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Salinas

Discover the heart of Steinbeck Country, a storied land of farms and wineries in Monterey County

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The birthplace of novelist John Steinbeck and the primary city in one the world’s most famous farming regions, Salinas draws devoted readers of such Steinbeck classics as The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, as well as visitors looking to explore an authentic corner of California, less than an hour south of San Jose and the Bay Area. A great way to start your Monterey County adventure is with a stop at the California Welcome Center in downtown Salinas, where you can find useful information on all there is to see.

The impressive and modern National Steinbeck Center is a must, not only for devotees of the Nobel Prize-winning writer but for anyone looking to learn more about Salinas itself. The center’s main exhibit tells Steinbeck’s story and is organized geographically to highlight locations around Monterey County that played a role in his life and work. A few blocks from the center in the Queen Anne–style Victorian where Steinbeck grew up, The Steinbeck House restaurant displays family pictures and memorabilia.

Salinas is certainly a city that reveres its history. The California Rodeo Salinas began as a Wild West show in 1911 and today is one of the top 20 events of its kind in the country (and the largest rodeo in the state). The rodeo also honors the area’s rich Mexican-American culture with mariachi music and performances by charros (Mexican horsemen) in their elaborately detailed outfits. Salinas is also a great destination for anyone who loves Mexican food, thanks to such local favorites as El Charrito (in business since 1981) and Villa Azteca, which blends traditional and contemporary approaches.

In his writings, Steinbeck told the story of the Salinas Valley, the fertile region often described as “the Salad Bowl of the World.” The Farm, an education center and operating agricultural facility, offers guided tours that take you inside Salinas Valley farming. You can sample the bounty of the land by picking up fresh produce at its store or treat yourself to delectable deep-dish pies baked with fruit produced on The Farm.

At The Farm and throughout the Salinas Valley, you’re bound to notice giant plywood cutout figures rising from the fields. Somewhere between sculpture and mural, these photo-realistic billboard-sized works of art, as tall as 20 feet, were created by Monterey County artist John Cerney. They depict scenes of daily life in the Salinas Valley, such as people harvesting iceberg lettuce and working on irrigation projects.

While the Salinas Valley will forever be associated with lettuce, it has also become a destination for wine lovers. From Salinas, follow the River Road Wine Trail south toward Soledad as you travel above the valley floor along the Santa Lucia Highlands bench. Outside of town, stop at intimate Odonata Winery to taste its small-batch varietals crafted in the French style by owner and winemaker Dennis Hoey. Continuing south, take in valley views and savor single vineyard Syrahs and Pinot Noir while picnicking on the terrace at Wrath. And just a short detour from the wine trail, step into the valley’s past at the beautifully restored Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.

There are more attractions near Salinas on the drive to Monterey, just 30 minutes away along the coast. Toro County Park’s 20 miles of trails draw mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrians eager to explore its 4,756 acres of rolling grasslands, canyons, and forests. And for some faster-paced excitement, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is one of the country’s most storied road racing tracks.

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