17 mile drive

By E.M. Fredric

Monterey, CA (The Hollywood Times) 10/16/2018 John Steinbeck, Cannery Row, 17 Mile Drive, Old Fisherman’s Wharf, memories of the smell of sardines, a spectacular coastline, saltwater taffy, men in military uniforms and stories my ex-opera singer Munich born grandmother who was a seamstress in Cannery Row are what rise up in my mind when I think of the Central Coast – that and of course, lettuce. I was a Monterey County baby, born in nearby Salinas – where the literary giant’s childhood home has been converted into a restaurant and museum aptly titled: The John Steinbeck House and it’s only a 20 minute drive from Monterey.

If you need a few days or a weeklong vacay – come as you are or bring friends and/or family – it’s the perfect retreat to awaken your senses and relax at the same time. I grew up smelling, tasting and touching the fish in cans that came from Monterey – or what was once known as “Sardine Capital of the World.” I needed a weekend getaway that would revive all of my senses and Monterey – embraces the soul.

I was fortunate to have spoken with Director of E-Commerce & Marketing for Inns of Monterey, Sue Dreyer – who informed me that they had five boutique properties to choose from – Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa, Spindrift Inn, Monterey Bay Inn, Victorian Inn (soon to be renovated) and the Wave Street Inn. When two local women exchange information – things move quickly and Sue suggested the Wave Street Inn for Friday and Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa on Saturday, before my return home on Sunday.

Sue’s an expert in her field and I felt like I had met an old friend and definitely made a new one, when I arrived. Thank you, Sue Dreyer, for putting such care into helping me make the right choices for my trip and for leaving me with future options – should I want to stay at the other properties when I return. The level of personal attention given guests was duly noted when I saw others checking in and out. You also can purchase 2-day passes – for the price of 1 – to the Monterey Bay Aquarium as an inclusive deal with your stay.

The new Wave Street Inn stands a dynamic three-floors high by modern design with colorful coastal cascading hues – ingratiates one to this chic inn – with views to the bay and an outdoor fire pit to relax by night – with intimacy, style and comfort. She debuted on July 7, 2017 in the heart of Cannery Row’s historic district and – with 32 rooms – is the area’s newest property. Comfortable plush beds, sofas and chairs and flat screen TVs create an ambiance accented by combining the local maritime history and the natural surrounding beauty of the area. The free laptop safe, WIFI, charging stations and complimentary welcome gift basket with maritime resplendence makes for a great home base. You can leave your car for the length of your stay and not pay additional parking! The rooms are stylish with an authentic Monterey vibe. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row – replete with restaurants, shops and more – are all within walking distance, or, you can rent bikes or kayak on a guided tour and view the coast from various vantage points or walk/run/bike along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail.

This hip local hotel is one street above Cannery Row, a few blocks from the Aquarium and across the street to a little shopping center that houses and leads to the downstairs Wave Street Café – which is open for breakfast and lunch only. Server, Marcelino ordered my pesto chicken to go before I did the 17 points of interest along Monterey County’s Pebble Beach and through the Del Monte Forest on 17 Mile Drive.

The scenic route has several points of entry, I chose the more beautiful, coastal, entry – making stops along the way while taking photos and reading the historical value of the points. My favorites were The Lone Cypress, Ghost Trees at Pescadero Point, seeing deer openly graze on part of the Pebble Beach Golf Course, driving past the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center and not stopping to shop at Pebble Beach! I prefer the eclectic Cannery Row shops but there’s certainly something for everyone and you can deduct the price of admission for the drive off any Pebble Beach restaurant or store – be sure to read your receipt closely. I opted to keep rediscovering and was enriched by being in a place you inhale history as your eyes and ears flood your memory banks.

It is written that for more than 250 years, the world-famous Lone Cypress has braved the elements (it has help these days with cables) atop its rocky pedestal overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Ghost Trees at Pescadero Point is full of sun-bleached cypress trees that are legendary as a Big Wave surf spot with swells approaching 50 feet in the right winter conditions. Seal Rock, China Rock, Pint Joe and more are adorned on a coastline with waves that are constantly converging and crashing into each other or seemingly at a standstill – depending on your vantage point.

After a great night’s sleep it was time to head over to see the new exhibits at Monterey Bay Aquarium, three blocks away on Cannery Row. It is written that, “Cannery Row was originally called Ocean View Avenue to be renamed in 1958 in honor of a writer who few regarded very seriously when he had frequented it, John Steinbeck. His friend, scientists Ed Ricketts knew (as many other conservationists and scientists) that after decades of warnings and appeals for conservation warnings were ignored  – Cannery Row was about to commit suicide limitations the seemingly inexhaustible natural resource of sardines dried with the last catch packed in 1964 at Hovden Food Produces Corporation. – which is now the Monterey Bay Aquarium.”

I remember those cans as a wee little girl stocked in both my grandmother and mother’s kitchen. I never liked sardines then and I’m not so keen on them now but the history is fascinating of where Monterey started then stopped for a time in our history.

The aquarium is immense and as adult – as it is child- friendly. My top five favorite areas:

  1. The sea otters playing in their tank.
  2. The kelp forest that had a diver come down to feed the fish and shark in the tank visible to all visitors and he spoke through a microphone while underwater.
  3. The jellies’ tanks – rich in color and movement.
  4. The boilers gives the history and plays old black and white footage of the canneries when people were actually working them and the lone turtle.
  5. Watching the kids in the Splash Zone where they squealed and giggled as they splashed, played or felt a marine animal for the first time. Or watching them interact in the cafeteria, the stores… children bring out the best and worst in people and it’s fun to interact or just be a spectator as they react to the splendor of this beautiful water world and her inhabitants.

I bought a soda that was refillable all day so long as you kept your receipt and stamped myself out for re-entry to enjoy some time on Cannery Row itself.  I wish I had paid more attention to where my grandmother may have worked. The entire street has changed and is undergoing the gentrification that has become the new Americana… I went milling through the unique little shops that still exist – for now – that can afford the rent on this famous street. I saw Doc Ed Ricketts (the “Doc” of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row) lab that still stands as a mini-museum with representation at the museum but didn’t have time to go in. Next time. Ricketts who hung with his literary friend, John and a band of bums on the Row was quietly revolutionizing marine biology. The history is fascinating from before it became the industrial waterfront that fed a world at war with plentiful and nutritious sardines – and within a short period of time would kill an industry it was famous for by greed. The boom and bust of the whaling and sardine industries teaches us much in plain sight and in footage viewed by millions as they grace these attractions.

Then there’s the building of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new $30 million education center located at 625 Cannery Row that’s expected to be completed by 2018 and to welcome students the following year.

After an early dinner I checked in to Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa in the heart of downtown Monterey – also called the heritage district. This hacienda-style hotel has picturesque buildings and renovated guest rooms that pay homage to the bounty of Spanish heritage. Ideal for any gathering, business or informal Casa Munras offers meals at Esteban Restaurant with savory Spanish-California cuisine, an outdoor patio with a fire pit, outdoor pool, a full-service spa, an outdoor hot tub and an array of amenities designed for your comfort or convenience: bike rentals, electric car charging stations and a 24-hour business center.

Junior suite with sofa at Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa Monterey, CA

My room was a junior suite with king-size bed, fireplace and a sleeper sofa for guests. Classy and warmly distinct – it was divine.

I went to Old Fisherman’s Wharf to peruse and on the way is the promenade – so many shops, restaurants, pubs to see or experience. The view of the harbor, once again, made me wish for more time so I could rent a kayak and be on the water looking back. I will be back to see Chef Wayne who made my delicious omelet before some more sightseeing on the way home.

Make Monterey your weekend or longer stay destination. I always feel like a local within hours of arrival. Thanks again Sue Dreyer and Inns of Monterey – I’ll be baaack!

Photos/story by E.M. Fredric

Hotel photos by hotel

Direct Inns of Monterey Booking: 800-232-4141

Hotels: Wave Street Inn: www.wavestreetinnmonterey.com

Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa www.hotelcasamunras.com

For all Five Inns: www.innsofmonterey.com

History of Casa Munras: https://www.hotelcasamunras.com/our-history.aspx