How to photograph Morro Bay

Morro Bay Marina

Morro Bay is a delightful fishing town with a sheltered harbor. At the entrance of the harbor towers Morro Rock, a volcanic granite dome and Morro Bay’s most prominent feature.

I used to bypass Morro Bay on my travels after I first moved to California. From a distance, it did not seem to offer much and the three smoke stacks of the local power plant are still an eyesore to me. Since then I have come to appreciate Morro Bay. The fishing boats, the sea life, and the dramatic sunsets that backlight an equally dramatic landscape have won me over. I love coming to Morro Bay and I am never short on excuses for another stop at Morro Bay. After all, it is conveniently located at the confluence of Highways 1 and 101.

Do not miss Morro Bay, a fantastic family destination with countless photography choices.

How to get there

Morro Bay is located about 13 miles north of San Luis Obispo on Highway 1, about 17 miles west of Atascadero on Highway 41 and about 20 miles south of Cambria on Highway 1. Morro Bay is impossible to miss if you take any of these roads.

Morro Bay is located at the coast, almost at the exact halfway point between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

GPS position

How to photograph Morro Bay

Morro Bay State Park

Heron at Morro Bay State Park

Heron at Morro Bay State Park

The saltwater marsh at the northern end of Morro Bay State Park is a perfect location for bird photography. All kinds of sea birds come here to hunt and congregate. The blue heron above just caught his lunch.

You will need a telephoto lens of at least 300mm for the birds. If you have a shorter lens, you can still photograph the birds, but you may have to crop your images. Alternatively, you can capture a few vertical images with the sand spit and colorful kayaks in the background.

The Estuary in the southern part of the park should make a perfect sunset location. You can capture the reflecting sunlight in the arms of the water tentacles from South Bay Boulevard. The park also has a small marina where you can rent a kayak and explore the bay in greater depth.

Bayshore Bluffs and Tidelands Parks

Bayshore Bluffs Park - Morro Bay

Bayshore Bluffs Park - Morro Bay

Just north of the State Park is the small Bayshore Bluffs Park. At first glance, it looks underwhelming, but then I discovered the stairs at the southern end of the park. The stairs lead to a small beach that is completely covered in oyster shells. Boat owners land their small craft here, which make a fantastic foreground for the bay.

I used a medium range lens and stepped several meters back from the boat to avoid dwarfing Morro Rock in the distance. This meant that I needed a very small aperture to get the boat and the rock sharp at the same time. I used f/14 on my 7D, which means I would get a small amount of diffraction, un-sharpness caused by light bending. In post-processing, I sharpened the image.

Tidelands Park, just north of Bayshore Park, is another good place to photograph the boats anchored in the harbor and the cheeky squirrels waiting for handouts.

At the docks

Ye Olde Man

Ye Olde Man

Most visitors to Morro Bay come to the docks and the shops and restaurants just south of them. This is where most of the tourist activity takes place, the bustling heart of Morro Bay. I took the sunset picture from the introduction here and countless other images. Most of my images are from this area, since there is simply so much to see here.

Sometimes, seals rest on the docks or goof around in the water. Colorful storefronts and playfully excited children are also good motives if you are not shy. The old weathered fishing vessels moored at the docks add an authentic flair to the entire area that you cannot find anywhere else.

On the Breakwater

Surfers

Surfers

If you take a drive to Morro Rock, you will get a different perspective on the city and Morro Strand State Beach to the north. The latter is a popular surfer destination. You need a long lens to capture the action. Alternatively, a shorter focal length will give you a scenic postcard view of the waves, the surfers, and the northern fringes of Morro Bay, nestling in the foothills.

Morro Bay at night

Morro Bay at night

A good place to end your day of photography, before settling down for a fresh seafood dinner, is Coleman Park. The best time is about 15 to 30 minutes after sunset. Increase your ISO setting slightly to keep the exposure times below a couple of seconds. Otherwise, the boats will look slightly blurry, due to the motion of the water.

Best Time of the Day and Best Season

Morro Bay has something for every season. Sunsets are more dramatic in winter, while the weather is more pleasant and predictable in summer. Summer brings more fog, which can add to the atmosphere of your images. Spring and fall are also good, since you will have less competition from other travelers.

Time required

Depending on the depth of your visit, you need between one hour and one day. If you have only a short amount of time, stay near the docks and the restaurants.

Equipment

  • Wide-angle lens
  • Normal Lens
  • Tripod and Cable release

Fees

There are no fees to pay, but you should sit down in one of the countless seafood restaurants along Embarcadero or Front Street.

Close Locations

Useful Resources


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9 Comments

  1. Posted 2011/01/19 at 08:34 | Permalink

    That photo at the top is stunning. I gasped when it opened up. Beautiful.

  2. Posted 2011/01/20 at 01:21 | Permalink

    I agree with Kym, one of the best images I have ever seen of Morro Bay. The inclusion of the dock and boats really give us a feel for the place. Your story is well done too. Very nice!

  3. Posted 2011/01/20 at 05:51 | Permalink

    Thanks guys. I appreciate the kind words.

  4. Alan
    Posted 2011/01/26 at 06:22 | Permalink

    Great sunset shot for sure! Morro Bay looks gorgeous, just booked Valentine’s weekend there, thanks for the idea.

  5. Posted 2011/01/28 at 04:55 | Permalink

    Thanks for all the tips! They really do help!

    http://stevedeschenes.smugmug.com/Landscapes/Landscapes-1/14508142_anHyF#1101711300_Ddu4L

  6. Janice Peters
    Posted 2011/03/02 at 19:04 | Permalink

    What a fantastic website!
    As the just-retired Mayor of Morro Bay, thank you for your wonderful comments about our beautiful fishing village. (The “stacks” seemed unattractive to me when I moved here 21 years ago from LA, but you’d be surprised how many fishermen and travelers consider them their beacon home.)
    As a photographer, thank you for such increibly generous and helpful information. I’ve photograped many of the areas you cover, and your comments are perfect!

  7. Posted 2011/03/03 at 03:03 | Permalink

    These are wonderful visions of this particular area. Well done. Would have been nice to know who photographed these.

  8. Posted 2011/03/03 at 03:42 | Permalink

    Janice, I am delighted to learn that the former major of Morro Bay approves of my article. Thank you very much for the kind comment.
    Jayne, all images on this blog are usually mine, except as otherwise indicated. After all, I have to scout all the places anyways.

  9. Posted 2013/04/16 at 16:35 | Permalink

    See you on the 25th of April 2013 :)
    We have a group of photographers from Houston Texas going to capture some of the beauty your area has to offer.


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