Monterey Bay and Around

Last week, I stumbled upon John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row while searching for something else on my book shelf. This is novel is set in 1940s in California, specifically in the Pacific coast area which is popularly known as Monterey Bay. Cannery Row is a sea-side town, then famous for food processing industry, mainly, sea-food. John Steinbeck used to live in the nearby town of Salinas and valley around it. This novel brought my memories about my visit to this area way back in 2004.

I have not written much about my travels in California, where I used to live long time back. Eventually, I will write on all that, but today, I want satisfy my itch to write about Monterey Bay visit. In 2004, I had gotten an opportunity to make a trip to Bay Area for business. Me and my colleagues took time out over the weekend to go around Pacific Coast south of Bay Area. The area around San Francisco Bay Area, on both sides, that is, north and south, is very unique. There is Pacific coast on the west, the Sierra Nevada mountain range run about 20-25 miles from the coast, which creates various valleys. The beautiful and scenic highway named Pacific Coastal Highway#1(PCH#1) runs north south, right by the coast. The longer and more famous highways 101 and Interstate Highway 5 also run parallel. State of California has close to 900 miles of coast line, almost double that of Maharashtra in India.

I have been to as far as Big Sur down south, and Point Reyes on the north on this Pacific Coastal Highway#1. This drive is quite scenic, as the two lane spiral road winds as you go, most times you have company of blue Pacific ocean on one side, and Redwoods forest on the other. You need to be careful though while driving as occasionally wild animals such as deer do stray on the highway. The peculiarity of this coast line is the rocky cliffs which are dotted throughout. Another historic significance of the Pacific coast is that it is dotted with churches set up by Spanish Christian missionaries who came in since 1700 AD. I had been to couple of them around Los Angeles area, I will cover that later in this blog.

During this specific trip, we left our hotel in Newark, which is on the center of the east bay, and joined beautiful Highway 17. This winds through deep forest of Redwood trees. This highway took us on Pacific Coastal Highway#1 near Santa Cruz. If you are passing by Santa Cruz, stopping here for the beach is must. I had heard about Santa Cruz long time back during my college days, when I had heard about a variant of Unix operating system, SCO UNIX, made by company called Santa Cruz Operations(SCO). There is another famous place called Mystery Spot(about which in the next blog) nearby, but we avoided the temptation to go there, as many of us had been there multiple times.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is typical fun area, with a nice beach front, and amusement park style rides off the beach. It also has a wooden walkway which is called as boardwalk overlooking the sea. I don’t remember taking any rides as such, but we did roam around on the beach, on the boardwalk. It was month of May, hence it was bright and sunny.

After a brief stop at Santa Cruz boardwalk, we proceeded on highway 1 towards south to reach Monterey Bay Aquarium. This is located off the ocean, and has impressive display of marine life, sea animals. I saw sea lions, sea otters also in the aquarium. These animals can be spotted in huge numbers on the Pacific coast, as one drives on highway 1. I have seen much bigger marine life parks such as Sea World in San Diego, Marine World/Africa USA in Vallejo(which became Six Flags Discovery Kingdom). This is certainly not as big as those sea world parks, but has a rich history. Cannery Row and surround coastal area around Monterey Bay was famous sea food processing industry(canneries), which collapsed in 1970s, and after that this aquarium came to being.

Our next stop was scenic Pebble Beach which is famous for its golf courses by the Pacific ocean cliffs. We took beautiful 17-Mile Drive road to reach Pebble Beach. This road is actually a private road of residents of the community near Pebble Beach, visitors need to pay entry fee to use it. We had lunch at a restaurant there where we could overlook golf course.

We did not venture towards Salinas and the valley around it, though it is not too far from Monterey Bay itself(about 25 miles). Neither did I realize that time that the area called Cannery Row near town of Monterey is a subject of his novel. It was just that I was not so much into reading those days, and I did not know about Salinas as a place famous for John Steinbeck. When I go to Bay Area again, I will make it a point that I visit this area again with the focus of following trail of John Steinbeck.

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