The town of Morro Bay was founded by Franklin Riley in 1870 as a port for the export of dairy and ranch products. He was instrumental in the building of a wharf which has now become the Embarcadero. During the 1870s, schooners could often be seen at the Embarcadero picking up wool, potatoes, barley, and dairy products.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the town has been a center for beach holidays. Tourism is the city’s largest industry. The most popular beach is on the north side of Morro Rock, north of the harbor. There are also excellent beaches north and south of the town which are now owned by the State of California.
A portion of Morro Bay is also designated as a state and national bird sanctuary. This means it is illegal to kill or harm a bird in that portion of Morro Bay. Much of Morro Bay is a state wildlife refuge where waterfowl hunting is conducted during the season and is one of the few areas in California where Pacific Brant are pursued. Recently, Morro Bay was also declared a California Marine Reserve by the California Fish and Game Commission.
The town’s most striking feature is Morro Rock, a 576 foot high volcanic plug. Morro Rock stands at the entrance to the harbor, and a causeway connects it with the shore. Previously, it was surrounded by water, but the northern channel was filled in to make the harbor. The Rock, as locals call it, was quarried from 1889 to 1969. There is no public access to the rock itself because it is a reserve for the locally endangered peregrine falcon. However, the area around the base of Morro Rock can be visited. Every few years, someone is caught trying to climb the rock. Climbers risk more than fines or jail time as the rocks that form Morro Rock are loose and fall down regularly. The base of Morro Rock is littered with fallen boulders.