Attention all tourism promoters: If you want your destination put "on the map" for all future generations, just go out and hire an author with the talent, let's say, of John Steinbeck, and have that writer publish a piece of literary art that just happens to have your location as a backdrop.
One doubts whether tourism was on anyone's mind when Steinbeck came out in the mid-1940s with his famous fictional classic, "Cannery Row," but that novel ultimately had the effect of turning the Monterey Peninsula into one of the most popular destinations for a Northern California vacation.
It's a good thing, too. The sardine gig really wasn't working out as local fishermen saw their seasonal catch of 250,000 tons of sardines during World War II dwindle to just a thousand tons in the early 1950s. Folks in Monterey figured out pretty quickly that it was time to rename one of their waterfront streets Cannery Row and cast a net for visitors rather than those smelly fish.
Today, millions of visitors come each year to satisfy their curiosity about Steinbeck's novel and to enjoy the numerous visitor attractions that have grown up not only in the Cannery Row area but also along the entire Monterey Peninsula. If you enjoy the sea—anything from viewing fish to eating them, from spectacular coastline views to hands-on kayak adventures on Monterey Bay—you'll find the peninsula a destination with far more choices that you probably have time.
During our brief visit we luxuriated at waterfront accommodations on Cannery Row, shopped and dined both there and in the seaside village of Carmel, and took a scenic side trip out to famous Pebble Beach to enjoy a country club-style lunch. Oh, and did we mention that we also spent a few hours in the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the best aquariums in the world?
Cannery Row, to be honest, still has a bit of that fish factory feel to it — after all, it's this history and all those vintage buildings that are bringing people here in the first place. This is not someplace where developers have come in and bought up waterfront property and replaced all of the old buildings with modern new resorts. There are still a few run-down or torn-down buildings that mar what otherwise might be picture-perfect views.
But the city has made a lot of effort to create bike paths and walking areas to accommodate the legions of visitors. And there are plenty of reasons to take a walk — the area now is home to more than 200 galleries in addition to a street-full of specialty shops, restaurants, hotels and inns.
Our headquarters for this trip was an amazing waterfront hotel, the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa. Perched partially on pilings right out over the beach and coastline, this hotel proved to be ideally situated for our walks along Cannery Row and to other attractions in the area including Fisherman's Wharf. This is one of those places where you can step out on your lanai and take in sweeping views of not only the Cannery Row coastline, but of the shoreline northeast of the peninsula where you find the sand and rolling hills near the cities of Seaside and Marina. It's also one of those spa resorts that is catching on much more these days with the younger crowd.
It became obvious very quickly that the Cannery Row coastline is also a natural habitat for many other sea creatures that kayakers paddle out to see up-close and personal. From our hotel balcony we could see a steady stream of kayakers headed out to survey a small fraction of what is called the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary -- a 5,300 square-mile area that protects species such as seals, sea otters, shorebirds and many others that are endangered.
Our balcony offered quite a panorama of the waterfront—the sights, the smells, the salt air—and we enjoyed just relaxing with this great view. Inside our guestroom, we found complete luxury. The rooms and suites are furnished with Biedermeier-style furniture with obvious attention paid to decorator fabrics and stylish colors. There also were the usual amenities of such luxury spa resorts — a stocked mini-bar, coffee-maker, three phones, 27-inch color TV — well you get the idea. The Monterey Plaza is a destination unto itself.
Just a couple of blocks down the street from our hotel was one of the biggest reasons people visit Monterey - the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can easily spend many hours in this first-class facility housing more than 6,500 fascinating sea creatures.
Housed in one of the former cannery buildings, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a fascinating exploration of the undersea life found near Monterey. The aquarium covers everything from tide pool creatures to sharks and even features a 31-foot high kelp forest that is visible in one of the aquarium's huge tanks. Two-story viewing windows give visitors the feeling they are truly 20,000 leagues under the sea.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has taken the unusual approach of combining these living creatures with art displays and one of our first impressions was how unique and artistic many of the exhibits are. We enjoyed the sharks and schools of fish in the Monterey Bay Habitats section, the unusual animals found only at great depths in the Mysteries of the Deep exhibit, and the California Sea Otters, always a crowd favorite. We highly recommend the Monterey Bay Aquarium to anyone, but especially those traveling with young children.
Not far from Cannery Row, we took the 17-Mile Drive out by Pebble Beach and got another good dose of oceanfront scenery as well as a look at the golf course we all hear so much about and see on television. There are actually seven great golf courses in this area, but a visit to Pebble Beach Golf Links was a chance to enjoy a quiet lunch near the course and watch the golfers who plunk down $350 for nine holes. There actually are several fine restaurants in the area, and it's fun to browse the shops at the Lodge at Pebble Beach, even if the prices seemed well beyond our tourist budget.
Just south of Pebble Beach, the charming seaside village of Carmel-by-the-sea deserved special exploration and this provided us a great chance to do some serious walking. We found it best to just stroll this European-style village rather than drive it, and it was fun to see many of the 50 inns and 60 restaurants that cater to travelers in this town once ruled by Mayor Clint Eastwood. We decided this look-see definitely was not enough - we'll go back and spend more time in Carmel very soon.
Back at Cannery Row, we dined in style at the Monterey Plaza's Duck Club restaurant, which is known not only for duck, but for wood-roasted beef, lamb, chicken and fresh seafood. The restaurant is like a window to the waterfront, so the atmosphere was in keeping with our luxurious guestroom.
Soon it was off to a restful sleep and just the passing thought that the characters in John Steinbeck's novel may not have been quite so pampered as we were on our trip to Cannery Row.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: Monterey is 116 miles south of San Francisco and is also a great stop anytime you're headed north or south on Highway 101 or Coastal Highway 1. It's easy to include Monterey in any Northern California vacation itinerary.
WHAT: The Monterey Peninsula is an unusually scenic area with beaches as well as a considerable amount of rocky coastline. It's grown up as a tourist area over the past few decades so that there are several concentrations of fine lodgings, restaurants and eclectic shops. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is helping Monterey to become one of the top choices for a California vacation stop.
WHEN: Any time of year. Be prepared for much cooler weather in the winter and, even in summer, it can be chilly. Look for travel deals and vacation packages during the off-season, and sometimes last minute travel deals are available — so always ask.
WHY: A unique concentration of scenic beauty and historical significance. From cheap vacations to expensive spa resorts, the Monterey area has it all.
HOW: For a recommended list of Monterey accommodations, click here. One of the finest spa resorts in California, the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa can be reached at (800) 368-2468 or visit www.woodsidehotels.com. For more information on the Monterey Bay Aquarium, phone (800) 756-3737 or visit www.montereybayaquarium.org.This page is sponsored in part by lifeBLUE Web Development and Web Design Services.
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RECOMMENDED LODGING: Here are some examples of lodging available in the Monterey area: Portola Hotel & Spa; Hilton Garden Inn Monterey; Monterey Bay Lodge; Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa . If you're looking for great getaway lodging in the Monterey area, be sure to check out the La Quinta Monterey and the Comfort Inn Monterey Bay in Monterey.
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