"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

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) published Cannery Row in 1945 after returning from World War II. The novel is set in Monterey, California on Ocean View Avenue during the depression. Following the popularity of the book, the name of Ocean View Avenue was changed to Cannery Row. This location based tour will expand the reading of any Steinbeck enthusiast by layering biographical information, book quotes, and literary analysis on specific locations of the novel throughout Cannery Row in Monterey, California and the surrounding area.
Cannery Row John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. In his acceptance speech, he proclaimed writing to be a weapon against man’s weakness and despair, qualities exposed by describing the human condition of the characters in Cannery Row. It is through man’s evolving relationship with both nature and one’s surrounding community that these ideas of weakness and despair are illustrated, but strangely, this is also the seedy backdrop that offers a profound sense of hope for those gathering on Cannery Row.

Cannery Row

This waterfront street held the nickname Cannery Row until it officially changes in 1958. Four years earlier in 1954, Sweet Thursday, the sequel to the 1945 novel, Cannery Row, fused the literary energy of story with the beautiful Monterey coast.

Sardine canning factories lined this street until 1973. The buildings retain the tin-can feel and this street attracts more than four million visitors each year. As you walk along Cannery Row, the prologue of John Steinbeck’s novel echoes in your memory. 

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. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, 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 whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

In the morning when the sardine fleet has made a catch, the purse-seiners waddle heavily into the bay blowing their whistles. The deep-laden boats pull in against the coast where the canneries dip their tails into the bay. The figure is advisedly chosen, for if the canneries dipped their mouths into the bay the canned sardines which emerge from the other end would be metaphorically, at least, even more horrifying. Then cannery whistles scream and all over the town men and women scramble into their clothes and come running down to the Row to go to work. Then shining cars bring the upper classes down: superintendents, accountants, owners who disappear into offices. Then from the town pour Wops and Chinamen and Polaks, men and women in trousers and rubber coats and oilcloth aprons. They come running to clean and cut and pack and cook and can the fish. The whole street rumbles and groans and screams and rattles while the silver rivers of fish pour in out of the boats and the boats rise higher and higher in the water until they are empty. The canneries rumble and rattle and squeak until the last fish is cleaned and cut and cooked and canned and then the whistles scream again and the dripping, smelly, tired Wops and Chinamen and Polaks, men and women, straggle out and droop their ways up the hill into the town and Cannery Row becomes itself again—quiet and magical. Its normal life returns. The bums who retired in disgust under the black cypress tree come out to sit on the rusty pipes in the vacant lot. The girls from Dora’s emerge for a bit of sun if there is any. Doc strolls from the Western Biological Laboratory and crosses the street to Lee Chong’s grocery for two quarts of beer. Henri the painter noses like an Airedale through the junk in the grass-grown lot for some part or piece of wood or metal he needs for the boat he is building. Then the darkness edges in and the street light comes on in front of Dora’s— the lamp which makes perpetual moonlight in Cannery Row. Callers arrive at Western Biological to see Doc, and he crosses the street to Lee Chong’s for five quarts of beer.

How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise—the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream—be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book—to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves."

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

La ida cafe

La Ida's Cafe in Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
La Ida Cafe - Austino's Patisserie

Originally built in 1929, Edith’s Restaurant inspired the fictional La Ida Cafe in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. This is where Eddie, a minor character with a major impact and one of Mack’s boys, filled in as a part time bartender and poured the leftover drinks from his customers into a giant jug of surprise punch to enjoy later at the Palace Flophouse. 

Edith’s Restaurant changed hands and was owned and operated by ‘Queen’ Kalissa Moore for almost 50 years before she sold it on John Steinbeck’s birthday, February 27, 2007. Located right near the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it now houses Austino’s Patisserie and features a historical plaque out front. 

"Eddie was understudy bartender at La Ida. He filled in when Whitey the regular bartender was sick, which was as often as Whitey could get away with it. Every time Eddie filled in, a few bottles disappeared, so he couldn’t fill in too often. But Whitey liked to have Eddie take his place because he was convinced, and correctly, that Eddie was one man who wouldn’t try to keep his job permanently. Almost anyone could have trusted Eddie to this extent. Eddie didn’t have to remove much liquor. He kept a gallon jug under the bar and in the mouth of the jug there was a funnel. Anything left in the glasses Eddie poured into the funnel before he washed the glasses. If an argument or a song were going on at La Ida, or late at night when good fellowship had reached its logical conclusion, Eddie poured glasses half or two-thirds full into the funnel. The resulting punch which he took back to the Palace was always interesting and sometimes surprising. The mixture of rye, beer, bourbon, scotch, wine, rum and gin was fairly constant, but now and then some effete customer would order a stinger or an anisette or a curaçao and these little touches gave a distinct character to the punch. It was Eddie’s habit always to shake a little angostura into the jug just before he left. On a good night Eddie got three-quarters of a gallon. It was a source of satisfaction to him that nobody was out anything. He had observed that a man got just as drunk on half a glass as on a whole one, that is, if he was in the mood to get drunk at all."

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

Ed Ricketts' Lab

Ed Ricketts Lab in John Steinbeck's Cannery Row
Ed Ricketts' Lab - Pacific Biological Laboratories
Pacific Biological Laboratories is currently located across from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Ed Ricketts (1897 – 1948), the Marine Biologist and Ecologist was the inspiration for Doc in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and the follow up novel, Sweet Thursday. Ricketts lived and worked here in the book and real life. In the novel, Doc’s lab is named Western Biological.  John Steinbeck’s friendship with Ed Ricketts had a profound and lasting influence on Steinbeck and everyone in the Monterey area, including artists, scientists, writers, and the surrounding community. During the day, this space is where Ed Ricketts prepared living specimens to be sent to labs and medical facilities. At night, Ricketts hosted friends like John Steinbeck, Joseph Campbell, and Louis Armstrong as well as Henry Miller, Charlie Chaplin, and Salvador Dali. John Steinbeck describes his friendship and love for Ed Ricketts in The Log from the Sea of Cortez. 

"Knowing Ed Ricketts was instant. After the first moment I knew him, and for the next eighteen years I knew him better than I knew anyone, and perhaps I did not know him at all. Maybe it was that way with all his friends. He was different from anyone and yet so like that everyone found himself in Ed, and that might be one of the reasons his death had such an impact. It wasn't Ed who had died but a large and important part of oneself…

But no one who knew him will deny the force and influence of Ed Ricketts. Everyone near him was influenced by him, deeply and permanently. Some he taught how to think, others how to see or hear…

Nearly everyone who knew him has tried to define him …

He was a great teacher and a great lecher—an immortal who loved women. Surely he was an original and his character was unique, but in such a way that everyone was related to him, one in this way and another in some different way. He was gentle but capable of ferocity, small and slight but strong as an ox, loyal and yet untrustworthy, generous but gave little and received much. His thinking was as paradoxical as his life. He thought in mystical terms and hated and distrusted mysticism. He was an individualist who studied colonial animals with satisfaction…

Once, when I had suffered an overwhelming emotional upset, I went to the laboratory to stay with him. I was dull and speechless with shock and pain. He used music on me like medicine. Late in the night when he should have been asleep, he played music for me on his great phonograph—even when I was asleep he played it, knowing that its soothing would get into my dark confusion. He played the curing and reassuring plain songs, remote and cool and separate, and then gradually he played the sure patterns of Bach, until I was ready for more personal thought and feeling again, until I could bear to come back to myself. And when that time came, he gave me Mozart. I think it was as careful and loving medication as has ever been administered.

John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Bruce Ariss Way

Bruce Ariss Way
Bruce Ariss Way

Bruce Ariss was a painter and close friend to John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. He wrote about one of the trips the trio took to Mexico in the book, Inside Cannery Row: Sketches from the Steinbeck Era. Bruce Ariss even helped design the Wharf Theater on Fisherman’s Wharf, the same venue in which he acted in the play Of Mice and Men based on Steinbeck’s novel. Ariss played Lennie. Bruce Ariss Way intersects Cannery Row and leads to several murals dedicated to John Steinbeck’s novel. 

Mack and the Boys

Mack and the Boys Cannery Row
Mack and the Boys

Mack and the Boys are immortalized in a mural where Bruce Ariss Way intersects with the walking path that runs parallel to Cannery Row. 

Mack is one of the central characters in the novel, Cannery Row, described as “the elder, leader, mentor, and to a small extent the exploiter of a little group of men who had in common no families, no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink, and contentment.”

The boys lived together in the Palace Flophouse where Mack drew five oblongs on the floor with chalk to simulate beds and provide a sense of ownership in the huge room they all shared. 

“Look at them. There are your true philosophers. I think that Mack and the boys know everything that has ever happened in the world and possibly everything that will happen. I think they survive in this particular world better than other people. In a time when people tear themselves to pieces with ambition and nervousness and covetousness, they are relaxed. All of our so-called successful men are sick men, with bad stomachs, and bad souls, but Mack and the boys are healthy and curiously clean. They can do what they want. They can satisfy their appetites without calling them something else.”

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

Steinbeck Family Cottage

John Steinbeck Family Cottage
John Steinbeck Family Cottage

John Steinbeck’s father built the Steinbeck family cottage a few blocks from Cannery Row. In 1930, Steinbeck and his first wife, Carol, lived here as newly weds. This is the same year Steinbeck met Ed Ricketts whose first lab was right up the street. 

This cottage is where Steinbeck drafted Of Mice and Men, one of several banned books that Steinbeck wrote. Supposedly even Steinbeck’s dog banned it by eating an early draft in its entirety.   

Carol is considered the inspiration for the character Mary Talbot in Cannery RowMary is the party-loving, social butterfly who entertains neighborhood cats while her husband, Tom, is at work in the afternoons. 

"She could do that. She could infect a whole house with gaiety and she used her gift as a weapon against the despondency that lurked always around outside the house waiting to get in at Tom. That was Mary’s job as she saw it—to keep the despondency away from Tom because everyone knew he was going to be a great success some time. Mostly she was successful in keeping the dark things out of the house but sometimes they got in at Tom and laid him out. Then he would sit and brood for hours while Mary frantically built up a backfire of gaiety."

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

Point Pinos Lighthouse

The lighting of Point Pinos Lighthouse dates all the way back to 1855 and remains the longest lit lighthouse serving the West Coast. The lighthouse tower reaches 43 feet high and the beam reaches 17 miles out to sea. This historical constant remains a backdrop in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. When you take a tour, be sure to ask about the two ghostly figures rumored to haunt this space. 

"He put on his hat and walked out along the sea, clear out to the Lighthouse. And he stood in the pretty little cemetery where you can hear the waves drumming always.”

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

Great tide pool

Ed Ricketts frequently visited the Great Tide Pool and brought John Steinbeck here on occasion. In the novel, Cannery Row, Doc and Hazel collect starfish here. In contemplating the behavior of stink bugs, Doc points out that we only use ourselves as measuring sticks when we judge other animals. In what seems like a brief and insignificant exchange about sting bugs, readers are offered insight into Ed Rickett’s philosophy that considers life as it is instead of imposing a human centered and often arbitrary explanation on it. Every view of the Monterey coast is breathtaking, and this location reminds visitors how beauty and magnitude are a part of everyday life on Cannery Row.  

"Doc was collecting marine animals in the Great Tide Pool on the tip of the Peninsula. It is a fabulous place: when the tide is in, a wave-churned basin, creamy with foam, whipped by the combers that roll in from the whistling buoy on the reef. But when the tide goes out the little wter world becomes quiet and lovely. The sea is very clear and the bottom becomes fantastic with hurrying, fighting, feeding, breeding animals."

"The waves were beginning to break over the barrier of the Great Tide Pool. The tide was coming in and little rivers from the sea had begun to flow over the rocks. The wind blew freshly in from the whistling buoy and the barking of sea lions came from around the point."

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

Hotel Del Monte

Hotel Del Monte was established in 1880 and rebuilt after a fire in 1926. The building contained an art gallery drew the attention of artists from all over. The hotel holds a strange juxtaposition in the novel: the fancy decor is referenced and it is the site where Josh Billings died. 

Hotel Del Monte and the surrounding land was purchased by the United States Navy after World War II and now houses the Naval Postgraduate School. In the summer of 1941 before it changed hands, the surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, threw a huge party at Hotel Del Monte called “A Surrealist Night in an Enchanted Forest” to raise money for artists displaced by the war. Guests were encouraged to come dressed as their favorite bad dream. Bruce Ariss even helps design the party.   

At the Adobe Bar a number of citizens were gathered for their morning conversation. There Mr. Carriaga told his story again and he had just finished when the constable came into the Adobe. He should know if anyone had died. “No one died in Monterey,” he said. “But Josh Billings died out at the Hotel del Monte.” The men in the bar were silent. And the same thought went through all their minds. Josh Billings was a great man, a great writer. He had honored Monterey by dying there and he had been degraded. Without much discussion a committee formed made up of everyone there. The stern men walked quickly to the gulch and across the foot bridge and they hammered on the door of the doctor who had studied in France.”

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck\'s Cannery Row Literary Tour