Morro Rock – The Gibraltar of the Pacific and anchor of the Central Coast

View of Morro Bay Rock and beach

Morro Rock

Morro Rock is one of the iconic images of Central California. Keeping watch over the town of Morro Bay, it is more than just a very big rock, it is a focus that allows the visitor to see the ever-changing moods of the ocean. We’ll look at just a few of those moods in this display of fine photos.

Interpretive board detailing the formation of Morro Rock

Morro Rock Quick Facts:

  • What it is: A volcanic plug (click on the photo above to see details). One of the “Nine Sisters“, a chain of similar plugs extending back to the city of San Luis Obispo.
  • Nicknames: The Rock; The Gibraltar of the Pacific
  • Height: 581 feet (wikipedia); other sources cite 576 feet as the height.
  • Area covered: 80 acres
  • GPS Coordinates: 35.36932, -120.86751
  • What its name means: “Morro” is translated as either “domed rock” or “turban”. Juan Cabrillo gave it this name passing by here in 1542.
  • Special status: Morro Rock State Preserve, California Historical Landmark No. 821 and Peregrine Falcon Reserve. No climbing is allowed with the exception of members of the Chumash tribe on special occasions.
  • More information: A good summary of the rock and the other sisters here.

The Rock was originally an island at all but extreme low tides. It is now connected to the mainland by a causeway on which you can drive all the way up to the rock. The historians at the city of Morro Bay’s website are unsure when the Morro Rock was connected, but it seems that it was sometime in the 1940’s.

Building stone was quarried from the Rock from the nineteenth century until the 1960’s and some of the product was used for the causeway as well as for the breakwater at Port Harford in Avila Beach.

Morro Rock was once an island
A nineteenth century print showing Morro Rock as an island
Aerial view of Morro Bay and Morro Rock
Aerial view of Morro Bay

The Rock is visible for miles around – from Cayucos to the north, Montana de Oro State Park in the south, from Highway 41 coming from Atascadero and one of the longest views is from Highway 46 at two of the scenic overlooks there.

These long views are pretty and the photos that follow will show them all and more.

One interesting thing is that it’s difficult to get a real sense of just how large this natural feature is until you’re standing right beside it and feel dwarfed by its immensity.

Morro Rock viewed from the harbor of Morro Bay

The small specks at the base of the Rock are all parked vehicles. But the best photo I’ve seen that shows how BIG it really is can be found by clicking here (opens in new tab).

Four of the Nine Sisters viewed from Cerro Alto campground off Highway 41
Four of the nine sisters as viewed from the Cerro Alto campground off Highway 41
Hollister Peak showing the same geological structure as Morro Rock
This is not Morro Rock…it is Hollister Peak and clearly shows the family ties to the other sisters. This was taken on the Marina Boardwalk.
The Morro Rock viewed from the Morro Bay marina
This IS the Rock, from about the same place on the Marina Boardwalk
A view of Morro Rock from Lupin Point in the Elfin Forest, Los Osos
From the Elfin Forest in Los Osos
A peregrine falcon aerie on Morro Rock
One of the aeries on Morro Rock. A peregrine falcon bringing home supper to a fledgling
Morro Rock shrouded in fog

There’s a big rock hiding somewhere in all that fog…

View of the Rock from the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve in Los Osos

Taken at the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve in Los Osos.

This is another hidden treasure that can be found at the southern end of the Morro Bay estuary in Los Osos. The Morro Coast Audubon Society has created this lovely 24 acre preserve which protects this fresh water area. It is located off Ramona Avenue and has a 1 mile long walking trail (open to dogs on leash) enabling you to take in the natural wonders found here.

An offshore view of Morro Rock with an humpback whale breaching

Humpback whale just offshore from Morro Rock

As you can see, there are times of the year when whale watching tours don’t need to venture far from the bay. Blue whales, grey whales or humpback whales can be seen off the coast of Central California nearly any time of year.

Light fog wraps around Morro Rock at sunset. Taken from North Point park.

Sunset with light fog

This is a very interesting shot taken from North Point Park. It is accessed from Highway 1 by exiting south at Yerba Buena St. and then turning north on El Toro Rd. to the end. (GPS 35.40650, -120.87170). You might recognize this view from the old Chevrolet video on our front page. It’s amazing to see how little things have changed here in Central California. Compare this photo with the view starting at 2:39 near the end of the video.

Morro Rock from the Cayucos Pier

Looking south toward Morro Bay from the Cayucos pier. Morro Rock is 6 miles distant and still appears quite large.

View of Morro Bay and Rock from Montana de Oro State Park

Looking north from Hazard Peak in Montana de Oro State Park. Good view of the sand spit that separates Morro Bay from the ocean.

Morro Rock viewed from Highway 46 - a 12 mile view

Morro Rock viewed from a scenic overlook on Highway 46. Montana de Oro State Park is the coastline in the far distance; Cayucos can be spied just over the hills on the right in the foreground. The view north from this spot allows you to see Point Piedras Blancas and the beginning of Big Sur.

Morro and Pillar Rocks in big surf

Pillar Rock is just to the NW of the Morro. Shown here in big surf, it’s worth mentioning that care should be taken when clambering around the rocks at the base. Big surf conditions aren’t the only time when dangerous waves can appear. There are frequently “sneaker” or “rogue” waves which can show up unannounced among much smaller waves. Use caution.

The sun setting over Pillar Rock just NW of Morro Rock

A well-planned photo with the sun setting over Pillar Rock.

There were so many great photos of this Central California wonder that it was difficult to choose which ones to place on this page. The great thing is that when you visit here, the mood will be different and your pictures can add to the never ending catalog of this great place.

As you have seen, if you are passing somewhere close to Morro Bay, you are fairly certain to catch a glimpse of the Rock. Enjoy your stay!

Sunset over Morro Bay

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