Talk about a comeback. Once the site of a booming sardine-canning industry, Cannery Row fell on hard times after World War II, in large part due to overfishing. Lesson learned: Today the Pacific waters around this waterfront are protected as a national marine sanctuary and teem with sea life. And the street has reinvented itself as a lively destination with a heavy nod towards its historic roots.
Many old cannery buildings have been refurbished as restaurants, galleries, artists’ studios, and shops. Tasting rooms let you sample local wines. And reminders of Cannery Row as the popular (and much-written-about) haunt of Pulitzer Prize–winning author John Steinbeck abound. The unassuming wooden structure at 800 Cannery Row was once Pacific Biological Laboratory, the workplace of marine biologist and ecologist Ed Ricketts—the inspiration for one of Steinbeck’s most unforgettable characters, Doc Ricketts.
The most celebrated attraction without a doubt is the world-class, 20,000-square-foot Monterey Bay Aquarium. Built on the site of a long-defunct sardine cannery and open since 1984, it treats visitors to 360-degree views of all kinds of graceful sea life, from hammerhead sharks and sea otters to schools of hundreds of shimmering Northern anchovies. Take a behind-the-scenes tour to learn more about sharks or jellyfish, or book a family sleepover to let your kids become underwater explorers.
Walk or rent a pedal-powered surrey to head over to lively Fisherman’s Wharf, a good place to snack on take-away cups of chowder or ceviche. Or continue south along the paved Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail to scan Monterey Bay for wildlife, and peer into the tide pools at San Carlos Beach, at the south end of Cannery Row. Give your arms a workout—and see otters in their natural habitat—by renting a kayak and paddling out onto calm and clear Monterey Bay (a big hit with kids).