Birthplace of John Steinbeck
Salinas sees comparatively few visitors, despite being just 18 miles inland from the busy Monterey Peninsula. It is first a farming community and those visitors who do show up are usually attracted by the town’s links with author John Steinbeck, who was born here in 1902 and featured Salinas – and its agricultural workers – in many of his books.
It took time, but Salinas finally woke up to the tourist interest – and money – that their only literary son might generate. In the early 1990s, a $35-million complex of shops and offices named Steinbeck Square arose on the 100 block of Main Street, and close by is the National Steinbeck Centre (http://www.steinbeck.org), 371 Main Street, formally opened in 1998, with changing exhibitions and interactive displays on the author. It is all a far cry from the days when Steinbeck was said to be ‘as popular as lettuce blight’ in the town. Steinbeck claims of Salinas’s agri-moguls: “they want no part of me except in a pine box”.
Steinbeck was born in 1902 in an elegant house which still stands at 132 Central Avenue, known as Steinbeck House Restaurant (http://steinbeckhouse.com). Free tours of the house are available on making a reservation. Another worthwhile call is to the John Steinbeck Public Library (http://www.salinaspubliclibrary.org/john-steinbeck-library), 110 W. San Luis Street, which displays photographs, manuscripts, first editions, and plays taped interviews relating to the Nobel Prize-winning writer.
Still the big event in Salinas, however, is the California Rodeo: four days of bronco-taming, lasso throwing, camp-fire cooking, and more, which comes to town each July (http://www.carodeo.com).
The rodeo takes place in a purpose-built stadium a few miles north of the town centre beside Hwy-101. On the stadium’s south side, the Rodeo Heritage Collection (http://www.carodeo.com/events/2016/heritage-museum) stores a small but entertaining collection of memorabilia.