Searching for John Steinbeck in Monterey, CA

There is no denying that Monterey is forever associated with John Steinbeck.  The author spent the first part of his life here and that time resulted in five of his most famous novels, among them “Cannery Row.”  But don’t look for the magic of that time or those characters in the modern namesake.  Today, Cannery Row is more about than cotton candy than characters.

The city has put up freestanding placards dishing out snippets of history about the sardine canning industry that once thrived here, explaining how Steinbeck became lifelong friends with marine biologist Ed Rickets, and pointing out the splintery wooden building that once housed the Pacific Biological Supply Company, owned by Rickets.  They also perpetuate the pervasive rumor that Rickets was the inspiration for the main character ‘Doc” in the novel, “Cannery Row.”  The building is about the only thing left from that era and is not open to the public.

The Cannery Row of Steinbeck’s novel is indeed, lost to history.  The stench of processing fish has been replaced with the heavy scent of baking waffle cones and frying fish. As the tide retreats, the concrete supports of old canneries emerge from the sand like the ruins of a lost civilization.  The only member of Steinbeck’s cast to remain is calm water of Monterey Bay.  As a silent witness to the changes on Cannery Row, perhaps it remains the most magical part of any visit to Monterey.

What to do:

Cannery Row is the focal point of Monterey.  Since 1985, the area made famous by John Steinbeck’s novels has been turned into somewhat of a gaudy tourist destination.  However, no trip to a seaside town would be complete without buying at least one starfish or pirate hat and there are plenty of stores here to find them. But Cannery Row offers more than typical seaside resort souvenir stores.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium (www.montereybayaquarium.org) at the end of the famous street, offers state-of-the-art displays and many hands-on exhibits.  If visiting the interactive exhibits has put you in a mood to get closer to the water, you can arrange a guided kayak tour or rent a sea kayak from AB Seas Kayaks (www.montereykayak.com).  For those seeking more artistic shopping, the Row offers a couple of art galleries that feature local artists.  Dick Crispo’s Costal Painting Gallery is located at 100 Cannery Row.

If you are looking for beaches, don’t look here.  Most of the shoreline is either covered by docks, or strewn with rocky outcrops.  However, the lack of suitable beachfront offers up a free activity for young and old alike: tidal pools. This can make for some fascinating wildlife viewing as sea lions bask on the exposed rocks.  It gives budding marine biologists a chance to do a little of their own exploration.

Where to Eat:

There are more seafood restaurants in Monterey than you can sling an empty sardine can at, and if you are looking for the typical over the water seating with a view of the Bay there are no shortages of places to dine.  Most offer fresh, if a little mediocre fare with almost identical menus.  However, one of the best in this category is The Fish Hopper (/www.fishhopper.com) located at the end of pier at 700 Cannery Row.  Along with the bay view, they offer a lunch special of Parmesan encrusted Halibut  served over a mixture of organic veg ($24.00)  To top things off, a unique serving of Key Lime pie with a delicate Kiwi sauce drizzled over.($8.00).  For dinner, go a little more romantic at The Chart House.  With not a t-shirt or flip-flop in sight the ambience is calm and dark.  The Chart House is a typical surf’n turf restaurant; their prime rib is predictably good with a generous portion and reasonable price.  The house Shiraz, Tripichi pairs nicely. After dinner, take a walk back down the Row for desert at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.  Eat it there, or overlooking Monterey Bay at one of the many sitting areas.

Where to Stay:

InterContinental Hotel Monterey offers accommodations directly on Cannery Row.  It offers individual balconies with a gorgeous view of the bay.

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