Big Sur: Steinbeck and Beaches


Thursday 1 Sept: The Steinbeck Centre

I love John Steinbeck’s writing and just had, this time, to visit The Steinbeck Centre in Salinas, about 30 minutes drive inland. Most commonly, I tutor pupils on the short novels, such as ‘Of Mice and Men.’ ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is one of the top three books I’ve ever read; I was shaken, almost sobbing at the end of it. The tragedy, the depth of man’s inhumanity to man, hard, hard lives yet full of folksy wisdom and big hearts, the kindness of people. How people survive, somehow, the pain of loss. It’s what Steinbeck said he wanted to do to his readers – ring them out, leave them exhausted and he does just that. Beautiful, terrible, all written in the vernacular, making the voices and people real. Yet lyrical and rhythmical.

Salinas was a plain, tidy place with hardly a soul walking about, a very smart High School and the shiny modern Steinbeck Centre. It really was a case of anything you wanted to know about the great man; it was all recorded there. And it was well done with an excellent introductory film. His story and that of his books, was told through collected memorabilia based around each novel or film. There was old footage from the films themselves, quotes from the books, a recording of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Well worth seeing for fans of this great American writer.

A lovely beach walk

Got a coffee in a local café then headed back to Carmel. It was sunnier now, so we parked beside a beautiful stretch of beach close to the house and had a lovely wander along the creamy sands. The beaches fall steeply creating big surf (hence the area’s name) and even paddling can be quite dangerous. Rip tides and currents and cold water too, mean you don’t see many people swimming hereabouts. I wish I knew the names of the flowers and plants which make this coast so special. Some looked almost like African fynbos; some were what we call African Daisies.

We eventually met up with a nice coastal path and followed it round to Carmel River Beach before heading back to the car. No visit to the town’s lovely Mission this trip. Too much to see that we missed last time.


Historic Monterey

I had wanted to see a bit more of the beautiful adobe buildings in the Historic District of Monterey so we headed back there to stroll the well marked ‘Path of History’. I really love this area near the pier.I’d hoped to have a look inside the French Hotel, where Robert Louis Stevenson stayed but it was closed. Lovely garden however which we admired around;had a peek inside the somewhat empty rooms.
Chris had a look at the old, elegant, Government Offices while I paid $11 to wander through the small Monterey Art Gallery. The girl at the desk picked up on my accent and said how much she liked it! She’d been to Edinburgh and loved it. Well, I loved that little Gallery, it had some really attractive local landscapes, oils and watercolours. Quite pricey though given it’s size.


Joined up with Chris (he can only take so many Art Galleries) to see the beautiful Custom House, with much interesting memorabilia. Letters, the hat and black clothes worn by the magistrates, old photographs. Huge oaks trees outside on the wide lawns. Had a very nice coffee in a delightful little café, the Wild Plum Café and Bakery, on the edge of the Historic District. Sat outside in the warm sunshine, shaded a little by a lovely flowering bush and enjoyed an excellent lemon cake.

Popped into Carmel again and stopped off at the French Patisserie to pick up an apple pie concoction (disappointing in taste) and a few macaroons. Window shopped around some of the Art Galleries, but most of it was too modern and brash and not particularly appealing. Then headed to the excellent shopping complex newly built since our last visit, on the edge of town. First class supermarket , a real cracker of a shop and picked up some cold meat, cheese, olives and tomatoes. Got some nice bread too and topped up the chocolate supply, as well as more fruit. (Chris goes through a ton of oranges a week, almost literally.) Got a couple of pain au chocolate for heating up for breakfast, though John did leave some yoghurt and granola and croissants, as well as tea and coffee.

Relaxed at the house at night.

Previous Day –Big Sur Coast: Carmel and Monterey  Next Day –Big Sur Coast: Point Lobos and Garrapata Beach


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