The wide-open fields of the Los Osos Valley have an isolated, Great Plains majesty. Hawks hover in the crystalline skies like children’s kites, and the road into the valley seems to go on forever, or at least until it bumps into placid Morro Bay. Los Osos and its waterside neighbor, Baywood Park, are where nature catches its breath, and the locals are determined to keep it that way: The place is chockablock with parks and preserves—and even a miniature forest.
Just about every room at the Back Bay Inn, steps from the Baywood Pier, has views of the water. Catch a stunning sunset from a glass-enclosed deck while sipping a complimentary glass of wine. The garden at the back is no slouch either, landscaped with plants attracting hummingbirds that put on their own show. Breakfast at the Back Bay Cafe (love the BLT croissant) is included.
Each January, hundreds of birders—from the casual to full-blown twitchers—descend on the area for the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival. One of the stars of the four-day event is the Los Osos-adjacent estuary. At this Important Bird Area (an actual designation), scores of waterfowl take breaks from their epic migrations. The egrets and herons and gaggles of geese are still there in February, and you can see them on a custom kayak tour operated by Central Coast Outdoors ($60 and up).
There are few state parks as made for walking as Montaña de Oro, which is honeycombed with trails that loop for miles over the coastal hills. The park is also the site of Spooner’s Cove, a perfect crescent of a beach, where you can visit the historic house, now a museum, from which the cove’s namesake operated his 9,000-acre oceanside ranch. On a whiteboard outside the entrance, various wildlife sightings are recorded—such as the mountain lion “who seems nice,” according to one scribe.
Sylvester’s in Los Osos is famous for its 5-pound burger, which comes with a challenge: Consume all 2½ pounds of beef and 2½ pounds of fixings in less than 30 minutes and the $33 meal is free. Another lunch standout is the Mexican fare at La Palapa in Baywood Park, which hosts live music at the spacious restaurant once the weather drives the regular pier concerts indoors.
At the end of Los Osos Valley Road is the entrance to Monarch Grove, where the iconic butterflies cluster on the towering eucalyptus well into February. Follow the trail as it meanders through coastal scrub all the way to the dunes, where it’s an easy hike to a pristine stretch of the Pacific. A sign alerts the fortunate few who’ve discovered this coastal access to keep an eye out for the endangered Morro Bay kangaroo rat that inhabits the dunes.
While wine tourism has exploded in the Santa Ynez Valley to the south and in Paso Robles to the north, the Arroyo Grande and Edna valleys that make up Los Osos’ wine country don’t draw the big crowds. Lucky for you. Don’t miss Saucelito Canyon, where Bill Greenough, brother of surfing legend George, has revived ancient zinfandel vines. There you can also pick up a copy of the book “The Mad Crush,” a riveting account of this winery (full disclosure: this magazine’s former editor, Martin J. Smith, had a hand in its publication). Then on to Claiborne & Churchill, where the owners have produced top cool-climate wines for decades.
The El Moro Elfin Forest sends visitors along a wooden boardwalk through a hobbit-friendly landscape of miniature oaks and low-lying mock heather, ferns, and Ceanothus. The wilderness preserve is studded with signs that, pieced together, spin a folktale of the Chumash who once lived there.
WHET THE APPETITE
The bird for which the Blue Heron is named gobbles down its dinner a stone’s throw from this charming restaurant, which offers dishes such as scallops in a lemony butter sauce ($33) and raw oysters ($16 for a half dozen) farmed in Morro Bay. There’s a large garden, but this time of year you’ll want to dine inside the modern beach-style venue.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Feb. 2: The annual Super Bowl Sunday Trail Work Day in Montaña de Oro State Park provides tools and a light breakfast for volunteers interested in sprucing up the scenic pathways. cccmb.org/events
TIP FROM A LOCAL
“There’s a daily ritual where locals walk their dogs along the bayfront and socialize while their dogs play in the bay. You meet so many people from so many places.”
Los Osos resident for the past 41 years