Monterey's Cannery Row is one of the town's top-rated sights, a charming area with a touch of yesterday, located on the Monterey waterfront.
The Monterey fishing industry began in the mid-1800s when Chinese fishing families arrived. Later, Japanese fishermen came to fish for salmon, and by the time of the famed "cannery row" John Steinbeck wrote about, Sicilian immigrants had taken over as the area's primary fishermen.
In the early twentieth century, plentiful sardines in the Monterey Bay and a shutdown in East Coast fishing (due to worries about German submarines) propelled Monterey into a sardine-catching and -canning frenzy. Author John Steinbeck captured that era in a book written in 1945. The sardine population declined due to natural cycles and overfishing, and by the 1950s, most of the canneries closed.
Today, tourists pack the streets like those tiny fish once crowded into cans.
So many people visit Cannery Row the easy (but dull) way. They stroll along, shop, eat and leave. But you're the kind of person who wants to know more. Instead of doing that, take a little time to explore some of the area's more fascinating sights and hidden corners.
This walking tour takes you into some interesting corners of the fabled district. It takes an hour or two if you don't get sidetracked, longer if you stop to shop or have a meal. You can also continue to Fisherman's Wharf from the end of this walk.
Why You Should Explore Cannery Row
- You're probably going to walk from Cannery Row to Fisherman's Wharf (or vice versa) and you'd might as well see something interesting along the way.
- If you love history, Cannery Row is a don't-miss sight. You also must see it if you liked John Steinbeck's book.
Why You Might Want to Skip Cannery Row
- If all you want to do is shop, eat and take photos to prove you were there, you may not enjoy checking out the area's more historical sights.
- The walk is flat and about half a mile one way. Most people can do it without any issues, but you know your abilities best.
Cannery Row is the name of the street that runs parallel to the Monterey shoreline and nearest to the water. To begin this walking tour, start in front of the Monterey Bay Aquarium entrance.
Monterey Bay Aquarium: This aquarium was once the Hovden Cannery. Inside, just to the left of the main entrance, you'll find some of the cannery's old boilers and an educational exhibit about the sardine industry. It's not worth the price of admission for just this exhibit, but if you're going to the aquarium for other reasons, don't miss it.
Ed Ricketts' Lab (800 Cannery Row)
Marine biologist and scientist Ed Ricketts collected and preserved tide pool plants and animals and sold them to schools around the world.
Ricketts inspired the character "Doc" in his friend John Steinbeck's books Sweet Thursday and Cannery Row.
After Ricketts' death, his lab became the meeting place for a group called the Pacific Biological Laboratory. Today it belongs to the City of Monterey. There are tours of the old lab a few times a year. You'll find the schedule here.
Wing Chong Building (835 Cannery Row)
This store shows up in Steinbeck's Cannery Row as Lee Chong's Market, where you could buy "a pair of slippers, a silk kimono, a quarter pint of whiskey and a cigar." The building's first owner made much of his fortune by drying and selling squid.
The La Ida Cafe in the building next door to it was where Steinbeck's character, part-time bartender Eddie the poured leftover drinks into a jug for Mack and the boys.
Cannery Worker Houses
Wedged into a little park just past the Bear Flag Building, these houses are some of the few remaining structures built to house the cannery workers. Each is decorated as one of the many nationalities of workers lived in it: Spanish, Japanese, and Filipino. The mural beside them shows an idealized scene of Cannery Row days, with a family living in a discarded boiler.
Continue along Cannery Row past El Torito Restaurant through the scruffier, less touristed-up part of Cannery Row where some interesting old relics remain.
Between the shopping area and the Monterey Plaza, you'll find the last remnants of Cannery's Row's bygone days, crumbling buildings and castoff equipment from the old canning plants.
As romantic as Cannery Row days seem, the plain truth is that Monterey sardines were so oily that they were never very popular as food. However, enterprising factory owners soon figured out that they could make money by boiling the heads, tails, bones and other leftovers and selling them for chicken feed.
The empty lot across from the Chart House was home to the San Xavier Cannery. The cannery scenes for the film Clash By Night starring Marilyn Monroe were filmed there. The big tanks at the back of the lot once held fish oil and are part of the historic landscape. Nearby, you'll see an old fuel tank.
Cross the street to get on the ocean side of Cannery Row if you aren't already there. Walk out onto the little park area next to the Monterey Plaza Hotel. From there, you can watch sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions swimming in the kelp beds.
Monterey Plaza Hotel (400 Cannery row)
The Monterey Plaza is hands down the best place in town to have lunch. Go in through the front doors, down the stairs and follow the hallway to Schooner's Coastal Kitchen. Wait for a table on the outdoor patio, and you can watch kayakers, sea otters, and boats in the bay while you eat.
Just past the hotel, a 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. This one is the only original left.
Your Cannery Row tour ends here. You can continue along the waterside walkway to Fisherman's Wharf or turn around and walk back to where you started.
During the summer months, you can catch the free MST Trolley back to the aquarium.