California’s laid-back, lesser-visited San Luis Obispo region is abundant with wildlife, friendly locals and outstanding natural beauty.
Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Central California coast’s SLO CAL region truly is a taste of life in the slow lane. The nickname for the region, sandwiched between the Monterey Bay and Santa Barbara areas, comes from the initials of its main hub, San Luis Obispo.
Although just a few hours’ drive from LA, it feels a million miles away from the latter’s frenetic pace, as I discover when I make my base in the laid-back harbour town of Morro Bay. SLO CAL may be slow-paced, but there’s plenty to keep clients occupied, with activities from horse-riding to kayaking on offer.
California’s scenic Highway 1, aka Pacific Coast Highway, skirts SLO CAL’s rocky coast. At Morro Bay, from the settee of my first-floor studio room at the bijou Front Street Inn & Spa, I gaze out the window at the sun setting over the moored fishing boats, yachts and towering Morro Rock.
The call of the sea is hard to resist, so the next morning I head to Sub Sea Tours along Morro Bay’s Embarcadero waterfront and rent a kayak for an hour’s paddle in the sheltered harbour.
I soon encounter sea lions dozing in a tight huddle on a pontoon, while others hang off the edge with their noses and flippers almost brushing the gently rippling water.
A few paddles away, a group of sea otters lie on their backs, eyeing me warily when I approach – you’re not allowed to get nearer than 30 metres (100 feet) to marine mammals – and occasionally bobbing below the surface to reappear behind me.
Back ashore, I walk to a dock that’s been turned into a sea otter nursery for nursing mothers. As I photograph one mother clutching her pup through tall purple flowers, a hummingbird photobombs the picture.
A couple of days later I return to Sub Sea Tours for a three-hour whale-watching boat trip, setting off in fog that slowly clears to reveal a crisp late-May morning. Humpback whales come to feed in the Central California coast’s nutrient-rich waters from May to October, and we are rewarded with the sight of one spouting and diving to feed, its tail fluke lifting up characteristically before slipping below the waves, while several sea lions and a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins frolic around it to snatch the scraps.