Bixby Bridge, Highway 1, California

Carmel Blog

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The History of Cannery Row Monterey, CA

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Monterey CA Attractions

Words and Photos by Scot Hampton

Along the craggy Northern California coast, there’s a stretch of rocky peninsula that jets out into the cool blue of the Pacific ocean. It’s here you’ll find unforgiving waves crashing upon a shoreline with it’s own salty secrets.

In 1902, the same year John Steinbeck was born, the first cannery shed opened up on Ocean View Avenue. Not long after, a thriving fishing economy emerged from the bountiful amount of salmon and sardines that were being scooped up in the nets of enterprising fisherman.

Soon thereafter, one after another cannery opened up along this stretch of aqua blue coast, to take advantage of the emerging and booming fishing economy. To differentiate themselves from each other, each cannery had it’s own whistle with its own unique sound that would call it’s workers every morning to work. If a worker didn’t hear their particular employer’s whistle, there was no work that day.

John Steinbeck wrote that Cannery Row “is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses.” In 1958 Ocean View Avenue was named Cannery Row in honor of the now famous novel.

Along the street formerly known as Ocean Avenue sits the Monterey Canning Company, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, McAbee Beach, Steinbeck Plaza, and a crowded array of tourist shops and restaurants, all running parallel to the shoreline just a few feet away.

Across town, Steinbeck lived for about a year in the Lara Soto Adobe, at 460 Pierce St. (now home to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey), built in the 1830’s. It was while living here that he wrote The Pearl. Originally, Steinbeck was born in the sleepy hamlet of Salinas, which is now home to the National Steinbeck Center. On February 27th, the National Steinbeck Center hosts it’s annual Steinbeck Birthday Celebration from 10 AM to 3 PM. From May 6th through the 8th, the center will also host the 35th annual Steinbeck Festival.

“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

Back in Monterey, along the waterfront at Steinbeck Plaza, you’ll find tenacious and squawking seagulls perching from the bronze head & shoulders of Steinbeck (looking down on Cannery Row Company founders Balestreri, Cutino, Davidian and Zarounian), while avoiding the throngs of tourists flocking through the plaza for a brief respite before swooping back down to snatch the scraps and crumbs of food that have fallen from their hands to the ground below.