The high cliffs that line the cobalt blue waters of the Pacific Ocean will likely be the first feature you notice when you arrive at the magnificent Montaña de Oro State Park located along the central California coast.

And certainly, with its viewpoint near the iconic Pacific Coast Highway 1, the views of the park by the sea are a sight to behold and reason enough to visit it.

But visitors will soon find that Montaña de Oro State Park – located about 10 miles south of the pretty town of Morro Bay and about 16 miles west of San Luis Obispo – has layers that extend beyond panoramic ocean views.

During my recent visit, I was also enchanted by the centuries-old history of those who came before me; pretty, sandy Spooner’s Cove, perfect for wading and kayaking; and sea birds that hover over the water before resting on rocky cliffs.

Add to that an endless array of outdoor activities, plenty of wildlife sightings, and beautiful wildflowers, and you have the makings of a tour that offers something for virtually everyone.

Here are seven of the best experiences at Montaña de Oro State Park.

Spooner Ranch House, Montana de Oro Visitor Center (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

1. Explore the history at Spooner Ranch House

Like many of the first state and national park ranches in the United States, the hills, cliffs, and dunes that have come to be known as Montaña de Oro have a fascinating story to tell.

Although the history of the modern ranch dates back to the late 1800s with the arrival of the Spooner family, human history on the earth dates back much further. When Spanish explorers arrived in the area over 5 centuries ago, the area was made up of a series of small villages of the Chumash and Salinan peoples, whose livelihoods largely came from the sea.

A brochure at the park notes that Montaña de Oro is part of the Pecho Coast, the Spanish name for the section of the California coast between Avila Beach and Los Osos. The land “has been associated with the history of many people,” he says, noting that the presence of the Spooner family is part of a much larger story of 10,000 years of human occupation of the Pecho Coast. .

In 1892, Alden Bradford Spooner II leased a remote part of the coast south of Morro Bay and began to develop a ranch which eventually grew to 9,000 acres and spanned three generations of Spooners. Alden and his brother Cornelius began by building a three-room house on a bluff overlooking what is now known as the park’s Spooner’s Cove. He then moved his wife Mary and three sons from Morro Bay and started the Pecho ranch.

The family home has been extended over the years and now serves as a visitor center for the Montaña de Oro National Park. Today, visitors can wander the rooms, with their period furnishings, and take in the stellar coastal views that Spooners once enjoyed from their living room and bedroom windows.

The screens also offer insight into the ingenuity of the Spooners at running a productive dairy and cattle ranch in a remote location – at one point, digging a sloping chute through the shale cliff to a trestle, where sacks of beans and grains and bales of hay were loaded onto anchored schooners – as well as the ranch’s prominent role in the Prohibition era, a time of the 1920s and early 1930s when the production, sale and transport of alcoholic beverages were prohibited by the Constitution.

Spooner's Cove - Kayak
spoon‘s Cove (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

2. Kayak or wade through Spooner’s Cove

Comprised of approximately 8,000 acres and 7 miles of coastline, Montaña de Oro State Park offers plenty of opportunities to experience the ocean. For an up-close taste, visit Spooner’s cove, the emblematic beach of the park.

The cove is located where Islay Creek empties into the Pacific Ocean, and the sandy beach is lined with sheer cliffs and unique rock formations. You’ll find family groups picnicking on the beach, kayakers starting from the shore, and children splashing in the waves. The region is particularly suitable for exploration at low tide.

Not far from the beach is the Visitor Center at Montaña de Oro State Park, as well as the Islay Creek Campground. Spooner’s Cove beach has a parking lot with plenty of space, picnic tables and restrooms. The beach accepts dogs as long as they are kept on a leash.

Pro tip: Kayak rentals are available in nearby Morro Bay at many locations including A kayak hut.

View from Bluff Trail
Cindy barks

3. Admire the ocean view on the Bluff Trail

To have the chance to enjoy the view from the cliffs, as well as from the sandy beaches, the Montaña de Oro Bluff Trail is hard to beat. This is a 3.4 mile out and back trail that follows the shoreline. It also includes areas with tidal pools, vantage points for whale watching, and bridges over washes in the hills.

Expect to take about an hour and 30 minutes to walk on the Bluff Trail, which has a generally gentle incline and is rated as easy.

Other hikes worth seeing include the nearby 4.4 miles Valence peak trail, an out and back trail that includes an elevation gain of 1,256 feet and is rated as intermediate and should take approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes; and the Danger peak trail, an 11.2-mile round-trip intermediate hike that includes an elevation gain of almost 1,000 feet and takes approximately 6 hours.

Tidal pools, Montana de Oro.
Cindy barks

4. Explore the ponds

Low tide at Corallina Cove, located just off the Bluff Trail, exposes an area of ​​rocky reefs that are home to rich and diverse marine life, from black abalone and ocher starfish to sea mussels and sea crabs. shore.

A sign at the entrance to the Spur Trail that heads to the Tidal Pools of Corallina Cove warns walkers to walk lightly in the area to protect the diverse marine life. Even without venturing into the tidal pools, you can get a good feel for the surroundings by sanding down the pebble shore and gazing at the spiky reef. Great views of the tidal area are also visible along the somewhat steep path down to the beach.

Horseback riding on the cliffs.
The cliffs (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

5. Ride a horse on the cliffs

True to its ranching past, Montaña de Oro is a popular spot for horseback riding, and the park’s main campground, Islay Creek, offers three horse campsites and two group horse campsites for people who want to bring their own. horses. Both provide water for the horses, as well as limited stables for group sites.

The hiking and cycling trails that run along the coast and in the mountains of the Montaña de Oro are also designated as equestrian trails, so riders have plenty of opportunities for horseback riding. On my recent visit to Montaña de Oro, I spotted many runners enjoying the ocean view on the seaside cliffs.

Pro tip: In addition to the possibilities to bring your own horses to Montaña de Oro, the California Highway 1 Discovery Route The website lists a number of horseback riding opportunities located nearby.

Wildflowers - Golden Poppies - Bluff Trail
Golden Poppies on Bluff Trail (Photo credit: Cindy Barks)

6. Savor the golden wildflowers

Montaña de Oro takes its name – “Golden Mountains” – from the golden poppies that often cover the hills of the region in spring.

When I visited in December, I did not have too much hope of taking the golden poppies of the same name from Montaña de Oro, so it was with great pleasure that I noticed that even in winter a few sprigs wildflowers could be seen along the Bluff Trail.

I also noticed a number of other shrubs and bushes along the way that sported yellow and purple flowers. In addition to the iconic poppies, Montaña de Oro is known to have brittlebush, bluebells, lupine, sand abbot, and evening primrose.

Pro tip: For a full range of wildflowers, March and April are the best months to visit Montaña de Oro. More information about California wildflowers can be found on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website. here.

deer wandering in the park
Cindy barks

7. Enjoy the wildlife sightings

Signs of life are ubiquitous in Montaña de Oro, from black oystercatchers plunging into the ocean, to the ‘Whale Trail’ information available along the Bluff Trail, to deer and ground squirrels that can be found. spot along the way.

During my visit I saw a number of deer and squirrels, as well as a range of birds perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Although I haven’t spotted any whales in the ocean, there are signs that Montaña de Oro is part of the Whale Trail and offers one of the best places on the Central Coast for wildlife viewing.

“From here you can see otters, seabirds, seals and dolphins,” read a sign along the Bluff Trail, adding: “Watch whales all year round, with the best viewing opportunities. from mid-December to early April. “

Spooner's cove
Cindy barks

Pro tip

The temperate climate of the central California coast makes the region a year-round destination. Montaña de Oro State Park has average high temperatures in the range of 60 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, except in October, when the high average is 70 degrees. Average lows hover in the 40s and 50s year round, with January, February, March and April all showing average lows in the mid 40s and highs in the mid 60s. January and February are the hottest months. rainy, averaging 7 rainy days, while June through September averages zero rainy days.

California has a number of parks ready for outdoor adventures: