By Cecil Scaglione
Monterey CA— The man in the police uniform announced a few decibels above the restaurant’s late‑lunchtime chatter: “You have 17 minutes to move your cars.” We either had to finish eating in that time or rush out and move our vehicles from their downtown parking spots before a fleet of tow trucks swooped down Alvarado Street to move them for us.
Right behind them was an army of vans and pickups that swarm into the commercial core to set up the weekly Old Monterey Farmers Market and craft fair that pleases penchants ranging from popcorn to porcelain, and puppets to pumpkin bread. The rush is repeated every Tuesday throughout the year.
Most of the produce on sale springs out of the neighboring salubrious Salinas Valley. It has been dubbed the Valley of the World by Salinas’ Pulitzer‑ and Nobel‑prizewinning native son John Steinbeck. It is also the model for “East of Eden,” one of his many renowned novels.
Cradled between the Coastal Range on the west and Pinnacles on the east, this funnel of fertility stretches some 100 miles south to the Paso Robles‑San Luis Obispo‑Morro Bay region.
Earlier in the day, we covered the Presidio and Fisherman’s Wharf, smaller but more comfortable versions of their similarly‑named counterparts several miles north in San Francisco. They’re much more accessible in this city by the bay – Monterey Bay.
Within strolling distance are Cannery Row, also made famous by Steinbeck, and the world‑renowned aquarium that celebrated its 30th anniversary last year.
There’s a carnival atmosphere of the Wharf as spielers shout enticements and offer cuisine samples to lure you into whatever restaurant they happen to be standing in front of. If you’re not hungry at the moment, you can pick up some abalone, that rapidly-disappearing delicacy, that’s farmed at the real fisherman’s pier a hundred yards or so away from the tourist thoroughfare.
If there isn’t enough for the gourmand here, just minutes away in Cannery Row is an eclectic array of boutiques, saloons, and dining dens. It also serves as a megaphone proclaiming the dozens of wineries and their products in the Monterey Peninsula as well as reminding visitors this is Steinbeck country.
The author’s home town is about a half hour east, where a Steinbeck Center fleshes out the author’s course from farm laborer to literary lion with such memorable titles as “Tortilla Flats,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Sweet Thursday,” and, of course, “Cannery Row.” We were also reminded that he made forays into other fields, such as the period he spent as presidential‑aspirant Adlai Stevenson’s speech writer.
This agricultural hub feels longitudes away from the scenic and storied 17‑mile drive, Pebble Beach and Big Sur. But aiming your car west for just half an hour gets you right back to the brisk Pacific breezes that constantly massage these shores.
Our first approach was made by taking the winding 100 mile coastal Highway 1 north from Cambria to Carmel.
If you plan to make this drive, take plenty of time and film. There are vistas at every curve of the road, and there are hundreds of curves. You can also take time to visit the fabled Hearst Castle at San Simeon or stop for a respite at the Arthur Miller Library tucked into a rock‑and‑tree‑walled nook alongside the road.
Cecil Scaglione is a former San Diego Union-Tribune writer and for a number of years has been a world traveler, writer and currently a syndicated columnist. His travel column appears once a month in OsideNews.