“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” – John Steinbeck – Cannery Row.
Cannery Row is still somewhat of an eyesore on half the length of the street with vacant, fenced off lots on the ocean side and a large asphalt parking lot on the other side. By the the mid-1970s all the canneries had closed down. Restaurants and shops come and go and change names frequently.
Cannery Row Hotels
A few fine hotels have opened along Cannery Row over the past few decades with the Monterey Plaza Hotel being a leading redevelopment project for Cannery Row when it opened in 1985 one year after the Monterey Bay Aquarium on the opposite end of Cannery Row. Monterey Plaza Hotel is a member of Stash Hotel Rewards. The newest addition is The Clement Monterey InterContinental Hotel opened in 2008 and available as a Priority Club Rewards hotel at 40,000 points per night.
Monterey Bay Inn is adjacent to San Carlos Beach and is a smaller hotel at 49 rooms.
Monterey Bay Inn and its sister properties Spindrift Inn and Victorian Inn are three hotels comprising the Inns of Monterey Collection. Spindrift Inn at 45 rooms in the center of Cannery Row was named the #1 Romance Hotel by TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards 2011. Victorian Inn is a Best Western Hotel two streets up from Cannery Row. The Victorian house is a beautiful part of the inn accompanied by an additional wing of regular rooms where most guests stay.
Cannery Row can have the feel of a tourist trap taking you for money.
The hotels are the one commerce trade where I think there is good value on Cannery Row. Cannery Row is the primary developed place on the Monterey Peninsula where a visitor can stay overnight by the sea. Many rooms at Cannery Row hotels offer the guest a sea view and some rooms even offer over-the-sea views.
The restaurant building housing El Torito Mexican Restaurant is a good place for ocean views of Monterey Bay and happy hour margaritas. This location provides some cheap entertainment with drinks compared to prices at many places along Cannery Row. This place has been a Mexican restaurant for decades with Tia Maria’s being a key Cannery Row business when I was a teenager in the 1970s.
McAbee Beach and Spindrift Inn, Cannery Row
Spindrift Inn is in the heart of Cannery Row adjacent to the only remnant of beach left of the original McAbee Beach along Ocean View Avenue Monterey at the beginning of the 20th century. This site has held a hotel since the 1920s according to the Spindrift Inn website.
The Spindrift Inn designed by architect Paul Davis replaced the former Ocean View Hotel and opened in 1985 the year after Monterey Bay Aquarium opened. This hotel received TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Award 2011 for Most Romantic Hotel in the United States.
Bullwacker’s is one of the older restaurant bars on Cannery Row. This place offers live music some nights and has an outdoor patio.
Bullwacker’s has an outdoor patio that backs up to bike/pedestrian pass behind these buildings. Cannery Row Brewing Co. is in a building on the other side of the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail.
Paradiso Trattoria is next to the Spindrift Inn and a relatively new restaurant on Cannery Row opening in 2009 and operated by a Monterey County celebrity chef according to its website, John Pisto. The place gets mixed reviews on Yelp and I have no personal knowledge. I regularly cook my own seafood at home in Monterey. I have been trying to get my wife to help me with a restaurant review website for Monterey, but she would rather have me cook her dinner. Go figure!
Ghiradelli’s Chocolate is our local San Francisco company with an ice cream counter. There are some outside tables on the ocean side of the business on a deck looking out to Monterey Bay.
Asian history mostly forgotten on Cannery Row
Cannery Row was the site of many immigrant enterprises over the past 150 years. The first cannery on Cannery Row was the abalone canning business of a Japanese immigrant. The Ocean View Hotel on the site of Spindrift Inn was established in the 1920s by a Chinese family.
This area of Monterey once housed one of California’s largest Chinese settlements outside of San Francisco. Chinese fishermen harvested abalone and fish for shipment to San Francisco and dried fish for export to China. The Chinese maintained productive commerce for over fifty years along the Cannery Row area of Monterey. By the beginning of the 20th century competition with European immigrants and native born Americans created racial tension and anti-Chinese sentiment to relocate Chinese communities from many areas in California.
I lived in Eureka, California 400 miles north of Monterey for several years in the 1990s. The Chinese settlers in Eureka were driven out of the city in the 1880s and laws were passed to make it illegal to rent houses and land to Chinese immigrants. The Chinese community of several hundred residents was given an ultimatum to leave the city of Eureka, get out of Humboldt County or be massacred.
Cannery Row history tells of the Chinese settlement on China Point that suffered a similar fate. Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station is the site where the Chinese were burned out from their community soon after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake swelled the population by several hundred residents. Here is an informative historical description of Chinese immigrant culture and influence in Monterey from the Monterey County Historical Society. Here is the Stanford University Hopkins Marine Station history page.
Monterey Canning Company is a facade for a building with Starbucks, boutique and tourist shops and food.
The centerpiece of Cannery Row is Steinbeck Plaza. There is a Pebble Beach Store with loads of logo covered merchandise. Sly McFly’s is a landmak bar on Cannery Row for decades with some of the best local live bands playing regularly.
Sly McFly’s has live music most weekend nights. This is a popular nightclub on Cannery Row.
Prescott Avenue is the crossroad to Steinbeck Plaza Cannery Row. The photo below is taken from Prescott Avenue where the coast path runs in front of Cannery Row Brewing Company. Blue Fin is another bar/restaurant on Cannery Row.
Two places of note in the Steinbeck Plaza shops are the businesses out at the water’s edge with The Fish Hopper Restaurant and Bar and A Taste of Monterey wine tasting center with great upper floor views of Monterey Bay and Cannery Row.
The Fish Hopper puts you right out over Monterey Bay.
The Clement InterContinental Monterey
The only new build hotel to open on Cannery Row since the 1980s is The Clement InterContinental Monterey. I wrote an extensive review of the place with loads of photos soon after the hotel opened in 2008. Rates dropped to as low as $100 per night during the hotel industry rate collapse of 2009. Rates are as low as $169 this week with ocean view rooms over $200. This property changed its reward rate from 30,000 points to 40,000 Priority Club points in 2011.
Fish Heads and Lobsters
Perhaps I was one of the last people on Cannery Row who actually worked with fish outside of a restaurant environment prior to the opening of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1984. I returned to California in 1981 at the age of 21 after a year living in Montpelier, Vermont. The U.S. was in a tough economic environment in 1981 and I came back to California to attend Monterey Peninsula College. I had worked with a local marine biologist for several months in high school conducting a sea otter census along the Monterey County coastline. That experience probably landed me the job in an aquaculture facility in the back of a Cannery Row building adjacent to what is now the Monterey Bay Aquarium. My primary job was grinding up fish heads and weighing fish and krill portions to hand-feed hundreds of Atlantic lobsters raised in multiple layers of long plastic seawater tanks.
Thirty years ago the gift shop was in front and a doorway in the back of the gift shop led to the large cannery building behind with a lobster aquaculture project in the warehouse.
Coastal access laws for new property development on the seashore requires public access be maintained. The InterContinental has one of the finest public access infrastructure on Cannery Row with a deck providing over the ocean access around Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. all the way around the hotel and exiting out next to Doc Rickett’s unmarked building at 800 Cannery Row.
‘Coastal Overlook’ is the sign marker showing public access route behind InterContinental Hotel for great sea views.
The lobster aquaculture project was located in the building on the right in the photo above.
There used to be an elevated wooden deck at the lobster aquaculture facility on the side of the building with the facing windows in the photo. The building looks like it has seen some renovation since the 1980s. A fierce storm hit the Monterey Peninsula in winter 81-82 and damaged part of the wooden deck where I did my fish head grinding job. 1982-83 was the roughest winter in decades. That storm brought massive waves that damaged many buildings along the coast of California and made these waves look small from the January 2010 storms.
The nostalgia memories of Cannery Row for me are not the days of Steinbeck and canneries. Those were already gone when I was a child. Film and music are my fondest memories of Cannery Row. The 812 Cinema on Cannery Row was a unique movie theater in the 70s where movie-goers lay on big pillows on the floor. There were only a few chairs in the theater up against the back wall. 812 Cannery Row is now part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The link shows a photo of the seating and an article about the theater.
Monterey Bay Aquarium is the end of Cannery Row where the road turns left up the hill as David Avenue.
Past the Aquarium the town line of Pacific Grove is reached and the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail follows the shoreline in what is my favorite part of the Monterey Peninsula to walk along for sheer natural beauty.
A coincidental aside from my personal history is my time working as a school teacher in Gouldsboro, Maine in the 1990s. Prospect Harbor, Maine next to Gouldsboro had Stinson Seafood where several of the parents of my students worked. These small fishing villages are located on the Schoodic Peninsula of Acadia National Park. Stenson Seafood had the distinction of being the last sardine cannery in the U.S. when it closed down in 2010 after a century of business.
Here are two photos from another website showing Doc Rickett’s Lab and photos of Cannery Row.
A really cool photo collection on CaliforniaCoastline.org shows Cannery Row aerial views from the past 40 years.
Cannery Row bears little physical resemblance to the 1930s setting described in Steinbeck’s novel. I did hear the loud whistle blow the other morning, but it was a noon whistle and not 3am like in the working days of old. When researching this piece I came across a good read “Working on Cannery Row” by Bill Steigerwald (Oct 2011) on the modern Cannery Row and what Steinbeck might think of the Row today.