Here in San Luis Obispo County—a land of mountains, forests, sand and sea—the wonders of nature are remarkably abundant.
Of these many wonders, some stand particularly tall and are worthy of seeking out during your next visit to the region. On that note, below is our list of top must-see natural wonders in San Luis Obispo County:
Perhaps the most notable natural wonders of San Luis Obispo County are the “morros”—the looming remnants of volcanic plugs. Known as “the nine sisters,” these distinctly shaped formations define the local skyscape, and run in a linear southeast fashion from the oceanfront with Morro Rock to the wine country with Islay Hill. In between, you have several others such as Cerro San Luis (a.k.a. Madonna Mountain) and Bishop’s Peak, which offer abundant hiking and biking thrills. There is nothing like them—they give our area a truly unique look, and are a great source of recreation (particularly Bishop’s Peak and Cerro San Luis) and sightseeing (Morro Rock, pictured above, is a must-see).
Elephant Seal “Rookery” at Piedras Blancas
Piedras Blancas near San Simeon along San Luis Obispo County’s north coast is one of only a handful of places where massive elephant seals are known to congregate. Here, along a picturesque beach, they form a community known as a “rookery.” The peak viewing season is December through March, although you can see some there right now—all you have to do is pull over at the viewing area and behold these magnificent creatures. The northern elephant seal is the largest seal in the northern hemisphere and the second largest in the world. Adult males are 14 to 16 feet in length and 4,000 to 5,000 pounds!
Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach
Each fall and winter, swarms of beautiful Monarch Butterflies descend upon a grove of Eucalyptus trees at Pismo State Beach along scenic Highway 1. This is one of the largest such colonies in the nation, with an average of 25,000 butterflies calling the grove home from October through February as a way to escape the cold winters in the north. The grove is easily accessible to visitors, who are greeted by knowledgeable and well-informed volunteer docents offering daily talks and information.
Yes, beaches can be found all along the California Coast, but not with the diversity that can be experienced here. Seeking a quiet storybook beach with brisk ocean air? Try Moonstone Beach in Cambria. Or how about a local’s hangout beach that stretches for miles? Then head over to Cayucos and down into Morro Bay. If you are looking for a sheltered beach that offers warmer weather and a beachfront community brimming with shops and eateries, then check out Avila Beach. And as far as vintage-style, quintessential California beach towns go, it’s hard to beat Pismo Beach. In other words, there’s a beach for every mood and interest here in San Luis Obispo County.
Oyster Fossils at Santa Margarita Ranch
Yes, we put ourselves on this list, but for good reason! Indeed, here on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, much of the land is composed of ancient uplifted sea bed, as evidenced by the thousands of massive oyster fossils that are literally spilling out of the soil. This is one of the richest veins of sea fossils you will find anywhere. At the conclusion of your zipline tour at our sixth and final zipline, we invite you to check out our display of these incredible fossils, some of them the size of footballs. It truly boggles the mind that this terrain—now high up in the Santa Lucia Mountains and 14 miles from the ocean—was once under water.
*Photo of Morro Rock courtesy City of Morro Bay