“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.” — Thus began John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel, Cannery Row.
Cannery Row, the waterfront street in the New Monterey section of Monterey, California was the setting of John Steinbeck’s novels Cannery Row (1945) and Sweet Thursday (1954). Both were the basis for the 1982 movie Cannery Row, starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger.
The area was the site of a number of now-defunct sardine canning factories. The last cannery closed in 1973. The street, formerly known as Ocean View Avenue, was officially changed to Cannery Row on January 1958 to honor John Steinbeck and his well-known novel.
Today, Cannery Row is a famous tourist attraction with an eclectic blend of specialty shops, local artists’ galleries, hotels, and more than 25 restaurants, many of which are located in former cannery buildings. Some privately owned fishing companies still exist on Cannery Row, housed on piers located a short distance from the historic district.
The main attraction on Cannery Row, is the Monterey Bay Aquarium located at the north end of Cannery Row (886 Cannery Row), at the former site of the Hovden Cannery. A Norwegian immigrant, Knut Hovden, founded Hovden Food Products Corporation on July 7, 1916. By canning squid at the end of its life, Hovden Cannery managed to outlast its neighbors, finally closing its doors in 1973 when it became the last cannery on the row to close.
The aquarium opened in 1984 and has been consistently ranked among the top attractions in the world.
Just steps away from the Aquarium, you will find The Pacific Biological Laboratories/ Ed Ricketts Lab (800 Cannery Row). The lab was run by Chicago born Edward Flanders Robb Ricketts (1897-1948), a marine biologist, ecologist, and philosopher. He is best known for his pioneering study entitled, Between Pacific Tides (1939), and for his influence on author John Steinbeck. The friendship they shared resulted in their collaboration on the Sea of Cortez, later republished as The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951).
The Wing Chong Building, whose owner, Won Yee was the inspiration for Steinbeck’s character Lee Chong in Cannery Row, is located at 835 Cannery Row. Mr. Chong operated a market here beginning in 1918 selling everything from food, clothes, and liquor to fishing supplies. It is reputed that he amassed much of his income from running gambling tables and bootleg liquor during the Prohibition.
Located at 700 Cannery Row is Steinbeck’s Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum which features over 100 figures depicting 400 years of CA history. You will see figures of old cannery workers, prostitutes, Indians and even John Steinbeck sitting around drinking with friends!
The Bear Flag Building located on 645 – 653 Cannery Row was the former site of the Marina Apartments constructed by the Wu family in 1929. The tiled dragon roof is similar to that on the Ocean View Hotel, an authentic reminder of Cannery Row’s enduring Chinese heritage. Today, the building houses restaurants, shops and offices serving Cannery Row.
Wedged into a little park just past the Bear Flag Building, you will encounter the Cannery Worker Houses. These houses are some of the few remaining structures put up to house the cannery workers.
As you continue to walk down Cannery Row, you can’t help but notice the covered walkway passes overhead. There were once sixteen of these crossovers on Cannery Row, used to carry canned fish from the factory to the warehouse.
Whether you are a fan of California’s native son and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, John Steinbeck, or a student of history, you will enjoy wondering in and out of the various attractions on historic Cannery Row although it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the place Steinbeck wrote about in his novels. It is a trendy tourist attraction that welcome millions of visitors annually.