Cannery Row marks two centennials in 2002: It canned its first fish in 1902, the same year John Steinbeck, who immortalized the street in his novel Cannery Row, was born. In 1945, when Steinbeck's novel appeared, this short stretch of waterfront was "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 whorehouses, and little crowded groceries . . . " It was also enjoying its last good canning year before the fish disappeared.
Today, some of those elements linger, including buildings familiar from the novel. The street still lives off the sea—thanks to its biggest attraction, the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium—although families of tourists have replaced Steinbeck's "whores, pimps, gamblers" and shops and restaurants have replaced the canneries.
In its—and Steinbeck's—hundredth year, the street combines its past with tourist-friendly commercialism. Squint, and you might imagine yourself back in the heyday of Mack and the boys. Otherwise, browse the shops, have a good lunch, and visit the aquarium for a fascinating look at the beauty and drama that lies beneath the ocean's surface.
Where It Is: Between Reeside and David avenues, Monterey, Calif.
Who Will Like It: Steinbeck disciples, anyone who has read Cannery Row, and aquarium lovers.
What's There: The aquarium; sites from the novel, including Doc Ricketts's lab (you can see the exterior, but can't go inside), Bear Flag Restaurant (now Mackerel Jack's), Lee Chong's grocery (now Kristonio's Shell Shop), and La Ida Café (now Kalisa's Restaurant); a wax museum; and former cannery buildings.
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in January 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.