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Morro Bay State Park, California

December 2, 2002
Filed under Camping Destinations, West Camping

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Seen from land or sea, the rock is a marvelous sight. Rising nearly 600 feet above the waves, Morro Rock can be spied from miles away, acting like a compass point as you travel toward the town of Morro Bay. The rock is the last in a string of ancient volcanic plugs known as the Seven Sisters, which, long exposed to the elements, stretch inland for miles. While sailing north along the California Coast in 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo spotted the massive stone shape and named it morro (which could mean round hill, knob, or Moors bay).

Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Morro Bay State Park, California offers a surprisingly abundant and diverse outdoor experience. Aside from the obvious landmark, the Morro area is also recognized as a haven for wildlife along its shores, estuaries and hills. Its also an ideal location for camping.

What To Do At Morro Bay State Park 

Morro Bays harbor, with its shops and restaurants, is fun to explore. Deep-sea fishing charters are very popular out of this salty little corner of central California. The neighboring hills are great for hiking, kayaking is popular in the bay, and the beaches perfect for strolling. And there are a number of inviting campgrounds to choose from.

Morro Bay State Park (805/772-2560 for information) campground is tucked into a grand stand of large trees, a mix of pine and eucalyptus planted during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Picnic tables, fire pits and food lockers are standard fare. Some of the 135 sites have water and electrical hookups. Restrooms include hot showers. An eight-hole golf course with a view of the Pacific is right next door. This park is close to the estuary and a marina, making it a good choice for canoe and kayak enthusiasts.

Montaa de Oro State Park (805/528-0513 or 805/772-7434 for information), just a few miles south of Morro Bay, is a highly requested campground, and advance reservations or mid-week arrival are key to getting in during the spring and summer. And its no surprise. The park sits on the edge of a steep and rugged shoreline, with crashing waves below and verdant hillsides above. A number of small coves are accessible for exploring. Californias State flower, the poppy, blankets the landscape in yellow and orange here during spring, resulting in the name Montaa de Oro (mountain of gold). Its a dramatic location with 50 campsites (RVs are limited to 24 feet in length), but it has no showers, just vault toilets. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit.

Morro Strand State Beach (805/772-2560 for information) sits two miles north of Morro Bay. The 104-site campground has no hot showers, but youll find cold outdoor showers for rinsing off sand. Here, too, is a limit of 24 feet for RVs. A group of small dunes between the shoreline and camp provide a break from prevailing winds that usually come off the ocean in the afternoon. This can be a crowded place, but a favorite of those who want to be 100 yards from a sandy beach.

While in Morro Bay you have a good chance of seeing some of the hundreds of bird species that frequent the area, depending on the season, including great blue herons, grebes, pelicans, egrets, gulls and swallows. The really lucky spot falcon near the rock. Other inhabitants include foxes, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, rabbits and, occasionally, mountain lions. From October through March, millions of Monarch butterflies gather in this region the striking orange and black insects form dense clusters on tree branches. A brilliant display of wildflowers delight spring and early summer visitors.

WHEN YOU GO TO Morro Bay State Park

Spring and fall are the best times to visit Morro Bay. Summer can be crowded and visitors have to deal with coastal fog and overcast skies. Winters can be wet and cool, but not unpleasant. The area only receives an average 13 inches of annual rainfall, and the temperatures are generally mild. Regardless of when you visit, though, Morro Bay has a lot to offer. Near San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay can be reached by taking State Highway 1 north from Highway 101. Campground reservations can be made at reserveamerica.com or 800/444-PARK (7275). For more information contact: Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce, 805/231-0592 or 805/772-4467.

Winnebago Itasca Sunstar 21B

Our habitat during the Morro Bay voyage was a 21-foot, Class C mini-motorhome from Winnebago Industries (641/585-3535; winnebagoind.com). The Winnebago Itasca Sunstar 21B offered plenty of living room, excellent facilities and amenities, and a pleasant driving experience all wrapped into a compact size. Built on a 7275-pound GVWR Volkswagen front-wheel-drive chassis (GCWR: 9275 pounds), the 21B was powered by a 201 hp, 24-valve V-6 engine that could, as many a surprised onlooker during our trip discovered, really get up and go.

The front bucket seats generously reclined and adjusted (something we havent found in all Class C motorhomes), so finding a comfortable driving position was a no-brainer. Controls and instruments were easy to use and see. The 21B floorplan offered three sleeping areas for a real-world sleeping capacity of two adults and three small children or two teenagers. Two intimate adults could comfortably use the cabover (6 feet, 6 inches long, 4 feet, 2 inches wide) bed. The dinette was tight, but would seat four for dining (although we tended to take meals outside), and converted to a 5-foot, 3-inch-long, 2-foot, 5-inch-wide bunk. A jackknife couch folded flat to a 5-foot, 5-inch long, 3-foot, 6-inch-wide sleeping surface. Interior height in the living room was 6 feet, 41/2 inches.

The galley and head are located in the rear of the coach, and both are equipped to make living aboard comfortable. The stainless sink was easy to clean, the single-door fridge/freezer worked like a charm, and the optional three-burner range and microwave oven offered multiple cooking options. The head compartment featured a residential-height, pedal-flush toilet (173/4 inches from seat to floor), and was roomy compared to many other coaches this size. The shower stall was tall enough (6 feet, 4 inches) to stand up in. Holding tank capacities are 20, 16 and 16 gallons for fresh, gray and black water respectively.

Galley/living area storage space was greater than we expected in the small coach, too, and included overhead cabinets along both sides and under the galley surface. A wardrobe, lavatory cabinet and overhead cabinet in the head offered even more stowage. Full-width, under-floor storage is available through two exterior doors, one on each side of the coach. The curbside baggage door was 271/2 inches wide, 121/4 inches tall, the street-side door measured 24 inches wide, 71/4 inches high.

Utilities included an optional 7100-BTU, roof-mounted AC unit, which we never used due to the cool weather encountered, and a standard 19,000-BTU ducted furnace that we used often and much to our delight. Our test unit also had the optional 2.8kW Onan genset that came in handy when we took campsites with no power.

The Winnebago Itasca Sunstar 21B ($56,630 dressed as we tested it) impressed us as a highly mobile, mini-motorhome package with all the conveniences and comforts of a much larger coach. Its compact size (overall length: 21 feet, 4 inches) and light-truck-category wheelbase (152 inches) made exploring the Morro Bay areas sights and campgrounds as easy as finding Morro Rock.

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