admission ticket sold at 5 p.m. daily.
► COSTS: Age 0-4 // free ► Age 5 -11 // $2 ea ► Age 12+ // $3 ea
► NOTE; Cash only for aquarium admission and seal food
► CONTACT: Phone: (805) 772-7647
FIND THE PUBLIC RESTROOM
Pretty sure there are NO restrooms at the aquarium, so we usually go to the locked public restroom just to the left of the store Smoobage, which is next door. (Smoobage is a word for something that makes you smile, according to the shop. Cute, right??). The store also has a fun kids corner with toys sold in the shop. The public restroom is located in the alley to the left of the shop, and you just grab a key at the store’s register. There’s also public restrooms at various spots along the Embarcadero but I feel like they’re kind of hidden. I do know one is at the giant chess board (see below).
CHECK OUT CENTENNIAL PARKWAY PIER
Then head down the Embarcadero (in the direction of Morro Rock) to Morro Bay’s Centennial Parkway. On the harbor side, the Parkway has a small pier lookout over the harbor. It’s nice to have this spot that’s open to the public (as opposed to the many smaller lookouts that the boaters use). Use it to check out the water, the boats and the view of the jetty. Also enjoy views of stunning Morro Rock – the land formation Morro Bay is known for. You also catch a glimpse of the sea lions in the wild and even some sea otters!
TAKE A BREAK
If you need an indoor place to escape the heat or wind or walking (or even to breastfeed) with littles, there’s a great shop called Sun-N-Buns Bakery & Espresso Bar at 830 Embarcadero. Sun-N-Buns has coffee and ice cream in a homey, open seating setting. It’s really nice on a weekday when it’s not too busy and you get some privacy at your table. If you have older kids with you while you’re nursing, it’s a nice place to grab them hot chocolates or ice cream while they’re waiting.
FUN FACT: Did you know you can rent giant chess pieces from the city?! Here’s the price sheet. For non residents, the chess pieces are $13/hour for plastic ones or $113 for wooden ones. There are discounts for residents. The Parkway also as a public restroom and line of wooden picnic tables.
GET SALTWATER TAFFY
Cross the street and head right to Carousel Taffy at 845 Embarcadero, Space H. We fill our baskets here with some of the best saltwater taffy everrrr. There are a TON of flavors at this place — more than 70 varieties, according to its website! The most I’ve ever seen. You can check out the company video here.
►TIP: You get a free sample flavor of your choosing.
TIME FOR QUARTER RIDES
Time to head back up the street toward the car. We always ride the quarter rides. This also distracts the kids away from the candy for awhile.
The rides are located in the outside courtyard between the shops at 833 Embarcadero. The courtyard is between the buildings for Under The Sea gift shop and the another one advertising kayak rentals.
These rides are the kind you used to see in front of grocery stores as a kid, and include a little car and a four-seater carousel. I think they’re both 50 cents each? I could be wrong. Just bring some quarters with you. We usually take a few turns. I think Wyatt was still in the Ergo for these pictures, but in one of them we brought a friend!
Find your way back to your car and then head home! Brag to all your friends that you just found the perfect trip to bring out of town visitors to, or to do solo with kids.