In the middle of the nineteenth century, it was an abundance of sea life in Monterey Bay that attracted the Chinese who sailed across the Pacific in search of rich fishing grounds. They were followed by fisherman from Greece, Italy and Spain and Japanese divers in search of abalone. For a hundred years until the 1950s, Monterey Bay gave birth to a wealth of industries.
Many people know about Monterey Bay because they read John Steinbeck's Cannery Row in school. Published in 1945, the novel was such a sensation, travelers began visiting the area to see the sardine factories in action and catch sight of the eccentric characters Steinbeck wrote about.
Ironically, within a dozen years after the publication of Cannery Row, the majority of the canneries had shut down. The sardines that seemed endlessly abundant had all but disappeared. By 1973, the last cannery closed and the area fell on hard times.
An energized community redeveloped the area into a premium tourist destination. Anchored by the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium today the area offers ideal experiences for couples on a romantic get-away, families on vacation and everyone who enjoys an up close and personal experience with nature.
Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar
There are a variety of restaurants on Cannery Row to suit everyone. Grab a bite to eat with the family or relax with a glass of wine from a local winery and enjoy a meal while you sit in the comfort of a restaurant's dining room or on its patio with a bayside view.
For seafood prepared with a deft hand, you will want to eat at Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar in the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa. Executive chef James Waller and chef de cuisine Nicole Heaney serve dishes with well-presented sauces full of flavor. For breakfast you will want to order their freshly cured smoked salmon with capers, red onions, cream cheese and a toasted bagel. Sandwiches, salads and pizza dominate the lunch menu. At dinner, starters from the raw bar will put you in the mood to have more seafood. The kitchen takes great pride in sourcing the best and freshest sustainable fish available. With a view of the water, the waitstaff and chef Heaney are known to join diners in a rush to the picture windows when whales swim by.
From its second floor perch, A Taste of Monterey has a pelican's eye view of the bay. At one of the window-side tables you will spend several hours dreamily watching the sea birds gliding above the blue water as you enjoy wine paired dishes. The wine bar focuses on local vineyards. For our tasting we had a 2011 Silvestri Bella Sandra Chardonnay, a 2012 De Tierra Tondré Grapefield Pinot Noir and a 2012 Sinecure Grenache Noir as we shared plates of Fra' Mani charcuterie, a selection of flatbreads, roasted Castroville artichokes and a cheese plate that included Vella Cheese Company's dry Monterey Jack.
At the Fish Hopper adjacent to Steinbeck Plaza, you will settle into a window-side seat, the better to catch a glimpse of seals, otters and brown pelicans as they navigate their way across the bay. The restaurant is well-known for its over-the-top cocktails like the Ultimate Seafood Bloody Mary topped with a Carmen Miranda cornucopia of a celery stick, an oyster, a bacon wrapped prawn, stuffed olives and a mini-crab cake slider. Besides having fun with their cocktails and serving large portion entrees, the restaurant searches out high quality seafood. I enjoyed a Dungeness crab Louie salad with a generous portion of deliciously fresh crab and perfectly ripe slices of avocado, papaya and mango. The fresh ingredients were so good, I asked for a light olive oil and vinegar dressing instead of the creamy Louie dressing.
For a special celebration, have dinner at the iconic Sardine Factory. The exterior reflects the building's humble origins as a cafeteria for workers in the sardine processing factories. Handmade details outside like the rusted coffee cans used as light shades reflect the early, scrappy years when founders Ted Balestreri and Burt Cutino decided to open a restaurant on Cannery Row at a time when the area was blighted.
Walk inside and the promise they envisioned decades ago has taken root in rooms decorated with a New Orleans, Bourbon Street luxuriousness. The 35,000 bottle wine cellar supports a menu devoted to old school Italian and French dishes, rich with butter and cream. The restaurant has a large menu, offering dry aged beef and a great variety of fresh fish, lobster, oysters and abalone. I particularly enjoyed the more rustic offerings like the lightly smoked, wild California sardines that were topped with chopped onions, hardboiled eggs and capers with a lemon wedge and the Spanish octopus salad with roasted potatoes, French beans and fried avocado in a basil balsamic vinaigrette.
Down the block, the Whaling Station Steakhouse offers a comfortable setting with well-prepared steaks and seafood dishes. If you are hungry for a cut of corn fed, Midwestern aged beef, ask to see the platter of steaks and choose the one that strikes your fancy. You will be tempted by the bone-in Cowboy Rib Steak and the Porterhouse for two, but save room for the sides because the giant onion rings, scalloped potatoes and creamed spinach are hard to resist.
InterContinental The Clement Monterey
The area has many quality hotels including two that anchor Cannery Row. When you stay at the InterContinental The Clement Monterey, request a bay facing room. You will find yourself beginning your day sitting on the balcony sipping a cup of tea and watching the morning sun brighten the bay's expanse of dark blue water. In the afternoon and evening, you will want to sit close to the fire pit on the outdoor patio facing the water or at the C Restaurant + Bar to have a snack and a beverage while you contemplate the mysteries and beauty of Monterey Bay.
The Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa on the southern end of Cannery Row has large outdoor areas with panoramic views of the bay. The hotel has spacious rooms with windows facing the bay or the patios.
Monterey Plaza Hotel
At the Monterey Plaza Hotel, you will want to avail yourself of the pleasures of the Vista Blue Spa located on the hotel's top floor with an outdoor deck facing the bay. The spa offers body treatments for mothers-to-be, deep tissue full-body massages, warm stone massages, healing wraps, rosemary sea salt scrubs as well as facials and aromatherapy baths.
I could not resist the four hands massage. Working in tandem, the massage therapists proceeded on opposite sides of my very tired body. The effect of four hands at one time creates a balance that is luxuriously soothing. Post-massage I stretched out on one of the chaise lounges on the outdoor relaxation patio, read a magazine, drank copious amounts of water to rehydrate and stared at the bay until I happily dozed off.
Show Me The Fish
When you visit Cannery Row, you will want to take a leisurely, self-guided walk south from the Aquarium. On placards placed along the walkways, you will read descriptions of the bay's natural features, the history of the once thriving fishing industry and biographical details about John Steinbeck.
On the walking tour you will learn about the aquatic animals and plants that make the bay their home. You will read about the immigrants from Asia and Europe who lived in the community because they were attracted by the ocean's rich bounty that gave them jobs and a way of life.
On the southern end of Cannery Row, go scuba diving at San Carlos Beach, one of the most popular scuba diving beaches in California with growths of giant kelp (“Macrocystis pyrifera”) so thick they are called the redwoods of the sea. Supporting a diverse eco-system, the kelp beds are home to sea urchins, three hundred pound sunfish, brown sea otters, sea stars, snails, crabs and a great variety of fish.
As we walked along the shore, Deirdre Whalen explained that Monterey Bay is a biologically diverse body of water that includes the Monterey Canyon, a geologic feature as large as the Grand Canyon and one of the deepest underwater canyons off the continental United States. The Monterey Canyon and Monterey Bay are protected as part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
The sanctuary is larger than the state of Connecticut and protects 276 miles of coastline and a body of ocean that is over 6,000 square miles and extends from the north of the Golden Gate Bridge to an area south of the Hearst Castle in Cambria.
Most of the thirteen marine sanctuaries in the continental United States are off-shore and can only be enjoyed by boat. Unique among the national sanctuaries, at Cannery Row, you can experience the area's sea life along the shoreline, where if you are alert, you will see sea lions, seals, otters, pelicans and whales.
In the almost twenty-five years since the establishment of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the ecosystem has rebounded. When you visit Cannery Row, you will want to spend a good part of a day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There you will see the life of that vibrant ecosystem. With some of the largest salt water enclosures in the world, the Aquarium allows visitors to experience the life of the giant kelp beds, otter communities, dozens of varieties of delicate jelly fish and mixed habitats with many species of fish coexisting.
Or, you can get into the water and enjoy scuba diving, paddle boarding and kayaking to explore the beauty of the bay up close.
I loved my long weekend stay and wished I could have stayed longer. There is so much to enjoy, experience and learn about when visiting Monterey Bay.
IF YOU GO
• The C Restaurant + Bar, InterContinental The Clement Monterey (750 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, 831/375-4800)
• The Fish Hopper (700 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, 831/372-8543)
• InterContinental The Clement Monterey (750 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, 831/375-4500)
• Monterey Bay Aquarium (886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940)
• Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa (400 Cannery Row, Monterey, C 93940, 831/646-1700)
• The Sardine Factory, (701 Wave Street, Monterey, CA 93940, 831/373-3775)
• Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar, Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa (400 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, 831/372-2628)
• A Taste of Monterey: Wine Market & Bistro (700 Cannery Row, Suite KK, Monterey, CA 93940, 831/646-5446)
• The Whaling Station (763 Wave Street, Monterey, CA 93940, 831/373-3778)
More information: SeeMonterey.com