Monterey Peninsula personal reflections photography whales wildlife

Last Day Monterey 2014 photo essay

New Year’s Eve started in some ways like a typical tourist day in Monterey since I went to the Holiday Inn Express Monterey Bay for my shower, breakfast and to pick up the hotel folio for Kelley’s fourth IHG Rewards Club stay for two free nights at any IHG hotel worldwide in 2015. Spending $117 after tax for a hotel night we did not need for bed purposes is something I didn’t like to do. Then again, next summer we will realize the value of our staycation night when we redeem the free IHG night earned for $117 spent for a hotel night in Monterey. I expect the one free IHG night six months from now for some upper upscale hotel in Europe will have a value of 250 EUR or more.

HIX Bay view
View of Monterey Peninsula from 5th floor, top floor of Holiday Inn Express Monterey Bay

Holiday Inn Express was so crowded for breakfast with half the hotel guests descending on the breakfast room at 8:45am. The staff was unable to keep fresh food items stocked during the peak demand hour.

HIX View backside
View from backside of Holiday Inn Express Monterey Bay.

The view from Holiday Inn Express Monterey Bay, next to the Embassy Suites tower block, surprised me by being better than views I have had from Embassy Suites rooms.

The air has been dry and cool, some days windy this past week, after heavy rainfall for the first three weeks in December. The past ten days have offered some of the clearest air of the year with visibility for dozens of miles along the coast.

The traffic in the tourist towns of the Monterey Peninsula has been insane this week, rivaling peak summer tourism on the roads. My simple grocery store trek five miles into Carmel has meant a 30 minute drive each way in the afternoon when people from the San Francisco Bay Area and inland central valley of California descend on the coast of Monterey. So, when my wife said she had a two hour afternoon appointment with her hair dresser in Monterey near Cannery Row, I used the New Year’s Eve opportunity to drive her to the beauty shop and take a long walk along the coastal path from Monterey to Pacific Grove.

Cannery Row, Monterey

John Steinbeck made Cannery Row world famous with his 1945 novel about Monterey. I first read the short book two or three years ago. The mile long street along the waterfront is nothing like it was during Steinbeck’s time. Cannery Row bears little resemblance to what the area looked like when I was a teenager in Monterey. The place is upscale these days with still room for improvement to remove the last vestiges of the fishing era canneries.

McAbee Beach Cannery Row
McAbee Beach and Spindrift Inn, Cannery Row, Monterey, California.

Businesses come and go on Cannery Row. The place gets mixed reviews due to many tourists thinking the place is a tourist trap. And it is.

Cannery Row is a few high end hotels like Monterey Plaza, Spindrift Inn and InterContinental Monterey The Clement, many restaurants, bars and the Monterey Bay Aquarium at $40 per adult. I photograph Cannery Row many times a year, but I rarely eat or drink there unless we have guests visiting Monterey.

Steinbeck Plaza
Steinbeck Plaza, Cannery Row, Monterey.

There have been two major changes to Cannery Row in the past few years. Most recently is a large Steinbeck sculpture in Steinbeck Plaza. John Steinbeck was from Salinas and lived in Pacific Grove for a time. He left the area for New York after becoming a critically acclaimed writer.

The other major development on Cannery Row was the InterContinental Hotel on the waterfront. Part of the construction project required a public access walkway. That is California law when developing coastal waterfront construction that public access to the shore is maintained. Hotels like Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay and St. Regis Monarch Beach must allow public access through the luxury hotel property for people seeking access to the coast. The InterContinental walkway on Cannery Row offers some of the best views of Monterey Bay.

InterContinental walkway
Ocean front public walkway behind InterContinental, The Clement on Cannery Row, Monterey.

I did not realize when I was 21 years old and a college student at Monterey Peninsula College that my job on Cannery Row in a lobster aquaculture farm in an old cannery made me one of the last people to actually work with fish on Cannery Row after the last canneries closed in the 1970s. One of my tasks was to pick up fish heads from Monterey’s commercial wharf and grind them up for lobster feed. An old saying is you can tell Monterey by the stink. I was one of the stinkiest guys around town for a few months in 1981-82.

The lobster aquaculture farm is gone, although the cannery building is still there between the InterContinental Hotel and Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Cannery Row
I worked on this Cannery Row concrete deck in 1981-82 when the building held an Atlantic lobster aquaculture farm. There was a wooden deck that collapsed in a major winter storm that year.

Monterey was considered the sardine capital of the world for a couple decades prior to World War II. Monterey Bay was fished out and without the fish to can, the canneries closed down. Cannery Row was the industry of Monterey and now it is the tourist focal point of Monterey.

In those days working at the lobster farm in 1981, I had no idea that Ed Rickett’s laboratory and back yard, made historic through Steinbeck’s Cannery Row novel, was beside my work place standing on concrete slabs over the Bay.

Ed Ricketts backyard
Public access walkway beside InterContinental Hotel. This was Ed Rickett’s Pacific Biological Lab backyard.

Ed Rickett’s laboratory is only open a few times a year for visitors. I last visited in August 2014.

Monterey Bay Aquarium came to town in 1984 and upscaled Cannery Row. The Aquarium has had over 50 million visitors since it opened. The population of Monterey is under 30,000 residents.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Monterey.

The Aquarium is the west end of Cannery Row and past the aquarium is my favorite in-town walk along the coast path of Pacific Grove.

Pacific Grove, California

Pacific Grove has placed several new markers along the coastal path in the past year. The marker for ‘Early Chinese Fishermen’ is one I had not seen before. An interesting story about Pacific Grove is its waterfront was settled by Chinese in 1853. Anti-Chinese racism was a common condition along the California coast. Following the April 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Chinese village on the Pacific Grove waterfront burned to the ground in May 1906 in a mysterious fire. While the cause was never determined, local rumor is the Chinese village was burned to prevent more Chinese relocating to the Monterey Peninsula in the wake of resettlement from the San Francisco Bay Area. A subsidiary of Southern Pacific Railroad owned the land and fenced it off after the fire. The Chinese were not allowed to rebuild their houses on the waterfront in Pacific Grove. The village relocated to McAbee Beach on Cannery Row. – Monterey excavation reveals Chinese Fishing Village.

Chinese marker
Early Chinese Fishermen commemorative marker in Pacific Grove.

The Monterey Bay Coastal Trail in Pacific Grove offers one of the most beautiful walks in the Monterey Peninsula area. Stanford University has the Hopkins Marine Station research facility fenced off from the public at this point, west of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The isolated beach at Hopkins is one of the best spots for seeing harbor seals who, by their numbers, enjoy congregating on the sandy cove where no people are allowed. Harbor pupping season happens in March and April and makes a good time to visit this beach for viewing and photos.

Hopkins Beach
Harbor seals congregate on the beach at Hopkins Marine Station.

There are about 50 harbor seals on the beach in the photo, most laying in the seaweed kelp lining the shore at low tide. The black chain link fence ends west of Hopkins Marine Station and the coastal path allows pedestrian access to the rocky outcrops of Pacific Grove.

PG coast birds
Pacific Grove rocky shoreline.

This day might have been like any of dozens of other days with clear skies and calm waters and a rocky coast view.

Walking to Lover’s Point on a clear day provides visual pleasure. Sometimes there are crashing waves on the rocks. Sometimes there are sea otters close to shore. I counted about 15 sea otters, mostly in rafts of four or five otters, several hundred yards off the coast. Binoculars in my back pack helped me determine that I was seeing sea otters.

Lovers Point
Lovers Point, Pacific Grove.

At Lovers Point a man asked me if I was photographing the whale?

The Gray Whale in Monterey Bay

Then I was capturing photos of a gray whale swimming toward Lovers Point. I had seen a whale off Lovers Point on December 26, 2013. This gray whale in the afternoon alowed dozens of people at Lovers Point to watch the whale swim close by the rocks.

PG whale-1
Gray whale sighting off Lovers Point.

This was a special sight to see a gray whale swimming so close to the shore in Pacific Grove.

PG whale-2
Gray whale blow seen in Monterey Bay with Fremont Peak in background.

This gray whale was spending a lot of time near the ocean surface and blowing every minute or so. When I first saw the gray whale swimming, its path was heading straight into a raft of five or so sea otters. The whale surfaced about 50 feet in front of the sea otters, paused at the surface and then made a dive to appear again at the surface after having passed under the sea otters lying on their kelp bed.

PG Gray-1
Gray whale tail and beach of Seaside and Fort Ord in background.

As if playing for the cameras of the crowd of people scrambling over the rocks of Lovers Point for close-up whale photos, the gray whale lifted its head out of the water as it passed Lovers Point, kind of like saying goodbye to the people gathered on the rocks, before swimming onward to the outer Monterey Bay.

PG Gray face
Gray whale head surfaces as it heads to outer Monterey Bay for the winter journey south to Mexico.

There is no topping a gray whale swimming by Lovers Point on a clear crisp day.

Another sign on the Pacific Grove trail explains the exotic plants seen along the coast. Come to Pacific Grove in May and the coast walk is a psychedelic trip of color. There is now a sign explaining the non-native plant life along the waterfront of Pacific Grove, west of Lovers Point, is the work of former resident Hayes Perkins (1878-1964). Oregon-born Perkins retired to Pacific Grove in 1938 after traveling the world, including 22 years in Africa. He planted the area with ‘Magic Carpet ice plant from South Africa, formally named Drosoanthemum Floribundum.  The sign answers the question I have been asking for years every spring when I take the Magic Carpet ride along the Pacific Grove coast.  Loyalty Traveler – Pacific Grove: Rivers of flowers to the sea; Fort Ord: my birthplace National Monument is a post I wrote in May 2012 with photos of Pacific Grove’s Magic Carpet colorful ice plant.

Red Pacific Grove
Colorful Pacific Grove in December. There is a secluded bench on the ocean side.

I started my day at the Holiday Inn Express Monterey Bay looking out across the water to Pacific Grove. I ended the day in Pacific Grove looking out across the water to the Holiday Inn Express.

New Year’s Eve, the last day of 2014 in Monterey and Pacific Grove revealed nature’s beauty to a large number of residents and visitors. That is a common occurrence around these parts and the reason so many visitors come to the Monterey Peninsula area for vacation days and nights.

great egret
Great white egret hunting for food in tide pool of Pacific Grove.

There will be no Loyalty Traveler post for Top Ten of 2014. This is just a typical day on the Monterey Peninsula, where a simple walk for a couple of hours can be a Top Ten event most any day.


  • potreroflyr January 2, 2015

    Just want to say I always enjoy the historical/cultural commentary that you often add to your blog entries. While we all are fixated on points/programs…it’s great to tlsee some content that’s more substantial/enlightening than the latest bonus or points strategy. Happy New Year, Rick!

  • Ric Garrido January 3, 2015

    @potreroflyr – Happy New Year to you too. Travel is dear to my soul and I love being in new places and learning about those places. I thought for years I would never be able to settle down. Then, my wife and I returned to Monterey in 2001, where we met in 1982, and I knew I was home.

    The past several years I have focused more attention on my surrounding area. There is so much to see and do locally and places I have not visited in many years within 50 miles of my home.

    After Kelley’s hair dresser appointment, I drove her to the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pacific Grove to see the winter nesting butterflies that congregate in a small park of Monterey pines. She had not seen them since she was a child.

    According to recent reports, Monarch butterflies are soon to join the endangered species list due to a loss of milkweed food source around North America.

    Here is a piece with good Monarch butterfly photos from a visit to Pacific Grove last year.

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