Cannery Row Monterey – A place to search for the Monterey of yesterday

Cannery Row Monterey

Cannery Row, Monterey California

Cannery Row Monterey – a beloved novel by John Steinbeck, a vignette of life in the 1930’s, real people and a real place. It’s still a real place and we flock there to rediscover that world of long ago and search for the characters among the inhabitants of today.

A view down Cannery Row in Monterey with the Aquarium at the far end. Creative Commons by jimg944. View original


Cannery Row was one of the most popular of John Steinbeck’s novels and for good reason. It is a loving depiction of the characters and life along the sardine processing plants in Monterey during the 1930’s.

If you read the novel in high school and haven’t re-read it recently, you owe yourself that great treat. I would also suggest reading the less popular, but equally as good, sequel – Sweet Thursday.

Perhaps the best accompaniment to the novel

But this isn’t going to be a book review, and aren’t you glad! (Me too!). It is about the place as it exists today. The street known officially today as “Cannery Row” was known as “Ocean View Avenue” back in Steinbeck’s time.

As readers of the novel came to Monterey in search of the places described therein, the city fathers decided to do homage to the author and give the tourists what they were looking for.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not just a tourist trap. It’s that and more. There is a charm to the place with the candy, curio and souvenir shops. There are items that you certainly won’t find anywhere else.

The more is the first-class hotels, excellent restaurants, art galleries and of course, anchoring the Row, is the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Cannery Row Monterey lit up at night

Cannery Row Monterey History

Cannery Row is right along the water of Monterey Bay. It was the site of numerous processing plants for the abundant catch of sardines, anchovies and other fish.

The fleet would tie up at the backside of the canneries and the catch was hoisted up to be cleaned, canned and processed. This went on until the fisheries collapsed from over-fishing during World War 2. It was never the same after that.

The backside of Cannery Row in Monterey

You can see the remnants of some of the canneries in the present-day buildings which extend out over the water.

The best place to see what that era was like, with machinery and buildings, is the Monterey Bay Aquarium itself. It was built over the remains of the old Hovden Cannery and displays artifacts from that era along with representatives of the bay’s marine life.

Ed Rickett's Pacific Biological Laboratory building on Cannery Row in Monterey

More History…

In addition to the remnants of the old Cannery Row that you will find at the Aquarium, there are other places which still exist. Lee Chong’s grocery and mercantile building still stands and houses a current business. Perhaps the most famous of all, since much of the narrative of the novel takes place there, is “Doc’s Lab”.

The character of Doc was based on Ed Ricketts, a real life naturalist who ran the Pacific Biological Laboratory. He collected an provided specimens of marine and other animals to schools and universities throughout the country.

He was also a co-author of one of the best books describing the inter-tidal zone and which is still in use in colleges today – Between Pacific Tides.

There are tours of Doc Ricketts lab available, but they are only offered four times a year. The dates for 2013 are January 26, March 2, May 11 and October 12. For information and tickets contact the Cannery Row Foundation at 831/659-2112 or at their site (opens in a new window)

The Cannery Row Plaza

If you are visiting during a busy time, you might have to park several blocks away, but it’s an easy walk down to the Row. Take your time and enjoy the sights and the people.

There are a number of fine restaurants in the area, but our all time favorite restaurant, bar none, is John Pisto’s Whaling Station.

Places like the Cannery Row in Monterey attract lots of visitors, but also characters who wouldn’t be out of place in Steinbeck’s world. Enjoy the atmosphere and a trip back in time.

Bust of John Steinbeck in Cannery Row Plaza

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