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So, how did Morro Rock get its name? Give up? Here's how!

Morro Rock - How did it get its name?
Matt Claiborne
Matt Claiborne
June 25, 2021

Morro Rock describes the distinctive rock on Morro Beach in the City of Morro Bay. This iconic landmark is referred to as the "Gibraltar of the Pacific" and has a fascinating history.

History of Morro Rock


Morro Rock

Morro Rock was first formed over 23 million years ago from a volcanic plug. Morro Rock is about 576 feet tall and is the shortest of the nine volcanic peaks in San Luis Obispo County. These impressive volcanic peaks are known as the "Nine Sisters."

Morro Rock is composed of volcanic rock and petrified bird excrement. Originally, Morro Rock was an island, but it is connected to the shore by a causeway today. The rock enjoys protection as the Morrow Rock State Preserve.

Tribal History‍

The Chumash and Salinan tribes regard Morro Rock as a sacred site. The Chumash had a settlement in this area as early as the Millingstone Horizon, 6500-2000 B.C.E. The earliest settlements were near the mouth of Morro Creek.

Salinan tribe

The Salinan people climb Morro Rock for solstice ceremonies twice a year. These important ceremonies celebrate the legend of a two-headed serpent's destruction. According to the legend, the serpent had wrapped his body around the base of Morro Rock, but a hawk and a raven successfully destroyed the malicious serpent.

The Chumash people believe that Morro Rock is so sacred that it shouldn't be climbed and dispute the Salinan tribe's right to climb the rock. The general public is barred from climbing at any time due to the rock's fragile state.

European Arrival‍

Morro Rock was sighted by European explorers as early as 1542. How did Morro Rock get its name? It was first named when a Spanish expedition saw the rock "in the form of a round morro." Morro is Spanish for a crown-shaped hill.

As the Nine Sisters’ last and most visible peak, Morro Rock became a necessary navigational aid for ships.

Morro Bay Founding‍

The town of Morro Bay was initially founded in 1870 and was a port for exporting dairy and ranch commodities. The founder, Franklin Riley, also built the wharf, which is now the Embarcadero. In the town's early days, schooners would arrive at the wharf and pick up wool, barley and potatoes, and dairy.

Morro Names‍

Morro Rock closeup

Morro Rock also lends its name to Morro Rock Beach, the waters surrounding the rock known as Morro Bay, and the City of Morro Bay. Morro also lends its name to Morro Creek. The Morro Bay Blue butterfly was discovered at Morro Beach in June 1929.


Morro Rock was mined until 1963 and provided rock for the breakwater in Morro Bay and Port San Luis Harbor.

Landmark Protection‍

Morro Rock was later declared a California Historical Landmark and a State Landmark. It's also a designated bird sanctuary and provides nesting grounds for the peregrine falcon.

Visit Morro Rock‍

Morro Rock Beach is a gorgeous destination for exceptional event photography, long strolls, and cautious swimming. During the summer, lifeguards are on duty. Check with the guards before swimming as this beach has challenging swimming conditions.

To get an idea of Morro Rock's impressive size, you can take Embarcadero Road north and drive to the rock's base. Just remember that it is illegal to climb on the rock.

Enjoy the Natural Treasures of Morro Bay‍

The Morro Bay area is full of natural areas, nature walks, and fascinating landmarks. Check out El Moro Elfin Forest and explore the boardwalk, nature trail, birding, and wildlife opportunities.

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