Amid COVID-19, we visited Morro Bay with Airbnb precautions

The Four Percent


In April my husband and I were set to take our grandsons, ages 6 and 9, on a getaway to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and a nearby resort. COVID-19 and the shutdown crushed our plans. As summer approached I had hopes for a beach getaway with them, but COVID-19 remained a grim deterrent to travel. Crowded hotels were out of the question. I turned to Airbnb to find a vacation rental where we could stay on our own.

It was reassuring to learn that in response to COVID-19 the world’s most popular vacation-rental website mandated a new protocol for sanitizing and disinfecting rental spaces “informed by recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” (See box.)

I launched a search for Airbnbs in beach destinations near Los Angeles. Apparently I wasn’t the only one; most of the best rentals were already booked. I expanded my search farther north and came up with a possibility.

The quiet coastal town of Morro Bay is best known for its massive rock, the remnant of a long-extinct volcano. On the San Luis Obispo County website
I discovered a list of social-distancing outdoor activities ideal for the boys, including spotting otters and other wildlife. I pitched a Morro Bay trip to them as a marine version of San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

I bookmarked a one-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom condo on the waterfront. I messaged the host, Beach-N-Bay Getaways, a local rental-management company, to ask about COVID-19 safety precautions. They assured me they followed Airbnb’s strict cleaning protocol. They also explained the condo had keyless entry and that high-touch items such as decorations and games had been removed.

Visitors take in the sunset over Morro Bay.

Visitors take in the sunset over Morro Bay.

(Paul Boorstin)

The price was higher than I’d planned — $466.43 a night, including cleaning and service fee. But I figured we wouldn’t be spending money on restaurants, shopping, whale-watching excursions or other activities that might put us in proximity to a crowd.

I reserved the condo for two nights. (After our trip I discovered that if I had booked on the Beach-N-Bay website instead of on Airbnb, I would have saved about 10%.)

To further ensure a virus-free condo, I brought along my own disinfectant and cleaning supplies. I packed sheets and pillowcases as an extra precaution. For food security, I ordered groceries for delivery from the local Albertsons.

On the three-hour drive to Morro Bay we stopped for a picnic-lunch break at the vista point in San Marcos Pass (Highway 154) between Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley. An hour later we arrived at the condo. I snapped on latex gloves and grabbed my cleaning and disinfecting supplies. “Don’t come in until I deem it’s safe,” I told my grandsons.

As I stepped into the spacious living/dining/kitchen area, I was distracted by the spectacular view of the bay and the rock — and the condo’s cleanliness.

Nevertheless I disinfected every high- and low-touch surface inside as well as on the barbecue-equipped balcony. When converting the pullout sofa into the boys’ bed I sandwiched the blankets between two brought-from-home sheets, then opened all the doors and windows. One blast of fresh sea air quickly dissipated the disinfectant smell.

Finally it was time to have fun. The boys grabbed binoculars and made for the balcony. The first thing they searched for was the source of the raucous squabbling that echoed across the bay. It was a raft overflowing with 800-plus-pound California sea lions. “They’re not social distancing,” said the 9-year-old.

They spotted kayakers, stand-up paddleboarders and sailboats just a few yards away. And then … could it be? Was that dark object floating on a kelp bed a sea otter? They called us to the balcony with such excitement, I swear the furry critter turned its head to see what all the commotion was about.

A sea otter snoozes while floating in the kelp in Morro Bay.

A sea otter snoozes while floating in the kelp in Morro Bay.

(Danna Dykstra Coy / Morro Bay Tourism)

The next morning we strolled along the Morro Bay waterfront. Most shops and restaurants were open. Many people were wearing masks, but not enough to suit me. The boys enjoyed exploring the collection of old boats and the Jules Verne-ish deep-submergence rescue vehicle at the free outdoor Morro Bay Maritime Museum.

Across the street, just offshore from a sign that proclaimed “otter nursery,” they were thrilled to spot a mother otter and her way-too-cute pup lolling on their backs among the kelp. The animals didn’t blink an eye when three lumbering sea lions hoisted their bulbous bodies out of the water and onto a nearby dock for a snooze.

When the morning fog gave way to crystalline blue sky, we piled beach gear into the car and drove to Morro Bay State Park. To the north of the towering landmark, at Morro Rock Beach, surfers rode waves I deemed too daunting for my grandsons — or me. I rummaged in the trunk for the kite we’d brought along on earlier beach vacations without liftoff success. In the brisk wind, today was the day. The bobbly eyed squid kite shot high into the air and danced to the boys’ delight.

A young visitor attempts to launch a kite on Morro Rock Beach.

A young visitor attempts to launch a kite on Morro Rock Beach.

(Paul Boorstin)

Later we walked to the south side of the rock. Here boulders line the channel that the Army Corps of Engineers dredged in the 1930s to create a harbor. A handful of visitors lolled on a sandy beach with gentle waves. We made our way down a rocky path and found an uncrowded spot to spread our beach blanket.

The boys busied themselves building sandcastles, but the clear water beckoned. We quickly discovered it was a lot colder than at the beach in Santa Monica. The boys wiggled into their wetsuits. Because there was no lifeguard, I donned mine. As we swam and frolicked in the water, we spotted two playful dolphins.

When we brought the boys home the next day, the first thing our younger grandson said to his mother was, “We swam with dolphins, but don’t worry. We social distanced.”

Airbnb cleaning protocol

Airbnb hosts who commit to its enhanced cleaning protocol earn an “Enhanced Clean” designation on their listing site.

This means the host has committed to do the following before each guest stay:

  • Sanitize every high-touch surface, down to the doorknobs
  • Thoroughly clean room by room using AirBnB’s extensive cleaning checklist
  • Wash all linens at a high-heat/temperature setting
  • Use cleaning supplies approved by health experts, such as disinfectants with 70% alcohol or more
  • Wear mask and gloves while cleaning
  • Comply with local laws and safety guidelines that call for additional cleaning

If guests believe that the host has not complied with Airbnb’s commitment, their recourse is to write a negative review and give the host a low rating for “cleanliness.” This can lead to Airbnb removing the host’s “Enhanced Clean” designation.



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