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In the footsteps of John Steinbeck

California day four

View California 1991 on ToonSarah's travel map.

San Carlos Cathedral

San Carlos Cathedral

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We woke to a lovely sunny day with a fresh breeze off the sea. After breakfast at Denny's we set off back to Monterey to go to mass at San Carlos Cathedral. It was lucky that we had allowed plenty of time as we got decidedly lost (thanks in part to over-helpful locals who would tell us anything rather admit they didn’t know!)

However, we found the church eventually, in a pretty, peaceful part of the old town. We took a few photos then went inside, where we were amused to find advertisements for shops, restaurants etc. on the back of the newsletter – it seemed to us to be very American!

Cannery Row


After mass we drove to Cannery Row. We had a short stroll which took us to the Monterey Bay Aquarium just in time to watch the sea otters being fed. They were lovely, and great fun to watch.

Feeding time for the otters
Otter postcard bought at the aquarium

Also at the aquarium we were able to stroke rays, handle crabs and see the various habitats that make up Monterey Bay, such as the tide pools so beloved by John Steinbeck. From the outside decks we saw seals on the rocks, cormorants and a pelican. Steinbeck might be horrified at what Cannery Row has become, but I think both he and Doc Ricketts would be pleased with the aquarium.

PICT0034_C.jpg California_2_4.jpg
Monterey Bay Aquarium

Outside decks at the aquarium

Yes, Steinbeck might be horrified, but we enjoyed Cannery Row. It is touristy, but with a very pleasant atmosphere and we found plenty to interest us. We saw Kalisa’s (‘La Ida Café’ in the novel) and went in the Old General Store, aka ‘Lee Chong’s’.

We ate lunch in a lovely café (fried squid for me, a Reubens sandwich for Chris), took lots of photos (2017 comment: not by today’s standards, I bet!), and visited the Information Centre in an old railway carriage near the site of Doc’s lab.

What would Steinbeck make of all this?

Monterey Peninsula

Leaving Cannery Row, we followed the coast towards Pacific Grove. The sea was a brilliant blue and the rocky shoreline carpeted with bright pink flowers. As it was Sunday there were lots of families picnicking by the sea and further out on the rocks we saw seals sunning themselves.

We arrived at the start of the famous Seventeen Mile Drive, paid our $5 (for which we received a helpful, glossy brochure) and made our way around the peninsula, stopping at several recommended viewpoints en route. The weather was perfect for the drive. We saw the much-photographed ‘Lone Cypress’ and hundreds of others nearby, also a group of ‘ghost’ trees. There were also spectacular views south towards the Big Sur.

On Seventeen Mile Drive


Eventually we left the drive at Carmel and drove into the town. The beach there looked good but there was nowhere to park so we decided to explore the town centre instead. At first though we couldn’t find the centre (driving up and down the typically American grid of suburban streets) and when we did it was disappointing – rather uninteresting if expensive shops and not a sign of Clint!

2017 comment: for younger readers, the film star Clint Eastwood was mayor of Carmel from 1986-89 and still lived there at the time of our visit.

So we left Carmel and the coast behind, heading inland to more Steinbeck country.

Salinas Valley

We drove south down the valley on a back-country road, with no other tourists, and very few other cars, in sight. The weather was much hotter than on the coast, though still windy, and the views across the valley, of large open fields and distant hazy hills, were wonderful. There were regrettably few places where we could stop, however, until we came to a dusty verge by a huge cabbage field, with a white barn, a shady willow tree and an empty rocking chair. We were definitely ‘East of Eden’.

The Salinas Valley

Cutting across the valley we rejoined the main road near Gonzales, a sleepy very Mexican-influenced one street town, obviously catering to the local farmers.


In Gonzales


We turned back north on busy Highway 101, which took us to Salinas, birthplace of John Steinbeck. We found the Allstar Inn, where we had a reservation, without any trouble, and were very impressed with our large attractive room; less so with the location.

Allstar Inn, Salinas
2017 comment: OMG that perm!

I was keen to see Steinbeck’s house, so we decided to combine this with our search for an evening meal. We got rather vague directions from the desk clerk and drove the short distance into downtown Salinas. What a disappointment! The town was run-down and seedy, with an oppressive, almost threatening atmosphere. A few Mexicans sat around on street corners, but otherwise the place was dead, even for a Sunday. Eventually we found the house, took a couple of photos, and got out of town – fast.

Postcard of Steinbeck's House

2017 comment: Salinas now has a proper museum, the National Steinbeck Center, devoted to its most famous son, while the house is now an attractive-looking restaurant (open lunchtime only); plus, we are a lot more streetwise (I hope!) these days. I think we would have an altogether better experience if we were to return to the town, and I would certainly like to visit that museum.

We ended up eating at the Peppertree Restaurant in the motel across the road from ours – very un-American poor service, and limp salad. A rather dismal end to an otherwise wonderful day.

Total miles for day: 97

Posted by ToonSarah 06:20 Tagged animals road_trip culture history california seaside aquarium literature

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Ok I'll stop here for now .. got to go to bed as have a 650km drive ahead tomorrow from Melbourne to Canberra :-)
Enjoying you trip thus far ...

by Wabat

Thanks for following along Albert ?

by ToonSarah

reading this entry I am more than keen to go and drive it myself! :)

by Ils1976

And I would love to do so again!

by ToonSarah

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