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Explore Monterey's Rich Literary Heritage

29 Jun 2023
Explore Montereys Rich Literary History

Monterey County has served as a distinguished literary breeding ground for more than a century. If you love books with a strong sense of history and place, you might want to explore the old stomping grounds of two literary giants: John Steinbeck and Robert Louis Stevenson on your next visit. 

Though they were born nearly 50 years apart and never met each other, they shared a common passion for the rugged, natural beauty of the Monterey Peninsula and its townsfolk. Born and raised in Salinas, Steinbeck's beloved "Valley of the World" vividly portrays the spirit of rural, working-class, and disenfranchised Americans in novels like The Grapes of Wrath. 

You can trace his earliest footprints by heading north of Monterey on Route 1 to Salinas, a 25-minute drive. The family home is located in downtown Salinas at 132 Central Avenue. John was born in the house where he lived until he left for Stanford University in 1919. Today the home is a restaurant and gift shop. Stop by for a charming lunch and take the docent-led tour to explore Steinbeck's home.

It was in the upstairs bedroom that Steinbeck read Stevenson's novel Prince Otto. This book inspired him to become a writer at the age of 14 and he spent hours as a teenager writing stories and poems. It was here that he began writing two of his most widely read and beloved novels The Red Pony and Tortilla Flat. Each novel evokes the haunting beauty of the Peninsula.

Two blocks away on Main Street is the National Steinbeck Center. An ideal family activity, the Center celebrates the Nobel Prize-winning author's contributions to literature through interactive exhibits for all ages to enjoy. There are plenty of personal artifacts from Steinbeck's life. Some of the gems include his typewriter and the pick-up truck he used to tour the fringes of America with his dog while researching Travels with Charley.

Like Steinbeck, the great Scottish traveler and writer Robert Louis Stevenson loved taking long hikes throughout the Peninsula and his observations of its rustic beauty seeped into his novels and essays. It was here that he found his writing voice, which would lead to his long list of literary successes including Treasure Island, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Stevenson lived in a popular boarding house called the "French Hotel," now the Robert Louis Stevenson House at 530 Houston Street. His short stay also marked a critical point in his life. It was here that Stevenson met and later courted his future wife, Fanny Osbourne. Today the building has the largest collection of his artifacts in the world and is open on Saturdays.

Robert Louis Stevenson House in Downtown Monterey

Heading south of Monterey by the coast is scenic Carmel-by-the-Sea and Point Lobos, which many scholars believe inspired Stevenson's greatest novel Treasure Island. In it, he captures the place, the haunting descriptions of "fog-shrouded coves and the many tall pine trees evident on Treasure Island." This description sounds more like northern California than a tropical island.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

One cannot underestimate the impact Treasure Island has had on popular culture. "The low crouching live oaks, under which a murderer might hide," depicts the pirate life of Long John Silver on the Island. Stevenson imagined everything we think we know about pirates. This story may have been the driving force for the film "Pirates of the Caribbean."

In Cannery Row, Steinbeck paints an equally vivid picture, capturing the sounds, smells, and sights of Monterey Bay, Cannery Row, Fisherman's Wharf, and Lower Alvarado Street. Each one added to the grist, and flavor of the characters Steinbeck created. The story revolves around the people living there: Lee Chong, the local grocer; Doc, a marine biologist; and Mack, the leader of a group of derelict people.


You can trace Steinbeck's steps of old Cannery Row by strolling on Ocean View Boulevard between Monterey and Pacific Grove. There you can experience the remnants of the fish canneries that once dominated the local industry in the 1930s and early 1940s, until their collapse in the early 1950s. The last cannery to close made way for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Steinbeck Monument on Cannery Row

It was in Cannery Row, that Steinbeck wrote, "Monterey is a city with a long and brilliant literary tradition," which continues to nurture future generations of writers, artists, and adventurers." Fortunately, we have the inspired writing of both of these men who captured the lush, wild, and evocative landscape and characters they encountered during their travels.

If you are a book lover, we invite you to plan an escapade to Monterey. The Portola Hotel & Spa is an excellent home base for exploring all of the places brought to life by these two literally giants! To book your stay, by visit our website or call us at (888)-222-5851.

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