Day 21 – Juan San Batista Mission & Monterey Peninsula
We headed back west to the Monterey Peninsula today and I know you’re scratching your head as to why we’d backtrack when we had already been there. Well, we hadn’t seen all we wanted to see, but our logic in leaving and then returning had to do with making sure we had a campsite at the national park over the weekend when sites are hardest to come by. When we recently tried to book a campsite at Yosemite, for instance, we found the next available site was sometime in October! Pinnacles was obviously less popular, but we ended up getting the site only because we arrived on a Thursday someone else had canceled for the weekend. Blind luck, but we’re still learning.
The morning we left Pinnacles was cool, overcast and windy in contrast to the previous few days. It had warmed and the sun peeked through a bit by the time we passed through the little town of San Juan Bautista and we stopped to explore the old Spanish mission there. Established in 1797, San Juan Bautista was one of 21 Catholic missions established during this period in Spanish California. This mission has never been abandoned and is still an active parish.
In the parish cemetery, behind the church and overlooking the agricultural lands below, were hundreds of plain, weathered white crosses marking the graves of more than 4,300 mission Indians and Spanish pioneers and settlers that died here.
When we arrived at the Pacific coast, the day had not improved. We’d planned to drive the 17-mile scenic loop ($10.50 toll road) which included the peninsula’s iconic ‘Lone Cypress’, but the fog and mist was not conducive to photo opps, so we headed instead to Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name.
Instead of the sardine and fish canneries that once lined this street, there are upscale restaurants, boutiques, souvenir shops and tour companies. Mementos, old photos and descriptive signs provide insight into the past, but it’s nothing compared to the way Steinbeck described it.
A bust of Steinbeck and the Cannery Row Monument immortalize the author and his visions of the past. We recently downloaded ‘Cannery Row’ onto my iPad to reread it. It’s one of many free book downloads, if you’re interested.
All the restaurants display their signature plates just outside their doors to entice passersby to stop in. We had a light lunch at Fishhopper’s on the pier … touristy and expensive, but the food and service were quite good.
Unfortunately, there’s also a Ghiradelli’s Chocolate not far away and we couldn’t resist sharing a hot fudge sundae for dessert. Delightful decadence!
Walking off the sundae seemed like a great way to make up for our sweets indulgence and we hustled in the raw afternoon along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail to Fisherman’s Wharf. Seagulls swooped and harbor seals barked. The smells and sounds of the ocean felt like home.
Fisherman’s Wharf is similar to the Row … tourist shops, restaurants, tour companies and every bit as scenic. We ambled about ... stopping in a souvenir shop here, checking out a menu there, reading informational signs … despite the wind and cold, it was quite enjoyable.
By late afternoon, we reckoned we’d had enough and took one last sidetrip to the Point Pinos Lighthouse before heading to a hotel for a hot shower and a cozy night. The lighthouse had closed minutes before we arrived, but the views were still great.
Day 22 – Steinbeck National Center – 2,134 miles traveled
We spent the night in Marina, CA and then headed to Salinas in the morning. Once again, we traveled through agricultural communities. Trucks of produce dominated the roads. Workers harvested fields. We were heading to the National Steinbeck Center and I was really looking forward to it.
The town is kind of old and tired, but the Steinbeck Center is a gem. We spent a couple of hours remembering the Steinbeck novels we’ve read and movies we’ve seen and then discovering so many we hadn’t read.
John Steinbeck (1902-1968) is perhaps one of America’s finest authors. According to Wiki, ‘ He won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature for realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception.’ His 1940 Pulitzer prize winning novel, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, was highly criticized in the USA as ‘socialist and Red propaganda’ and was banned and even burned in some places.
We wandered through the Center, learning more about Steinbeck and his works than we previously knew, but more importantly, appreciating his talent and ability to represent life and hardships of the times.
We ended our Salinas visit with an excellent late lunch at The Steinbeck House Restaurant, Steinbeck’s birthplace and childhood home. The Queen Anne Victorian has been beautifully restored and Steinbeck family memorabilia and photos decorate the walls. A fitting end to a pleasant and edifying day. We definitely need edification now and then.