When you hear Cannery Row, if you are a Steinbeck fan, you immediately conjure up imagines of a gritty factory filled row that smells of fish and poverty. At the very minimum you imagine factories and lots and lots of metal and aluminum. What you likely don’t imagine is world class shopping and dining, luxury hotels and spas, and immense crowds of people walking along shopping, enjoying the day, and watching the water front. But that is exactly what Cannery Row has turned into.
Monterey was always a fishing town that attracted many different immigrants and fishermen looking to make a living. But at the turn of the century, advances in technology, discovery of the sardine population in the Bay, and location turned Monterey into the prime place for canning of sardines and other fish in the bay. Until the 1940s this was a place that was booming, with jobs to be had if you didn’t mind the hard work, smell and dangerous conditions. However, with the collapse of the sardine population in the bay, the canning industry collapsed as well. After a few fires, Cannery Row was nothing more than some burnt out old factories rotting and showcasing the fall of the town. In the 70s two restauranteurs with roots in the area launched the first restaurant in the cafeteria area of an old canning factory. So began the remake of Cannery Row into the shopping, restaurant, and tourist destination that it is today.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is at the end of Cannery Row, which made Cannery Row the perfect place to pop out for lunch while we visited the Aquarium. As we walked down the row, we were excited to see all the shops and cafes around. They all looked tasty (we were quite hungry), but I had my sights set on a restaurant I read about on We 3 Travel. Located in a renovated 1918 sardine cannery, tucked away on the second floor is the A Taste of Monterey, a wine tasting room with an attached restaurant. All the tables have a view of the bay, but we were lucky enough to get a table right by the window, looking out at the bay as we waited for our food. This is a nice place with no kids menus, but we found some food the kids would like. Meanwhile my husband and I shared a white wine flight, and we all gobbled a warmed Brie appetizer. Later, we would all say this was one of our favorite meals of the trip.
Afterward when we were wandering out after lunch we saw CandyLand and its rows and rows of different salt water taffy flavors. My husband loves salt water taffy was the first one to walk in and the kids quickly followed. Ground rules were established as to how much each kid could get (apparently, for the adults it was unlimited – my husband’s rules!), and then each person went about picking out their favorite flavors. I saw the dark chocolate sea salt fudge and couldn’t pass up a small piece of that as well. We just bought the taffy, but we saw barrels and barrels of all different types of candy, including, to my astonishment, candy cigarettes!
Once we walked out of CandyLand with our stash, we walked through to Steinbeck Plaza where we saw the Cannery Row Monument. This is truly a monument to all the people who have made Cannery Row great, with Steinbeck, who’s book made the row famous, at the top, his good friend, Ed Ricketts a Marine Specialist at the bottom, and all different nationalities in between, even the Native Americans who first settled this area, and the Chinese Fisherman who made it the fishing haven it is today.
Along side the plaza was access to the beach, and wharf to look out. We looked out at the vast bay, and watched kayakers go by, saw people walking on the beach, and pointed out all the kelp we had just seen at the Kelp Forest exhibit in the aquarium.
We decided we wanted to go back and see more of the aquarium, but we noticed that there were trolleys that went along the street. The trolleys were free and went all the way from Old Fisherman’s Wharf to the Aquarium. The kids were dying to ride one, so we did, one stop, to the Aquarium. It was a short ride, but nice to know that this existed to take people all around Monterey’s tourist area.
Is Cannery Row touristy, sure! But that doesn’t make it any less fun. And it does mean it attracts some of the best food and wine around. So take a stroll, eat some soup in a bread bowl or eat a world class meal, do some wine tasting and load up on salt water taffy as you look out at the calm blue sea. That’s what memories and travels are all about.