Author: Tim Owens
Date of Trip: August 2012
Morro Bay may not be on the itinerary of any cruise line, but a summer “cruise” excursion my wife and I enjoyed there helped whet our appetites for an upcoming cruise. Throughout 2012 I have been surprising my wife with a series of clues which will culminate with a Hawaiian-themed cruise on her 50th birthday in 2013.
On my wife’s 49th birthday, one of our friends gave her a gift certificate for Morro Bay’s San Marcos Inn. After checking their prices and the typical temperatures in Morro Bay, I decided that August would be the best time to visit. August would also be almost halfway through the year of clues, so it would be a good time to reveal more about what I was planning for her. When I set the reservations for August 21, I didn’t realize that this date was the 53rd anniversary of Hawaii’s statehood. (When she heard a radio announcer mention this, my wife assumed that it was just another clue.)
It was already dark by the time we arrived at the San Marcos Inn, but we still had a few minutes to enjoy the heat of their huge spa, where we had the pleasure of meeting a friendly couple from Arizona who reminded us of some tablemates from our last cruise. We entered our room though a peaceful atrium which somehow reminded me of the busy atrium which was the center of activity on our last cruise. Standing on our room’s small balcony, I asked “do you you think this balcony is worth having?”
My perceptive wife responded “is that a clue?”
The complimentary breakfast was quite satisfying, featuring eggs and freshly-made waffles, and more conversations with our new friends from Arizona. After a leisurely morning in the hotel room and some more time in the spa, we walked down two blocks to visit the shops along the Embarcadero. The aquarium is nowhere near the level of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but my wife enjoyed feeding their sea lions and their other exhibits were worth the small admission price.
But the destination I was heading for was just a few doors down from the aquarium: “Kayak Horizons.” As we approached their sign, my wife seemed to quickly see the connection to an obscure clue I had given her: “Y? In the middle! K? On the sides! A? In between! U? On top!”
“I couldn’t figure out how that U fit in,” she explained.
“I put it in there to confuse you,” I confessed with a grin. “But it meant that YOU will be on top of the kayak!” I have planned a special kayak excursion on our cruise, but we have never been kayaking before, so I thought that Morro Bay would be a good place for an introduction to kayaking. It was already late in the afternoon, so after discussing the tide patterns with the Kayak Horizons staff, we decided to wait until the next day to actually get out on the water. Before we left Kayak Horizons, my wife happened to notice what she thought was another “clue”: a little hula girl on the front counter.
Eventually we headed back to the San Marcos Inn, where free wine, cheese and crackers were being served. After some more relaxing time in the spa and the room, we headed down one block to Distasio’s Italian Ristorante where we shared a romantic meal looking over the bay.
The next morning, after another delicious breakfast, we took a short drive down to Baywood-Los Osos, where I had scheduled a horseback riding excursion as another surprise for my wife. Horseback riding may be her favorite recreational activity of all, but she rarely gets to do so, and unfortunately I don’t have any plans for horseback riding on the cruise. But I wanted to make sure that she had the opportunity for a little horseback riding during this year of celebration. The horses obviously knew their way along the well-worn trail near the southern tip of Morro Bay, and once we arrived at the beach they seemed eager to gallop near the shoreline.
After going back to the hotel to rest from the ride, we headed back to Kayak Horizons. We had never been kayaking before, so I wasn’t sure if it was even something my wife would like. Thankfully, she found it to be quite enjoyable, although a few times I did make her nervous when she thought that I might tip us over or get us stuck. I even let it slip that this was a “practice” run, so she knows that more kayaking is on her horizon.
We paddled near some sea lions gathered in the middle of the bay, and later came close to a couple of flocks of beautiful white pelicans. Although the weather had been amazingly cold for August, by the time we got out on the water the weather was just right — not too cold, not too hot. After we circled around the pelicans, when it was about time to return the kayak, I noticed some dark clouds beginning to gather in the distance.
That night, I brought some food to our room from one of the restaurants on the Embarcadero. Unfortunately, the restaurant got the order wrong, so I had to make an extra trip back down to the restaurant to fix the problem.
On our final morning in Morro Bay, we bought some salt water taffy, shopped at a thrift store called Castaways, and browsed the Aloha Shirt Shop. We didn’t buy any shirts (way too expensive!) but it still served its purpose as a “clue.” While the climate in Morro Bay is nothing like Hawaii, there is some visual similarity due to the volcanic origin of Morro Rock and its nearby sister formations.
After leaving Morro Bay, we headed toward Avila Beach by way of See Canyon Road, which winds its way over a picturesque mountaintop reminiscent of scenes from the Sound of Music. Unexpectedly, this drive jogged some childhood memories for my wife, reminding her of a trip to Avila Beach when she was a young child.
Although Avila Beach is just a few miles from Morro Bay, the climate is noticeably warmer. The traffic jam we faced on our way into Avila Beach almost caused us to turn around, but we were glad we stayed the course, because we soon discovered that whales and dolphins were frolicking in the bay! A strange complement to the whales and dolphins we viewed from the pier was a somewhat Hitchcockesque view of countless thousands of birds who also apparently came to take advantage of a large school of fish in the bay.
Although we had visited Avila Beach in the past, it seemed like literally a whole new town. The downtown area was completely rebuilt several years ago to clean up oil contamination. Now it has the look of a touristy cruise port, complete with a Del Sol store (an establishment we had previously only visited on cruises). We picked up some color-changing nail polish for our daughter. A farmer’s market also helped to draw the crowds, with music and dancing in the streets.
We enjoyed our visit to Avila Beach so much that we extended our visit until the next morning, eager to see more whales, dolphins, sea lions and birds from the pier. Finally, we reluctantly made our way back home, bringing with us memories that will eventually blend in with the memories of our coming cruise.