Just west of the famed and scenic Highway 1 along the Central Coast lies Baywood Park. It buddies up to the community of Los Osos to form Baywood-Los Osos, in the so-called SLO Cal region of Central California.
The birds and trails around the mudflats and estuary around Baywood Park aren’t the only reasons to visit this secret hidden gem of a community. Hyper-local restaurants and bars, charming hotels, Montaña de Oro State Park, and proximity to the vineyards of San Luis Obispo County and beyond make it a charming little place to call home base for a few days.
Here are six reasons you’ll fall in love with this idyllic community on California’s Central Coast.
1. Montaña De Oro State Park
Montaña de Oro State Park is known for its spectacular scenery, miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails, towering cliffs, and the leg-burning, 1,347-foot trek up Valencia Peak. Just barely a mile from our charming hotel, Montaña de Oro State Park is a gem that includes public beaches, historic and cultural sites, and plenty of wildlife.
With 8,000 acres of natural beauty to explore, you could spend a whole day hiking or biking, taking in the views of the bay from the cliff trails, or just relaxing at the beach. If you’re a serious hiker, then the 4.5-mile roundtrip Valencia Peak Trail will certainly challenge you. Valencia Peak is Montaña de Oro State Park’s highest peak at 1,347 feet in elevation. You’ll have to huff and puff up some steep terrain, but once you reach the top, you can catch your breath at a picnic table and enjoy views of Morro Rock, Cerro Cabrillo mountain, and the cape Point Buchon.
Other easier hikes include the 2-mile roundtrip Reservoir Flats Trail that takes a gradual 200-foot elevation gain to pretty views, and the Bluff Trail, a 3.4-mile out-and-back trail that lets you explore undisturbed coastline, bluffs, and tide pools
2. Morro Bay
As I paddled my kayak under the looming presence of Morro Rock at Morro Bay, curious back-floating sea otters floated close by, staring at me with faces like puppy dogs. On a nearby boat dock, a male sea lion barked loudly, trying to impress the females gathered around him and scare off any of their would-be suitors.
The looming Morro Rock is a volcanic plug on the Pacific Coast at the entrance to Morro Bay harbor. At 581 feet tall, it can be seen for miles around. The Salinan and Chumash Native American tribes consider Morro Rock a sacred site, so you can’t climb it, but it makes a perfect backdrop for kayaking adventures, exploration, and whale-watching tours that leave the harbor.
Our morning kayak tour with Central Coast Kayaks teamed us with a guide who pointed out all the sea otters, fields of sand dollars, sea lions, and more. The Morro Bay Wildlife Tour we booked was an easy flatwater kayak experience that would be doable for families or kayakers of all ages.
When you’ve worked up your appetite from paddling for a couple of hours, Morro Bay’s downtown area has plenty of locally owned restaurants to satisfy your craving for seafood, and a bunch of quaint little boutique shops to explore. Morro Bay is located roughly 8 miles from Baywood Park and is home to Morro Bay State Park, which also has a great little museum with displays on geology, oceanography, natural and cultural history, and Native American life.
Pro Tip: Morro Bay is one of the best places to spot native sea otters. These little playful “puppies of the sea” were placed on the endangered species list in 1977, but they are making a comeback thanks to conservation efforts. One of the best viewing spots for sea otters in Morro Bay is on the T-dock located behind The Great American Fish Company. You can walk out onto the boardwalk to see the otters hanging out in their favorite spot.
3. Sweet Springs Nature Preserve
Right across from our hotel, The Baywood Inn, was the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, a 24-acre Morro Bay Audubon Society preserve with countless species of birds, butterflies, turtles, and other wildlife. From red-winged blackbirds, American goldfinches, merlins, and peregrine falcons to long-billed curlews and American bald eagles, birding fanatics can’t miss this special preserve.
Even if you’re not a birder, Sweet Springs is a beautiful place to walk along the boardwalk and hike the 24 acres of trails, with panoramic views of the Estero Bay and plentiful trees, like the stately Monterey cypress and dramatic eucalyptus.
Pro Tip: Though I was hosted at the Baywood Inn, I can’t say enough good things about this beautiful hotel. Not only was it within walking distance of numerous restaurants and centrally located to tons of places we wanted to visit, but the rooms were also absolutely gorgeous. Plus, they have a wine and snack happy hour every afternoon, with some pretty nice wines to try.
4. Baywood-Los Osos Restaurants
Baywood-Los Osos has its share of great places to eat, but if it’s breakfast you’re after, you don’t have to go farther than across the street from the Baywood Inn to the Nautical Bean, serving up breakfast pastries, sandwiches, wraps, and some of the best espresso and coffee drinks in the area.
We dined on some of the tastiest Thai green curry at Noi’s Second Street Cafe’s takeout spot just a few steps down the sidewalk from the Inn. The La Palapa restaurant, next to the Inn, offers fresh seafood with a Mexican flair. Next door to La Palapa is the popular High Street Market & Deli. Behind the inn, on Third Street, is Beerwood, where you can enjoy the special of the day (I had a hearty pot roast) plus a selection of local craft beers outdoors around fire pits and under heater lamps.
Pro Tip: Legend has it that the local bar, The Merrimaker, birthed the term “dive bar.” For years, it was one of the most notorious bars to frequent, but recently, a new owner remodeled the bar, making it much more respectable and not quite so rough. The Merrimaker is on the corner just across and down the street from the Baywood Inn.
5. San Luis Obispo County Wines
Chateau Margene has a nearby tasting room in Morro Bay where you can delight in the 2019 Beau Mélange, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet Franc, and merlot; or sip the 2021 “Steel” chardonnay.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve spent an afternoon exploring the opulence and history of Hearst Castle, hop across the highway to Hearst Ranch Winery in San Simeon. The views of the Pacific Ocean are stunning, and the dog-friendly patio area makes for a relaxing and enjoyable wine-tasting experience.
6. Attractions Near Baywood Park
Thanks to its proximity to Highway 1, Baywood Park is within short driving distance of pretty much everything in the SLO Cal area. Hearst Castle, the fabulous opulent estate of William Randolph Hearst, is a mere 44-minute drive up north while Pismo Beach with its massive Monarch Butterfly grove is less than 30 minutes south.
Of the many charming communities I visited on my Highway 1 trip, Baywood Park was among my favorites. Its small-town vibes and walkability mixed with top cuisine and luxury living made me a believer: A town can keep conservation and natural beauty alive while also offering the modern conveniences travelers need.
I stayed two nights at the Baywood Inn during a hosted road trip along Highway 1. All opinions are my own.