In the Steps of Steinbeck

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” – John Steinbeck, Cannery Row (1945)

By Jim Thompson

(To download PDF of published story, click here: Monterey-Story)

To View the story as published in TOURISTICA magazine — story on pages 61-72 — click here: Touristica)

The grit and grating are gone along with the canneries, honky tonks, flophouses, “junk heaps of tin and corrugated iron” and the “deep-laden boats” of the sardine fleet that made up Steinbeck’s Monterey. What remains is that incredible “quality of light” and the dream that spins like a magical web over the area.

It is no wonder that this kingdom by the sea has been an inspiration for writers who have created a lasting legacy left on bookshelves around the world. Robert Louis Stevenson called it home when courting Fanny Osbourne and incorporated much of the flavor of Monterey into his immortal “Treasure Island.” Jack London drew upon the area for inspiration for his novel “The Sea Wolf.”

But it was John Steinbeck, and his long, personal attachment to Monterey beginning when he lived there in 1930 with his first wife Carol Henning, who introduced it to the world. Here he met the roughnecks, cannery workers and colorful characters who spiced his stories and immortalized Cannery Row as a part of our collective conscience.

He won the Pulitzer Prize (1939) and the Nobel Prize (1962) for his novel “Grapes of Wrath,” which told the story of migrant farmworkers in the Salinas Valley. Seventeen of his works, including Cannery Row (1945), The Pearl (1947) and East of Eden (1955), were made into Hollywood movies.

Steinbeck Home

In 1945 (the year “Cannery Row” was published), Steinbeck lived with his second wife (Gwyndolyn Conger, 1943–1948) and son, Thom, at 460 Pierce Street in the Lara-Soto Adobe, which he called “a house I have wanted since I was a little kid.” During the year that he lived in the house, Steinbeck penned “The Pearl.” The house – which is open for tours – has been restored and stands on the grounds of the Monterey International Institute.

From the adobe, it is a short drive to the bay and Cannery Row, which draws its name from the sardine canneries that once flourished there.

The landscape on the Row changed in the late 1940s when the canneries fell on hard times, leaving behind the decaying carcases and empty hulks of the packing plants that once gave life to the area. In the 1960s, fires ravaged the remaining buildings, bringing an end to the era chronicled by Steinbeck, but signaling the beginning of a new time.

Life on Cannery Row began its metamorphosis with the opening of The Sardine Factory restaurant in 1968. With only 72 seats when it opened, the restaurant celebrated the food and lifestyle of the original canneries that gave the Row its name.

The restaurant paved the way for the Cannery Row of today. Whether it’s enjoying a relaxing dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf, visiting the quaint shops on The Row, or interacting with sea life at the magnificent Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey is a delightful blend of relaxation and adventure.

The Row is lined with restaurants offering fresh catch of sardines, crab, abalone, squid and endless varieties of fish. Walk slowly and sample fresh clam chowder, boiled crabs or a plate of calamari at Old Fisherman’s Grotto or Domenico’s. For a nice change of pace, the Whaling Station Steakhouse, which has been named Monterey County’s #1 Steak House for over 40 years is a true delight.

Only a few minutes drive away is another icon of the past. Opened in 1897, the Del Monte Golf Course is the oldest U.S. golf course west of the Mississippi River. It’s country club atmosphere would have been a stark contrast to the raw, gritty life on Cannery Row. While Steinbeck probably never played here, he certainly would have visited the area.

About the same time as the Sardine Factory was opened, the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel was built adjacent to the Del Monte Golf Course. Nestled on 22-acres, it stands today as a slice of what Monetrey was during the time of Steinbeck and what the future holds for the area.

A multi-million dollar renovation of the public areas and its 550 rooms is currently underway at the Hyatt Regency. The new look, upgraded facilities and its close proximity to downtown, Cannery Row, the Wharf and the airport make this an excellent place when visiting the Monterey Peninsula.

Living History

A walk along Cannery Row also offers a glimpse of the locations in Steinbeck’s novel. The original buildings are gone, but echoes of the past remain. A red building sporting the sign, “Wing Chong’s Market” is reminiscent of Lee Chong’s Market in the novel. A weathered building directly across the street was Doc Ricketts “Western Biological Laboratory” (now called “Pacific Biological Laboratory”). Just up the street is Steinbeck Square where you will see busts of both John Steinbeck and his friend, Doc Ricketts.

At the Cannery Row Antique Mall (471 Wave Street), you can hunt for treasures from Steinbeck’s era in what used to be the Carmel Canning Company. On 11th Street (No. 147) is the red cottage (now a private residence) where Steinbeck lived with this first wife in 1930.

For Steinbeck fans, the trip is not complete without taking the 48 kilometer drive through the Valley to his hometown of Salinas, the setting for “Grapes of Wrath.” Here you will find the National Steinbeck Center and the Steinbeck House, his birthplace and childhood home. The museum includes interactive exhibits, archival photos and documents, and “Rocinante,” the truck Steinbeck drove across the country in “Travels with Charley.”

There is much to do and see in Monterey and it would be easy to rush through the area. But heed the words of Steinbeck and “participate.” “Soak in the expansive vistas,” for Monterey Bay “is a blue platter.”

“In the morning when the sardine fleet has made a catch, the purse-seiners waddle heavily into the bay blowing their whistles. The deep-laden boats pull in against the coast where the canneries dip their tails into the bay.”
John Steinbeck, “Cannery Row”


For a full list of things to do while in the area, visit the official website at:

(Prices in Canadian Dollars)
Monterey Bay Aquarium (886 Cannery Row) ( Attracting nearly two million visitors each year to view its 300,000 marine plants and animals, the aquarium is a treasure. The outer Bay Wing features a million gallon tank replicating the open ocean along with a three story kelp forest. The Deep Seas exhibit includes sea creatures never before brought to the surface. This was a dream for Doc Ricketts and John Steinbeck. No wonder it is consistently named among the best aquariums in the world. Open daily 9:30am-6PM. Tickets: Adult $64.50, Child $38.75, Child under 3 is free, Senior & Student $51.50. Walk south on the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail to nearby spots for tide pooling.

Walking Tour of Old Monterey ( Offered by the State of California, tours start at the Custom House Plaza at Fisherman’s Wharf. Take the Path of History tour, which goes past important literary sites like the Lara-Soto Adobe, the Robert Louis Stevenson House and the Mayo Hayes O’Donnell Library, formerly the Protestant church where Steinbeck’s son was baptized. Tuesday-Sunday at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. $13 for adults, children 12-and-under are free. Free for everyone on the last Sunday of each month.

Robert Louis Stevenson House (530 Houston Street) (
This two-story adobe was know as the “French Hotel” when Stevenson stayed here in 1879 while courting his future wife and recuperating from an illness. He wrote “Old Pacific Capital” while in Monterey and used many of the locals for his novel “Treasure Island.”

National Steinbeck Center (1 Maine Street, Salinas) ( This museum and cultural center pays tribute to Steinbeck’s life and lasting impact on American literature by exploring his ecological vision, his commitment to social engagement, and his many stories about the working class. Open daily 10am-5pm. Adults $16.75, Seniors, Students, Military, Teachers, and Monterey Co. Residents $12.85, Children (6-17) $9.00, Children under five free.

(Note: stated rates depend on travel dates and type of accommodation)

Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa (1 Old Golf Course Rd, Monterey) (

The newly renovated Hyatt is a landmark of the area. Originally, built in 1969 on 22-aces, the hotel boasts 550 guest rooms in a relaxing, yet, inviting atmosphere. The adjacent Pebble Beach company’s Del Monte Golf Course is the oldest operating course west of the Mississippi and home to the Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational, the Monterey Open and other pro events. The updates, convenient location and amenities make this an excellent place to enjoy the many things Monterey has to offer. Complimentary shuttle available from the Monterey Airport. Pet friendly. Rates: $160-$645.

Centrella Inn (612 Central Ave, Pacific Grove) ( This elegant Victorian-style B&B built in 1889, is only two miles from Fisherman’s Wharf and a five minute walk to Lover’s Point Beach. Fisherman’s Wharf, featuring restaurants, bars and souvenir shops, is 2.2 miles away. Some rooms have claw-foot tubs, period artwork and old-world furnishings. Rates: $160-$580

Monterey Bay Inn (242 Cannery Row, Monterey) (
Enjoy luxurious boutique accommodations in one of the 49 eco-friendly rooms while enjoying exceptional ocean views from a private balcony. It is only a 13-minute walk to the Aquarium and five miles from Caramel-by-the-Sea. There’s also a rooftop deck with hot tub and a patio with fire pits for romantic evenings. Rates: $325-$775


The Sardine Factory (
This is the one that started the renaissance of Cannery Row and, in their words, is “where celebrities feel at home and every other guest feels like a celebrity.” Known for its seafood specialties and wine parings and its old world charm, this Cannery Row classic (opened in 1968)is the local “go-to place” for special occasions.

Whaling Station Steakhouse (
Named Monterey’s #1 steak house for over 40 years, the Whaling Station harkens to a time when ordering a steak was an art form and Caesar Salad was tossed table side. The steaks are great and the Prime Rib as close to perfection as you can get. Fresh oysters and unique deserts make for a memorable meal. If you can’t decide, just let the waiter be your guide. Most have been there for decades and are happy to share their knowledge about how to choose the best cuts for your dining pleasure.

Domenico’s on the Wharf (
Family-style dining in a friendly, relaxing atmosphere has made Domenico’s a local favorite for more than 30 years. From a personal greeting by the owner to great views of the bay and some of the freshest seafood in the area, it is a tradition on the wharf. Watch sea lions and pelicans at play as you sample fresh Monterey Bay spot prawns in this AAA-rated three diamond restaurant. Other dishes include fresh salmon, Alaskan king crab, cioppino, dungeness crab and steaks.


Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for “Grapes of Wrath” (1939) and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, John Steinbeck Plaza on Cannery Row in Monterey, California  honors the author.