John Steinbeck’s Museum & House in Salinas

I have to admit I am a huge fan of literary history. Over the last few months, I have enjoyed adding in stops that showcase famous authors and their impact on the state we live in. I first did this by retracing some of Mark Twain’s steps in Angels Camp, California’s Gold Country. I did it again on a recent trip to Monterey where I spent time exploring Cannery Row in search of what Steinbeck wrote about in the novel of the same name. This adventure lead me to Salinas to visit the museum dedicated to his stories and to see his house. Here is all of the information so you can do the latter two yourself.

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Details

  • Cost: $12 for the museum
  • Location: 1 Main St, Salinas, CA 93901
  • House is located two blocks of walking from the museum

History

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John Steinbeck was born in 1902 at the home located only a few blocks from the center. The house is still available for tours to this day and is a working restaurant.

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The center itself was opened in 1998 to encourage the preservation and education of the works of John Steinbeck. It houses the largest collection of Steinbeck archives in the entire United States and features rotating exhibits that focus on things Steinbeck was passionate about like agriculture.

The Center

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I was on the last leg of a road trip when I rolled into the center right around 4:30 PM, only 30 minutes before it closed. Due to time constraints, I had to rush through the museum, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well done it is, and I plan to make my way back there at a later date when I have more time.

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The museum is mostly one main exhibit area which is broken into sections telling history and stories about each of his famous novels. My favorite of these is East of Eden, and there was a huge section dedicated to it that I spent the most time in. Here are some of the other famous stories that he wrote and an example of what their exhibits looked like. Honestly, if you like his stories you could easily spend a few hours here taking it all in.

Grapes of Wrath

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Of Mice and Men

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The Pearl

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Cannery Row

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Tortilla Flat

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As you are working your way through the museum, you will pass the sections dedicated to his books and learn more about his later life, including information about his Nobel Prize in literature and his life in New York City.

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The exhibit ends with the above quote which I thought was fitting for such a good author.

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Also, there is a recap of his entire life biography before you exit back into the lobby of the museum.

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The museum also had an area with a video playing about his life, but unfortunately I did not have time to watch it, and a store that sold lots of different pieces of memorabilia including his books.

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On the way out one of the workers directed me to how to get to his house, so I set out from the center to see it before I left.

John Steinbeck’s House

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After exiting the center, you will head right (away from the parking structure) and start walking down that street. After about two blocks of walking, you will see his house on the corner.

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The house is beautiful and well kept since it has historical significance and because it is a working restaurant. Unfortunately, it was closed when I went, but I walked around it and looked at the different historical plaques.

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All in all, I enjoyed my time in Salinas and look forward to when I can come back and spend more time here. I can honestly say that this is an excellent way to learn more about the famous author and California history while you are at it. Be sure to check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.

 

LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle in Monterey

LouLou’s is a fun little cafe, right on Municipal Wharf 2 in Monterey, that is a fantastic spot for a home-cooked meal for the whole family, assuming you can find a spot at the counter. Come hungry as the pancakes are bigger than the plate and you will leave full. I got a chance to check it out a few weeks ago, here is all the information.

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Details

  • Cost: $8-$10
  • Location: Municipal Wharf 2, Monterey, CA 93940
  • Come as early as you can on the weekends as it is popular

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The restaurant itself has eight seats at the bar and four small tables. During the summer they have outdoor seating as well, but when it is colder the seating shrinks. This adds to the atmosphere and fun of this restaurant though as everyone seems to be joking with each other and just enjoying their time.

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The wait was about 25 minutes when I got there at 8:30 AM on a Sunday, but you can sit in your car and wait or just enjoy walking the pier. Parking is available on the pier itself for $1.50 an hour if you are able to find a spot.

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The menu has a lot of fun items on it such “calamari and eggs,” but I went with the pancake and seasonal fruit. The fruit when I went was strawberries, and the waiter told me to add chocolate chips as well, which I happily did.

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The first thing they brought out was syrup in a to-go coffee cup as you would need that to take the pancake down. The pancake arrived overflowing the plate, and it was full of strawberries and chocolate chips. You can see the photo below with my hand for comparison.

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 It was a good fluffy pancake with lots of toppings and more food than one person could eat. I didn’t even get half way though as it was so much food and I wished I had a second person to eat it with. It was a fun experience though and I was even encouraged on by the friendly couple that sat next to me, before throwing in the towel and admitting defeat.

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I enjoyed my time at LouLou’s, the staff was friendly, the food was good, and the location was hard to beat. Be sure to get there early if you go on a weekend, and let me know in the comments if you can eat the entire pancake!

Monterey County: Six Spots to Explore on Your Road Trip

Monterey County is one of the most beautiful counties in all of California. It has such a wide range of adventures, everything from the Big Sur coastline to the literary history of Salinas through John Steinbeck. I have driven through the county many times and each time I find something new to peak my interest and continue my exploration. Here are six great spots in the county that you should add to your next road trip as well. You can also find more recommendations by checking out See Monterey’s list.

Hike Point Lobos

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Point Lobos State Park takes the rugged beauty of Big Sur and condenses it down to a small state park with a dozen or so miles of hiking. My two favorite hikes are to Bird Rock and the Cypress Grove Trail. If you have more time though, you can easily explore some of the other great trails as well.

Marvel at Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo

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Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo in Carmel is one of the most beautiful of the 21 California missions. It is the resting place of Father Serra (responsible for starting the missions) and has been visited by the Pope and many others over the years. The facade of the chapel is like something you would expect to see in Europe, and it is utterly stunning. A good spot to spend the morning.

Eat a Pretzel at Cannery Row Brewing Company

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Cannery Row is the incredibly popular tourist area in Monterey, and it is a fun spot to explore on its own (especially the aquarium), but you probably already knew that. I bet you didn’t know that there is a brewery that makes soft pretzels as big as the steering wheel on your car though. If you are looking for a fun meal, head over to Cannery Row Brewing Company and try to take down one of these by yourself.

Walk in John Steinbeck’s Shoes

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If you are a literary fan or just looking for something a little different to do in the area, why not take a walk in one of California’s famous author’s shoes. Monterey County is full of historical spots related to John Steinbeck since he spent a lot of time in the area and even titled a book “Cannery Row.” You can explore some of the historic spots from the book in downtown Monterey, or you can head up to Salinas and go to the National Steinbeck Center and visit his actual house. Either way, there is a lot of fun history to investigate.

Explore a Cave in Pinnacles National Park

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As the newest addition to the United States National Park system, Pinnacles still sees only a small amount of visitors each year and can be a fantastic place to explore. Be sure to check the website before you go though as one of the main caves closes for a few months out of the year to protect the bats. The other cave is open most of the year, and it can be an excellent way to explore something unique while getting your blood moving.

Drive the Big Sur Coastline

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Of course, no trip to this county would be complete without driving along the famed Big Sur coastline. This spot is one of the best areas in all of California as there is incredible beauty waiting for you with each turn of the road. I for one never grow tired of seeing everything from Bixby Bridge to McWay Falls. Be sure to take a day and just drive slow stopping wherever you want.

So there you have it, my list of fantastic spots in Monterey County. Check out more by visiting See Monterey and let me know your favorites in the comments as well.

Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum on Cannery Row

A few weeks back, I spent some time trying to find more unique, less commercial spots along Cannery Row, which lead me to the Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum. Before you ask, yes this is an animatronic wax museum so it can appear relatively dated with today’s modern technology. I for one like these types of things though as they provide a unique way to learn about the history of the area through a medium that is not very common anymore. While it is not for everyone, it is a unique spot, to say the least. Here is all the info.

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Details

  • Cost: $10
  • Location: 700 Cannery Row, Monterey, California 93940

The museum itself is located inside the Cannery Row building, right in the center. If you walk in from the street, you can’t miss it as the booth to pay is right next to the stairs. I grabbed my ticket and headed down.

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One of the most fun things about this museum is the piano stairs that you can “play” while you walk down into the museum. Essentially each step on the stairs create another tone, and I imagine this would be a really fun spot for kids to interact with.

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When you reach the bottom, you will start your time in the museum. There is a wax figure there to point you on and you will start a walking track that takes you through the exhibits.

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The exhibits are all activated by a button that you push when you want to hear about what the wax sculptures are depicting. Pressing the button starts an audio track and lights that direct you where to look. There are over 100 different wax sculptures here depicting over 400 years of California history.

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As I walked through the different sections, I heard about the Native Americans, pioneers, church leaders, John Steinbeck and more.

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One of the most unique spots was a part that talked about how they used to put bears and bulls in arenas to bet on the fighting. While this is pretty grotesque, it is not a part of California history I had ever heard of before, so I found it interesting.

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I appreciated the parts about John Steinbeck as well since I was spending a lot of time on Cannery Row trying to learn more about his influence on the area and it was interesting to hear more about him here.

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At the end of the exhibits, there is a room with fun props that you can use for unique Instagram photos, such as a life-size Elvis and a human-sized Cannery Row Brand sardine can that you can pretend like you are a sardine in.

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After exiting this area, you will make your way back up the piano stairs, which was again fun for a big kid like me, and leave the museum. All in all this is an interesting way to learn about the area’s history. It is not for everyone, but I enjoyed my time interacting with the wax sculptures. Check it out if you are looking for a unique stop along Cannery Row.

Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum on Cannery Row

A few weeks back, I spent some time trying to find more unique, less commercial spots along Cannery Row, which lead me to the Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum. Before you ask, yes this is an animatronic wax museum so it can appear relatively dated with today’s modern technology. I for one like these types of things though as they provide a unique way to learn about the history of the area through a medium that is not very common anymore. While it is not for everyone, it is a unique spot, to say the least. Here is all the info.

Monterey Wax Museum-1

Details

  • Cost: $10
  • Location: 700 Cannery Row, Monterey, California 93940

The museum itself is located inside the Cannery Row building, right in the center. If you walk in from the street, you can’t miss it as the booth to pay is right next to the stairs. I grabbed my ticket and headed down.

Monterey Wax Museum-2

One of the most fun things about this museum is the piano stairs that you can “play” while you walk down into the museum. Essentially each step on the stairs create another tone, and I imagine this would be a really fun spot for kids to interact with.

Monterey Wax Museum-3

When you reach the bottom, you will start your time in the museum. There is a wax figure there to point you on and you will start a walking track that takes you through the exhibits.

Monterey Wax Museum-4

The exhibits are all activated by a button that you push when you want to hear about what the wax sculptures are depicting. Pressing the button starts an audio track and lights that direct you where to look. There are over 100 different wax sculptures here depicting over 400 years of California history.

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As I walked through the different sections, I heard about the Native Americans, pioneers, church leaders, John Steinbeck and more.

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One of the most unique spots was a part that talked about how they used to put bears and bulls in arenas to bet on the fighting. While this is pretty grotesque, it is not a part of California history I had ever heard of before, so I found it interesting.

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I appreciated the parts about John Steinbeck as well since I was spending a lot of time on Cannery Row trying to learn more about his influence on the area and it was interesting to hear more about him here.

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At the end of the exhibits, there is a room with fun props that you can use for unique Instagram photos, such as a life-size Elvis and a human-sized Cannery Row Brand sardine can that you can pretend like you are a sardine in.

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After exiting this area, you will make your way back up the piano stairs, which was again fun for a big kid like me, and leave the museum. All in all this is an interesting way to learn about the area’s history. It is not for everyone, but I enjoyed my time interacting with the wax sculptures. Check it out if you are looking for a unique stop along Cannery Row.

Point Pinos Lighthouse in Monterey: Oldest Lighthouse on the West Coast

While spending time in either Carmel or Monterey, be sure to add a visit to Point Pinos Lighthouse to your list. This lighthouse is the oldest of all of the lighthouses on the West Coast, is well preserved, and has excellent docents that tell you about its history and help you learn about house lighthouses work. While it is not tall like many of the others, it is still a fantastic historical lighthouse to visit, here is all the info.

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Details

  • Open Fri – Mon: 1 PM – 4 PM
  • Location: 80 Asilomar Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

History

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Point Pinos Lighthouse was built and lit in 1855 to help guide ships along the rocky coastline. The original lens is still sitting in the lighthouse to this day. When the lighthouse began it used whale oil to keep the light lit. The light was eventually converted to electricity in 1919. The lighthouse was added to the National Historic Registry in 1977 and is still open to visitors to this day.

The Lighthouse

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When I arrived at about 1:30 PM on a Saturday there was only three other cars in the parking lot. During my time there I ran into a half dozen or so people but overall it was not a very busy attraction on the weekend.

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After entering the lighthouse and paying my $2 fee, I spent 10 minutes talking about the area and its history with the docent who was manning the front desk. Every docent I spoke to here was fantastic and knowledgeable; I highly recommend you sit and talk with them as they provide a lot of great info.

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Next, I headed up the staircase to make my way up to the top of the lighthouse. Along the way, there are a few rooms that were used for watching the sea, or for living when someone stayed at the lighthouse.

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As you get to the top, you will enter a small room with a ladder; this is as far as you can go. Since the lighthouse still runs to this day and has the original lens you can only look up at it through the plexiglass but can’t actually go in.

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I took a few pictures then headed back down to the ground floor.

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The ground floor has a living area, bathroom, and kitchen. Each of which has been preserved well and are fun to explore.

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In the back of the ground floor, there is a set of steps that leads you down to the basement.

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In the basement, there was a bunch of different instruments and interactive exhibits that showed how a lighthouse worked. There was a docent down here who was happy to show me all around and explain how the lens worked.

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After spending some time down in the cellar I headed back up and out the backdoor to the small shop behind the lighthouse. The shop sold lots of small trinkets, including a passport where you could get stamps as you visited different lighthouses along the coast. I imagine this being a super cool thing to do if you have a family with young kids.

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All in all, this was a great little lighthouse that is fun for the whole family and really helps you understand how lighthouses work. I enjoyed my time here, and I highly recommend you visit if you are in the area. Let me know what you think in the comments.