John Steinbeck country

MONTEREY, Calif.  — As Highway 1 dips from Santa Cruz toward Monterey, makeshift signs hawking avocados and artichokes line the shoulder. In the shadow of the Gabilan Range, bursts of water arc across fields, creating rainbows above pickers harvesting a day’s wages.

This is Salinas Valley.

A convergence of sea breezes and black soil, it is where writer John Steinbeck grew up, worked as a young man and framed the characters for such novels as East of Eden, Tortilla Flat and Of Mice and Men.

Generations later, the region still grows its share of stories.

On a patio off Monterey Bay, I met Jack, who every weekend for the past 14 years has played guitar for the patrons of Wave Street Cafe to raise awareness for domestic violence.

“It’s for a good cause and I have a good reason,” he said during one of his short breaks, declining to elaborate.

At The Inn at Spanish Bay, a bagpiper performed a pre-sunset ritual. There, my wife and I chatted up a former Michigander on the eve of a momentous occasion. Tomorrow, he would play the famed Pebble Beach Golf Course, a wait that had consumed 40 of his 67 years.

In Pacific Grove, we befriended our next-door neighbor, a man of some means who had sold his company a decade ago. Itching to start a new direction in life, he later in the week happily announced he had landed a job as a “bud man” at a marijuana dispensary.

Beyond the stories were the sights.

Sea lions and otters occupy the waters that hug the coast, as do whales. We spent a couple of hours watching the behemoths come up for air and slap their tails amid the waves at Rocky Point.

Built on the site of a former cannery, Monterey Bay Aquarium is captivating but expensive at 50 bucks a pop.

In the well-to-do village of Carmel, catch the 17-Mile Drive through forested Pebble Beach, gawk at the mansions and snap of picture of the iconic Lone Cypress, which is 250-years-old and counting.

That trip comes with a fee. But the trek south toward Big Sur is free and chock full of coastline scenery that should be on everyone’s bucket list.



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