It is basically a museum dedicated to the life of native author John Steinbeck and it also showcases life in the Monterey Bay & Salinas Valley in the early-mid 20th Century.
Year round, active programs take place in the Center. Through archive displays, art and history exhibitions, lectures, repertory film series, and special programs for schools, the Center draws people into explore the rich history of the Salinas Valley and Steinbeck Country.
The Steinbeck Center presents the life of Steinbeck, his writings, his characters, and Steinbeck Country in an informative, educational and entertaining manner. Different nationalities play an important role in the Steinbeck Center because the author himself saw the Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Portuguese and other ethnic groups as dignified people and important contributors to the community (East of Eden, Tortilla Flat, Forgotten Village, Cannery Row, etc.).
Utilizing diorama, innovative exhibits, changing displays and other media, the wonder and beauty of Steinbeck's creativity is dramatized so that everyone can enjoy and appreciate the author, his works and his environment. You can even see the original truck, Rocinante, that John Steinbeck drove while writing Travels with Charley.
Main Street Salinas has about 10 blocks of well kept commercial activity, focusing upon restaurants, internet cafe's, banking, boutique shops of all sorts, high-end massage salons, and theaters. There are three active theaters-- the Maya Theater brings current Hollywood films, The Childrens Theater focuses upon live entertainment for Children, and the old Fox Theater has Spanish language productions. There's another theater downtown with a fine marquee sign that is closed. Downtown has wide sidewalks, well maintained planter boxes, and antique street lamps. Traffic is very courteous to pedestrians. Most of the architecture dates to the early 20th century, although a few notable examples date into the late 19th century.
The well endowed and modern museum not only has personal artifacts and original manuscripts from the author, but also helps explain the magnificent agricultural phenomenon about which Steinbeck wrote. Mexican-American authors and other artists are hosted by the museum as well. The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm. See website for ticketing and other details.
The National Steinbeck Center does a great job at painting an engaging and thorough picture of "Steinbeck Country" - California's Salinas Valley. Through diaramas, video exhibits, and extensive use of quotes from his works, the Center really gives the visitor a feel for the influences that shaped Steinbeck's writing, and for life in this fertile region.
As with any museum devoted to a single author's works, familiarity with Steinbeck's books will make the Center much more interesting. The Center focuses more on his works specifically dealing with farming and agriculture in the Salinas Valley (i.e. Grapes of Wrath, Tortilla Flat, etc.), but all of his works are represented at least a little. There's a pretty cool exhibit on life in Monterey during the time "Cannery Row" was written, lots of stuff about "East of Eden" and its star, James Dean (the site where Dean was killed in a car accident is not too far from here), and a good retrospective of his second career as a war journalist.
For die-hard Steinbeck fans, though, one of the highlights is "Rocinante," the pickup/camper in which Steinbeck and his dog toured America in the book "Travels with Charley." It's the real McCoy, too, and looks pretty plush for its time!
Described in the brochure as "an interpretive, interactive, and audiovisual exploration of contemporary agriculture and its historical roots," this museum within a museum is, well, uh... let me put it this way... it's as good as it sounds! Meaning if you're the kind of person who really gets a kick out of the history of agriculture, you'll have a ball!
But, seriously, this wing of the Steinbeck Center does a commendable job with what is actually a pretty boring subject. They do have some interesting and even funny exhibits (like the one in the picture, where a bunch of vegetables give stump speeches for your vote as "favorite vegetable," and even veggies are not immune to negative campaign ads!). This exhibit is included in the admission to the Steinbeck Center. I don't think you can go in separately and I can't imagine why you'd want to.
Throughout Monterey County you might notice giant people along the sides of the highway, against the sides of buildings, or just off in a field. These characters which range from infants, to farmers, to old women are often creations of a Salinas artist John Cerney (http://www.johncerney.com/photogallery.html).
His latest art works are three Cannery Row-themed murals depicting the characters from Steinbeck's novel as well as dock workers and cannery workers. The first was just placed along the recreation trail next to the new Cannery Row Hotel. This 10x12 foot monsterpiece features "Mack and the boys" six notorious slackers from the 1930s.
Some of our other favorites are a giant of a man nicknamed Lettuce Nuts, as well as an old lady's face surrounded by flowers on a hillside along Highway 101. Cerney has also been commissioned for murals by many of the towns around Monterey and Salinas. These murals range from sporting figures to advertising for local dentists and car repair shops. You may even see his images of Marilyn Monroe (for the Castroville Artichoke Festival) or James Dean.
Salinas High School; was built origally around 1900, but has been remodeled sence than, BUT the one thing that hasn't changed is the schools tower in the front of the school, which has a cloak on it.... If you've been to Union Station in Los Angeles, Ca. theres a tower there also that kinda has the same square size! I visited it Dec. 30th, 2004.
Near Downtown, but mostly along Central Avenue, just down the street from the Steinbeck Museum, is a fine collection of restored old homes that have become occupied by attorney's and other professionals. These can be easily appreciated in a walk from downtown.
A Taste of Monterey is a storefront wine tasting room right across the street from the Steinbeck Museum, and in the same block art the current feature running Maya Theater. The cool climate of Monterey produces some outstanding Chardonnays and Pinot Noir wines, among others. See the web link for more details.
Salinas has at least three theaters on Main Street: The old Fox Theater, and the new Maya Cinemas. The cinemas are an essential part of the future of downtown, as they are some of the few draws (along with the Steinbeck Center) that bring foot traffic to other local businesses.
The Fox Theater was built in 1921 and it was all but abandoned in the 1990s. In 2006 it was finally purchased and renovated by Monterey businessmen Tim Treadway and Anthony Lane, and it just reopened in May 2007. The opening act was none other than nationally famous, California-native comedian George Lopez. Today the theater hosts anything from banquets, proms, and weddings, to plays and movies.
The Maya Cinemas is a major renovation of the 1930's Crystal Theater which stood on the site of the 1910 Brown's Opera House. Unfortunately the 1930s facade could not be preserved, but the current facade is a replica of the original. The theater just opened in July 2005, and it is a large and modern movie theater with some 14 screens, including the largest screen in Monterey County. The owner plans to offer a variety of Spanish language films in addition to the standard Hollywood blockbusters.
Unfortunately Main Street's third theater is closed and in disrepair. It looks like a small shop might be open in the front lobby but that's about it. Look for its large facade that reads "Cinema I."
John Steinbeck was born and raised in Salinas, lived several years in Monterey and Pacific Grove, and set numerous novels in this area. He wrote dozens of novels, perhaps most famous were The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Tortilla Flat (1935), Of Mice and Men (1937), Cannery Row (1945), and The Pearl (1947), earning a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize for Literature. The house where he was born stands on Central Ave, just a few blocks from the Steinbeck Center, and he is buried at the Garden of Memories, across town in Salinas.
The National Steinbeck Center was opened in 1998, and is Salinas' top tourist attraction today. The museum offers exhibits on Steinbeck's life and his works, a library with several hundred novels, the archives with some 45,000 Steinbeck-related articles, and various educational programs.
Admission is $10.95 for Adults.
This Victorian mansion was constructed in 1897, purchased by the Steinbeck family in 1900, and the birthplace of John Steinbeck in 1902. Steinbeck lived here with his family until 1919 when he graduated from Salinas High School and went to college at Stanford. Later in his life he returned to this house to visit his parents and do some writing.
The house's main function today is a lunchtime restaurant, as it is open from 11:30 to 2:00 Tuesday through Saturday. The menu is limited to just two entrees that rotate every week and cost $10-12 plus drinks and desserts.
Tours of the Steinbeck House are generally held only on Sundays from 1 to 3, and prices are Adults - $4 and Students/Children $3. The house is still decorated with family photos and other original items.
The house also contains a gift shop selling gifts and books, including Steinbeck novels and the Steinbeck House Cookbook.
The Steinbeck House is owned and all businesses are operated by the Valley Guild, a non-profit organization started by local women who wanted to establish a restaurant to serve local foods. Today the group still runs the restaurant, but their main focus is to preserve this historic property.
Since you most likely came to Salinas to learn more about Steinbeck, and you've already visited the house where he was born and raised, as well as the museum dedicated to his life.... there's only one logical stop left -- take a peek at the place where he's buried.
While Steinbeck died in New York in 1968, his body was cremated and returned to Salinas for burial in the family plot. This is the Hamilton plot, his mother's family, and John Steinbeck's grave lies beside his uncle William John Hamilton (who died in 1930), his mother Olivia (1934), his father John Ernst (1935), John's sister Mary (1965), and his last wife Elaine (2003).
This cemetery also is the final resting place for a Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor recipient named Sergeant Oliva Cayer, who actually commanded an entire regiment in a battle when all of the officers were "disabled."
If you visit, the Garden of Memories cemetery is pretty small and you really won't have any trouble finding the grave site. There are two entrances to the cemetery, one from Romie Street and the main one from Abbott. From the Romie Street entrance, the gave is maybe 100 yards in on the main road on the right. If you enter the main gate, take the first right past the giant columbarium building, then the next right and the grave will be on the left. It is marked by a simple black arrow with the word "Steinbeck" and sits maybe 50 feet off the road. Look for the Hamilton plot or you'll walk right past.
OK, so Salinas existed before John Steinbeck was born...who knew? One place to find a little more of the Salinas history is the Boronda Adobe. The Jose Eusebio Boronda Adobe was built from 1844 to 1848 as a farmhouse long before the city of Salinas existed and is the town's oldest structure. This is a unique adobe for the era due to its four-sloped wooden roof (rather than tile with two slopes) and a veranda that encircled the house. Boronda was originally granted 6,700 acres, but today only 5 acres remain with the adobe.
On the same site is Old Lagunita School House, built in 1897 and a later farmhouse.
One of the supposed descendants of this Boronda family include Narcisco “Frank” Boronda who was an old timey John Wayne Bobbitt. In 1907 his wife chopped off his happy place with a straight razor after one of his usual trips to a San Jose brothel...more here:
The unincorporated community of Boronda is next to Salinas and has just a few houses, but also a waste disposal transfer station, a United Parcel Service facility , and a large agricultural seed supplier.
The adobe is open to visitors weekdays 10-2 and Sundays 1-4 (closed on Saturdays).
Salinas is surrounded by the farm country of the Salinas Valley. At just 80 miles long, this valley is much smaller than the more famous San Joaquin Valley, but very important to the local economy. Salinas Valley is famous for its artichokes, lettuce, broccoli, celery, strawberries, tomatoes, and has an expanding grape and wine industry. The main towns in the Salinas Valley include Salinas (of course) as well as Hollister, King City, Soledad, and Castroville--where Marilyn Monroe was named the town's first "Artichoke Queen" back in 1947.
The poor farmers of the Salinas Valley became characters in several Steinbeck novels including East of Eden and Of Mice and Men.