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Morro Bay Museum of Natural History is a fun, quick summertime adventure 

My housemate Jen and I are sitting around our kitchen table as the gloom of Saturday, July 2, fills our windows. For those who still haven't come to terms with summer (like us), July rolls around like a slap in the face. This pesky month indicates summer is in full swing, a concerning fact since neither of us has anything to show for it.

click to enlarge LEARNING WITH A VIEW The museum is situated overlooking an estuary and Morro Bay Rock, providing spectacular views from the observation deck. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY LADIN
  • Photo By Ashley Ladin
  • LEARNING WITH A VIEW The museum is situated overlooking an estuary and Morro Bay Rock, providing spectacular views from the observation deck.

Despite the morning clouds, we decide an adventure is well overdue. After some back and forth, we settle on visiting the Morro Bay Museum of Natural History. Neither of us has been before, but it certainly seems like a worthy July outing.

Driving along GPS-guided roads, we finally find the museum tucked among eucalyptus trees down State Park Road. The small building has a faded yellow and blue facade that gives us a gentle but warm greeting. We joke on our way to the door about how spontaneous and classy we are for visiting a museum.

Once inside, it's clear we're the first visitors of the day. The museum staff of two turns their attention to us immediately. They annotate a map for us with the best places in Morro Bay for cormorant and sea otter sightings before we can even purchase our $3 tickets.

click to enlarge WHALES AND SEALS AND OTTERS, OH MY! Murals both outside and inside the museum offer beautifully rendered wildlife scenes. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY LADIN
  • Photo By Ashley Ladin
  • WHALES AND SEALS AND OTTERS, OH MY! Murals both outside and inside the museum offer beautifully rendered wildlife scenes.

The museum is a quirky mix of interactive exhibits. "Hands on" is the go-to descriptor; the staff encourages us to open drawers, push buttons, and look up. While most of the interactive elements seem to be geared toward children, they still elicit smiles from Jen and me.

The floor-to-ceiling windows offer a stunning view of Morro Rock, which is the de facto mascot for the museum. Throughout the rooms, checkpoints have short wildlife facts told by Rocky, a cartoon version of the famous rock. I read one of these and learn the Morro Rock, at 578 feet high, is taller than the Statue of Liberty.

A docent comes smiling into sight and addresses the small crowd. She ushers us to a back room, where a locally made video about sea otters is playing in front of a handful of folding chairs. We leave after a few minutes, but not before watching a few buoyant pups attempt to dive. We giggle as the narrator describes them as "bobbing along like fuzzy corks."

click to enlarge A MUSEUM FOR EVERYONE While much of the museum is geared toward a younger audience, many of the exhibits provide useful and engaging information for all ages. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY LADIN
  • Photo By Ashley Ladin
  • A MUSEUM FOR EVERYONE While much of the museum is geared toward a younger audience, many of the exhibits provide useful and engaging information for all ages.

The quiet museum cultivates a symphony of disparate sounds. Squeaky drawers open and shut, cylinders whirl, and children laugh. Jen and I crack jokes while reading about "BOFFFFs: Big, Old, Fat, Fertile Female Fish," and a staff member comes up to ask if we are enjoying ourselves. I tell him we are.

We exit through the same door we came in, making sure to use some of the hand sanitizer partly hidden on the front desk (if you do this museum right, you'll need it).

Getting in the car, we decide to extend the adventure a tad longer. We set course for the sea otter hub one staff member kindly circled on the free map. In what feels almost like a necessary pilgrimage after our morning, we drive seven extra minutes to the spot, and a score of sea otters greets us.

Other people are here for the sea otters as well, yet I wonder if they know that 1 square inch on a sea otter's coat can contain 1 million hairs. Δ

New Times editorial intern Ashley Ladin had a wildly inaccurate understanding of the Statue of Liberty's height before this outing. Contact Arts Editor Ryah Cooley at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

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