John Steinbeck loved his hometown of Salinas, a hub of California agriculture that sits at the northern tip of the Salinas Valley, 100 miles south of San Francisco and 20 miles inland from the coastal town of Pacific Grove where the Steinbeck’s had a quaint summer cottage. Exploring Steinbeck’s Salinas requires adhering to a tight time schedule if you want to see it all in only one day, but rest assured, it can be done, and if you’re a Steinbeck fan like me, you’ll love every minute and the time will fly by. As we made our way down the California coast, my husband and I had only one day open in our travel schedule to explore Salinas, and we wanted to see the most significant Steinbeck-related sites. While we felt a bit rushed, especially at the National Steinbeck Center where we could have spent a few more hours had we had them, we were pleased that we managed to see what we did in the time that we had. Since the National Steinbeck Center, The Steinbeck House, the John Steinbeck Library, and the Garden of Memories Cemetery where Steinbeck’s ashes are buried have similar, overlapping operating hours, it’s essential to follow a plan like the one below, or you’ll end up missing one or more of these destinations. No matter what, keep in mind that you should plan your visit from Tuesday to Saturday since everything is open on those days and two of the four are closed on Sunday and Monday.
9:00 a.m. – 10 a.m. – Garden of Memories Cemetery
10:00 a.m. – 11 a.m. – National Steinbeck Center: Gift Shop (You’ll go back after lunch to visit the museum.)
11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. – Steinbeck House
11:00 – 11:30 a.m. Gift Shop
11:45 a.m. – 2 p.m. Lunch and Photos (and maybe a tour)
2:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. – National Steinbeck Center: Museum
5:15 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. – John Steinbeck Library
Stop 1: Garden of Memories
768 Abbott St., Salinas
Garden of Memories – Facebook
Find A Grave – John Steinbeck
Operating hours: Mon. – Sat. 9 a.m. – 4:30, but may open at 8:15 a.m. Closed Sundays. (Be sure to call at least once – maybe twice – before you go! These hours vary depending upon which website you visit and who answers the phone when you call. We discovered that the cemetery closed at 4:30 in the summer, not at 5 p.m., the closing time I found online.)
While it may seem counterintuitive to start a Steinbeck country tour where his life’s story ends, it makes the most sense to start with the location that closes early, and one that you may miss if you save it for later on in the day.The Garden of Memories cemetery is located on the edge of town, near CA Route 68, the route we had taken to Salinas from Pacific Grove. Once on Abbott Street, turn right on Memory Drive into the cemetery. Take the first right just past the mausoleum building and then take the next right.
Drive down the road until you see the sign on your left that points to the gravesite, Plot: Block N-5 (added here just in case you need it.) Steinbeck is buried in an unassuming cement family plot along with his wife, Elaine, and his parents. When we went, we brought some sand from Monterey Bay, something we thought Steinbeck might appreciate.
Stops 2 and 4: National Steinbeck Center
1 Main St., Salinas, 93901
National Steinbeck Center
Operating hours: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., seven days a week.
With a multitude of colorful and interactive displays that covers Steinbeck’s vast writing career, this beautifully designed museum will enthrall you for hours! To be honest, it was hard to leave, and all I wanted to do was read, watch, touch, and photograph it all. Be sure to allow enough time to soak it all in. It’s a gem of a place that honors Steinbeck as the literary genius that he was.
- Bring your Teacher ID if you have one. You’ll receive a discount on your admission to the museum.
- I suggest visiting the gift shop before the museum (from 10:00 – 10:45) because you may become so involved with the museum’s excellent exhibits that you’ll hate to leave! My favorite mug is from the Center’s gift shop. If you plan to eat lunch at the Steinbeck House, you’ll want to visit the gift shop first since it is close to the front entrance and easy to make an exit from that location. 45 minutes is ample time to shop and make your purchases. (If you spend the first 45 minutes or so in the museum, you’ll likely be way in the back and it will take you much longer to make your way outside and back to your car for the drive over to the Steinbeck House.)
- Photo Op: When you exit the National Steinbeck Center, look across the street and to the left to see a mural honoring Steinbeck and his works.
Stop 3: Steinbeck House
132 Central Avenue, Salinas, 93901
Gift Shop Tues. – Sat. 11:00 – 3:00
Restaurant Tues. – Sat. 11:30 – 2:00
Planning Tip: Visit the gift shop (around the corner from the front door in the basement) from 11:00 to 11:30 and make your lunch reservation for 11:45. That way you’ll have time to peruse the small gift shop (30 minutes is plenty of time), eat lunch, take a tour of the house if a docent is available, and take some photos inside and out. I also love the photos my husband took of me reading it on the front porch of the Steinbeck House.
Stop 5: John Steinbeck Library
350 Lincoln Ave., Salinas, 93901
Salinas Public Library
Mon., Fri., Sat.: 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Tues., Thurs.: 12 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Wed.: 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Sun.: 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
It’s fitting that the local library in Salinas is named after John Steinbeck, but it is also interesting considering that The Grapes of Wrath had been burned just a few months after its publication at in front of the then Carnegie Library. (Neither the library nor the librarian were responsible for the event, but it was a farm worker who, at the behest of an outraged agricultural industry leader and angry himself over the content of the book, allowed himself to be photographed as he placed the book in a pail to be burned.) A life-size statue of Steinbeck has been erected outside the library there now outside which is intended to honor him, but I read recently that Thom Steinbeck and his brother John often thought about tying a rope around the statue and pulling it down with their truck.
Planning Tip: Due to time constraints, you may wish to visit the interior of the library first. There is a section with Steinbeck’s books and when we went there, a display in a glass case. The library also houses numerous articles in their clipping files located in the Steinbeck or Local History sections.
Photo Op: Outside: The life-sized statue of John Steinbeck outside with the library’s name in the background. (If you get a shot with better lighting – and a paint-free statue – please share it with me!)
Print out this CHECKLIST AND GUIDE to plan your trip to Salinas, and when you visit Steinbeck Country, take it with you!
Additional information on Steinbeck, Salinas, and Pacific Grove:
John Steinbeck’s Pacific Grove Driving Tour
The Red Pony Ranch – Possibly the site of a ranch that Steinbeck may have used as the setting for the four short stories in The Red Pony.
What to Find in Salinas Valley: Lush Fields, Good Wine and, Yes, Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men Teaching Materials:
Of Mice and Men Interactive Notebook
Of Mice and Men Constructed Responses and Higher Order Thinking Questions
Of Mice and Men Interactive MiniBinder and Theme Lesson
Of Mice and Men Audio CD Guide – Free!
Steinbeck in the Schools – San Jose State University
I hope that you thoroughly enjoy your day in Salinas. If you discover other interesting places, please let me know!