The Cannery Row of Steinbeck's 1945 novel has long since morphed into a seaside tourist destination with only a sliver of his description still remaining. What's left though, is enough to imagine the smells and sounds of the working waterfront in Monterey's heyday as the Sardine Capital of the World. Yet, before the Sicilian and Japanese-American fishermen even discovered the bounties of Monterey Bay in the 1890s, it was the Spaniards who put the town on the map.
Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, ahabit, a nostalgia, a dream. 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. John Steinbeck, Cannery Row
Eighteen years before the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock, Spain had already established a foothold on the central California coast. In 1602, explorer Sebastian Vizcaino came ashore with his crew of 200, naming the bay where he anchored for the viceroy of New Spain: the count of Monte Rey.It took another 168 years before Spain established a presidio and mission in Monterey to protect its colonial interests and spread the Catholic faith. While Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson were busying themselves with the American Revolution in 1776, Spain made Monterey the administrative capital of Las Californias, a territory that included all of today's California as well as Mexico's Baja California. On Aug. 4, 1821, the former colony of New Spain changed its name to the Mexican Empire, a newly independent state, and Monterey became the official port of entry for Mexico's international trade in California.
But the United States' policy of Manifest Destiny caught up with Mexico in 1846, when President James Polk pushed our country into the Mexican-American War. That July, American Commodore John Sloat sailed into Monterey Bay with his Pacific squadron and claimed California for the United States. For the next two years, Monterey was occupied by U.S. forces. The war ended in 1848, and the territories of Alta California and New Mexico were ceded to the U.S. for the sum of $15 million. In 1849, propelled by the California gold rush, a constitutional convention was held in Monterey. The following year, the U.S. Congress admitted California as the 31st state in the union, and San Jose was established as the state capital. Henceforth, Monterey would take a back seat in the development of California's statehood.
Since 1984 the anchor of Cannery Row has been the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The aquarium is in fact built in an old cannery, and its exhibits cover the local history of sardine fishing and canning, as well as the ecology and marine habitat of Monterey Bay. Don't miss the sea otters at feeding time or the new jellies experience.
In 1771, Franciscan Father Junipero Serra decided to move the Mission San Carlos de Borremeo, which he had established the preceding year in Monterey. He quickly rebuilt it in nearby Carmel Valley, and when he died in 1774 he was interred there with full military honors. By 1900, Carmel had changed its name to Carmel-by-the-Sea and, no doubt due to the location's natural beauty, an artists colony had taken root there. The Carmel Arts & Crafts Club, formed in 1905, nurtured the town's creative spirit.
After the disastrous earthquake and fire of 1906 in San Francisco, writers, painters, musicians and other artists flocked from the city to Carmel-by-the- Sea. Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Robinson Jeffers, Sinclair Lewis and Ambrose Bierce are among the many writers and poets who frequented Carmel. In 1929, the renowned photographer Edward Weston relocated to Carmel and began photographic studies of the Point Lobos landscape jutting out into the Pacific Ocean.
Today, Carmel-by-the-Sea is filled with galleries, upscale restaurants and boutiques.
Cruising the central coast of California from the south means long, unprotected passages between harbors; sailing down from the north offers boaters more options for harbors and refuge. Once you're in sight of Monterey Harbor you'll have a choice of two well-protected marinas in the midst of the city's historic sights. Both the municipal marina and Breakwater Cove Marina (831-373-7875) are a short walk or bicycle ride along a waterfront path to Old Fisherman's Wharf, the Old Town historic district and Cannery Row.
There are no services or facilities for boaters in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The only way to get there from Monterey is via the unbelievably scenic, 17-mile coastal drive. It is well worth renting a car to take the ride.
If you decide to cruise south around the Monterey Peninsula toward Carmel-by-the-Sea, you can anchor off Pebble Beach at Stillwater Cove. The anchorage is right next to the fifth hole of the Pebble Beach Golf Course, and there is a small sea otter colony there that you can watch frolic as you sip your sunset cocktail.