I live in San Luis Obispo County, and if there’s ONE consistent thing I hear involving dining–throughout the county–it is “Morro Bay?!? I don’t go to Morro Bay.” I get it CONSTANTLY from locals from Paso Robles to Santa Maria and everywhere in between. Just like Pismo, YES: there can be massive crushes of tourists all through the Embarcadero, clamoring for T-shirts, salt-water-taffy and bland, beige, heavily-disguised seafood–preferably fried out of existence.

I LOVE MORRO BAY. There, I said it. And I’m a local. Not a Morro Bay local–because they are REQUIRED to say it–I am a San Luis Obispo local. Morro Bay is a fun town FULL of interesting things to see and do and eat–you just have to know where to poke around the edges a bit. Here are 5 dining tips from someone who visits CONSTANTLY and almost never has to confront wide-walker or stroller.

STAX WINE BAR Far and away the best ambiance and food in town is at Stax. This cool wine-shop is right under everyone’s noses and still an amazing refuge from the strolling hoards–cool and quiet. Slipping in off the sidewalk is like walking into a VIP Lounge–a private club–where top-quality beverages are flowing and large plates of finger-food are passed around. Do not miss the meat-and cheese boards or the ULTIMATE CROSTINI. Champagne, anyone? Full-service wine shop with a great Wine-Club and easy shipping.

Next door, shop at GIOVANNI’S FISH MARKET for a fresh-off-the-dock selection, bundled in ice for a safe trip home.

Nearby, check out FIONA BLEU GALLERY for the best-curated modern art and furnishings on the Central Coast.

SIXTY STATE PARK at Inn At Morro Bay [CLOSED]: I wrote a little blurb about this restaurant recently and the comments surrounding it are what finally sparked this MORRO BAY Special. Recently remodeled out of the old fairly glamorous ‘Restaurant at Inn at Morro Bay’, the new approach is bright and view-oriented, still with a full bar and food quite difficult to find fault with. Being closed for a couple years has not helped this location’s image, and while I would prefer to keep it a secret, I promise it will not stay under-the-radar for long. All of the excuses locals can come up with–and I’ve heard them all–for not dining in Morro Bay are dashed to pieces with Sixty State. Do yourself a favor.

Not to be missed is the Morro Bay Estuary Nature Center upstairs in the Marina Square Building on Embarcadero. Rarely do the tourists venture up the stairs and you will have the place quite to yourself. Fascinating for all ages.

BAYSIDE CAFE has forever been my go-to spot for lunch: groups, by myself, my kids, family, out-of-town-guests–you name it–Bayside has been THE spot for lunch for DECADES. Every local I know worships this place, as it delivers comfortable standards with supreme quality and always a delicious twist, just a little off the beaten path. Great wine list, incredible desserts, and a staff you know by name. Nothing generates more LIKES or comments for me on FaceBook than merely checking in to Bayside. No reservations are accepted and VERY popular at peak times, but plan accordingly and the slight wait along the marina is barely noticeable. Go in the rain. It is one of my favorite places to eat when it is raining outside.

Perched on a cliff between Bayside and 60 Park is the MORRO BAY NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM. Again, rarely a crowd–NOT exactly what most visitors come to Morro Bay for. Adults can learn a lot from the interactive displays and for children: it is NOT TO BE MISSED.

GC’S BISTRO at Giancarlo’s Ristorante. 5.1.2017 CLOSED PERMANENTLY Second location, third incarnation, and several remodels later bring us to the best Italian in town–some of the best Italian in the AREA. Gorgeous, creative interpretations served in a lovely setting uptown in a fun, semi-open kitchen style. Giancarlo himself is always around, entertaining with his cooking, theatrics, singing…. you name it. Good wine list.

Just down the street is my favorite trifecta of thrift stores in SLOcounty: THREADS, CASTAWAYS and REVOLVE. No trip to Morro Bay is complete for my family without a visit to one or all of them.

FRANKIE & LOLA’S At the far North end of Morro Bay, a little past the last areas the tourists typically venture, is a dozen tables in a spot which has seen numerous proprietors in the past couple decades. There is no alcohol, and at first glance the menu looks vegetarian. It is not, but many MANY items are and all are piled high with fresh fruits, vegetables, sprouts and sauces. Go for the Salmon Rushdie or the Whodamame. And this is THE PLACE for breakfast.

Next door grab a baguette at LA PARISIENNE Bakery.
A couple blocks back down Embarcadero is CHATEAU MARGENE, one of Paso Robles’ finest wine producers.

OK, that’s FIVE restaurants in Morro Bay worthy of locals, with a few bonus shopping places thrown in we all frequent. But! ONE MORE BONUS: If you absolutely HAVE to have fried tourist food, if you are just CRAVING calamari or fish-n-chips or cheesy garlic fries, if you haven’t had clam strips in a decade and clam chowder sounds warm and good, there really only is ONE place to go in Morro Bay: GIOVANNI’S. I have tried EVERY SINGLE PLACE IN MORRO BAY–admittedly having those strange cravings from time-to-time–and can easily say Giovanni’s is the best in town. Plenty of outdoor seating, and if you go on weekends or between Memorial Day and Labor day THERE WILL BE A LINE. Sometimes around the block. And for a reason.

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