Kayaking the Morro Bay Estuary
Kayak the Morro Bay Estuary and experience a serene world of wildlife, one paddle at a time. Spanning the southern end of Morro Bay to the shores of Los Osos-Baywood, the estuary’s intersection of freshwater and saltwater supports a remarkably broad ecosystem of plant, insect and animal species. As you explore these protected waters, experience Los Osos-Baywood from a whole new perspective: gliding across the horizon, you’re in for an immersive aquatic adventure.
The climate along this stretch of Highway 1 is temperate and mild, perfect for a day of paddling along the sea. To make the most of your visit, be sure to wear layers, sun protection and a hat, as a day on the water means possible extended sun exposure. Birders and wildlife-lovers should bring binoculars. Be sure to read our Wildlife Viewing Tips before heading out.
Ready to paddle? Grab your gear and make a beeline for this wonderland where wildlife, sea, salt and sand meet. Visitors can also easily rent gear from local outfitters along the coast. Let’s paddle out together–many discoveries await.
Table of Contents
Explore Morro Bay & Los Osos-Baywood Park
Morro Bay Estuary Overview
What makes the Morro Bay Estuary so special? The combination of freshwater and saltwater environments creates the perfect conditions for varied forms of life to thrive. The Morro Bay Estuary resides where saltwater and freshwater meet, a unique habitat best explored by kayak.
Fed with freshwater from Chorro and Los Osos Creeks, the Morro Bay Estuary spans over 2,300 acres beside Estero Bay. These two creeks run on either side of the Nine Sisters (volcanic peaks running southeast to northwest, ending at Morro Rock). The estuary is protected from the bay by a long sandspit and a host of animals feed and breed in this safe space. Wildlife includes bobcats, horned lizards, steelhead trout, southern sea otters and western pond turtles. As a stopover on the Pacific Flyway between South America and the Arctic, the estuary also hosts migratory birds of many feathers. Habitats include maritime chaparral, coastal scrub, salt marsh, grasslands, oak woodlands, creek corridors and sand dunes. Look for plants native to Morro Bay (the Morro manzanita, for instance), as well as rare and endangered vegetation.
Sites to See While Kayaking
Morro Bay State Marine Reserve
The Morro Bay State Marine Reserve is a marine protected area (MPA) offering year-round kayaking. Thanks to the California Marine Life Protection Act of 1999, the MPA maintains biodiversity while inviting visitors in for an up-close encounter.
Wildlife abounds along Highway 1, especially within the pristine Morro Bay Estuary. In all, more than two dozen species live in these diverse, protected waters—many best viewed by kayak. Under the protection of the MPA, flora and fauna thrive. You’ll also find hundreds of bird species nesting and migrating along the Pacific Flyway. Mud-dwelling shore crabs, gaper clams and innkeeper worms do their invisible work along untouched estuary banks. Here, marine mammals like sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters play, eat and breed. Please note: While you’re sure to enjoy the dynamic nature of the estuary’s wildlife offerings, the State Marine Reserve does not permit fishing or taking of any living marine resources.
What if you could watch oyster farmers tending Pacific Gold oysters in the middle of the estuary, from your rig? Turns out you can. The Morro Bay Oyster Company farms Pacific Golds for clients from Whole Foods Market to celebrated Chef Daniel Boulud. Much of the action takes place on a simple platform in the middle of the Morro Bay Estuary, where anyone can paddle up and observe. Here, rows of oyster bags hang and float along lines, not unlike rows of field crops. When the tide comes in, the bags are flushed with chilly water; at low tide, they lay on the sandbar. This cycle makes for plump, healthy oysters ― and delicious feasting. To reach the farm, head southwest from the dock at the Morro Bay Marina and look for the floating platform. Local tours are also available to take you to the oyster farm and expand upon the farming process.
Morro Bay Kayak Rental & Tours
Ready to paddle out? Local kayak outfitters are here to help visitors with rentals, tours and more. Longtime residents recommend heading to the rental shops located in Los Osos, a convenient launch locale. Nestled along the uncrowded “back bay” side of the estuary, you’ll find ample parking, less crowds and pristine habitats. You won’t have to worry about boat traffic either, as you’ll find yourself nearby several secluded alcoves known for abundant wildlife viewing opportunities.
A Kayak Shack
Looking for kayak gear or simply a bit of advice before paddling out? Located on the Los Osos side of the estuary, A Kayak Shack is ground zero for paddlers. With knowledgeable staff, this outfitter pairs rental gear for eager kayakers of all ages and skill levels. Conducted by partner Central Coast Outdoors, kayak tours afford visitors views of Morro Rock, sand dunes and blue horizon. A Kayak Shack also offers a wide range of life jackets, single and tandem kayaks, bottled water, dry bags and storage lockers for tours. Public restrooms and plenty of parking make this stop a full-service experience.
Central Coast Outdoors
Central Coast outdoors employs professional nature guides connect kayakers with the magic of the Morro Bay Estuary. This celebrated Morro Bay outfitter encourages beginners and experts to paddle out and experience habitats first-hand. Launching from the Kayak Shack, public tours include short, half-day, and sunset paddles. The half day paddle is a local favorite for a reason: Enjoy an action-packed itinerary that includes paddling out to a seal haul out area, heron rookery and oyster farm. The tour also includes a stop along the sandspit located on the far side of the estuary, a great opportunity for kids to explore sandy dunes. Along the way, you’ll have plenty of chances to see seabirds and other wildlife in their natural environment. Private tours accommodate groups—even large ones—and can turn a simple kayak tour into an unforgettable experience. Private tours range from two hours to an entire evening and are customizable for dog owners and birders. Looking for a dreamy place to pop the question? Ask for a private dunes tour, which includes a grilled California-style dinner paired with an unbeatable sunset view.
Kayak Horizons on the Morro Bay Embarcadero offers both Old Town and Necky Sit-In kayaks. (Reservations aren’t necessary for rentals.) Kayak Horizons also offers tours for up to 60 kayaks. Be sure to make a reservation for groups, including churches, corporations, scouting troops and family reunions. Enjoy free, ample parking and a prime central position for your Morro Bay kayaking adventure.
A stone’s throw from the back bay, Rock Kayak offers life preservers and paddles for every rental, with multiple sizes to accommodate the whole family. This local outfitter also offers lessons and tours—plus, staff are on-hand to help with purchasing kayaks and paddles. A wheelchair accessible business, Rock Kayak is all about ensuring that everyone enjoys a day on the water.
Around the Estuary
Looking to do more after a good paddle? You’ve come to the right place. Exploring Los Osos-Baywood, the back bay and the areas around the estuary completes your ultimate Highway 1 road trip.
Monarch Butterfly Grove
Monarch Butterflies take flight along Highway 1—so don’t miss your chance to see this colorful display in person. Migrating twice per year, these orange-and-black beauties hover along Eucalyptus trees at the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove Grove located in nearby Pismo Beach. Peak butterfly season is late October to February and viewing is always free. Plus, the area provides picnic tables, a restroom and a mercantile trailer selling books, apparel, toys and butterfly-related items. Encompassing nearly twenty acres at the end of Monarch Lane in Los Osos, the Monarch Grove Natural Area is another great place to view butterflies before or after your next kayak adventure. A welcome home for visiting Monarchs, you’ll also find the sprawling Sea Pines Golf Course located nearby.
Morro Bay State Park Boardwalk
Savor a peaceful stroll along Morro Bay State Boardwalk, a hidden gem for visitors and locals alike. Built in 2012, this scenic walking route offers up breathtaking views of the bay, Morro Bay Estuary and Morro Rock. What’s more, wildlife flourishes all along the nearly one-mile trek. Keep your eyes peeled for rabbits and seabirds as you meander this wheelchair-accessible path.
Museum of Natural History
Sometimes called “the biggest little museum,” The Museum of Natural History is a popular family friendly destination in Morro Bay. Pint-sized displays and exhibits bring the natural history of the bay to life, especially for young visitors. Observe sea otters, view Morro Rock through a powerful telescope and learn about how wind, sand, and tides shape the landscape. Kids: complete the museum’s scavenger hunt and win a prize at the end of your visit!
Montana de Oro State Park
Nestled in nearby Los Osos, Montana de Oro State Park stands as one of Highway 1’s most celebrated outdoor destinations. Behold the pristine majesty of wildflower-covered hills, unique coastal hiking trails and secluded pebble beaches. Whether you horseback ride along the surf or explore bountiful tidepools, you’re sure to round out your kayak expedition with a welcome stretch of the legs.
Sweet Springs Nature Preserve
With over 32 acres of preserved land, Sweet Springs is a quiet, unspoiled world away. Located in Los Osos, visitors are welcome to hike along one of the preserve trails, enjoy the vistas of Morro Rock or watch for hundreds of area bird species.
Spanning 90 acres overlooking the estuary and salt marshes, the Elfin Forest in Morro Bay is best known for its fascinating pygmy oaks. Ancient in their years, these trees are stunted by their growing conditions, creating a unique forest studded with native plants. A one-mile boardwalk criss-crosses the park with seating for birdwatchers and sunset-seekers.
Located on the Morro Bay side of the estuary, Bayside Cafe is here to feed hungry kayakers on the hunt for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Make like a local and grab a table at this beloved cafe featuring some of the best waterfront dining around. Specialties include fried green tomatoes, breakfast burritos and sandwiches, alongside a selection of local beer and wine. This time-honored eatery features great options for the whole family–and even makes room for pups on the heated patio.
Nautical Bean Coffee Company
Nautical Bean Coffee Company is a charming Baywood-Los Osos hangout serving premium roasts, delicious breakfast and fresh lunch options like bagels, breakfast burritos, salads, wraps and sandwiches. Located along the back bay side of the Morro Bay Estuary and sharing a parking lot with A Kayak Shack, you’ll find hot, iced or blended java to get your day moving. Fuel up with a steaming cup of Nutty Bean coffee (a house specialty) or hit the grab-and-go pastry case for easy, portable snacks.
See you around the bay!
Now that you’ve experienced Morro Bay and Los Osos-Baywood by kayak, it’s time to explore the area with your own two legs. Dock your vessel and prepare to be wowed, as there’s much to explore nearby. First up, stroll Morro Bay Embarcadero, where oceanfront dining meets boutique shopping, art galleries and salt water taffy. Enjoy the fresh catch of the day or stop for a glass of wine by the water. Morro Rock, the area’s most famous local landmark, is never far from view: Surf along the rock’s edge and even stroll with your pup along the sand, all backdropped by this ancient volcanic plug. Nearby Los Osos is brimming with outdoor fun, including golfing at Sea Pines Golf Resort and hiking Montana de Oro State Park. Afterward, indulge in casual dining options ranging from sushi to Thai or just kick back with a local craft brew and watch the sun sink into the Pacific.