Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Updated on September 17, 2018
Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle's interest in California history was rekindled when she began leading tours at a local museum in an 1850s gold rush town.

Monterey Bay, seaside, including some of the old and repurposed buildings which were once sardine canning factories.
Monterey Bay, seaside, including some of the old and repurposed buildings which were once sardine canning factories. | Source

A Great Vacation Getaway

The historic coastal town of Monterey, California has many things to do and to see.

You can stroll down Cannery Row with a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can get an overview of the area by riding the free trolley tram that takes you around the Row area as well as to Old Fisherman's Wharf, and through the Pacific Grove area.

There is also a free trolley loop that takes you through the historic downtown area. Trams come along every ten minutes, and you can get on and off as many times as you wish. It is a really relaxing way to enjoy this area without having to drive and find parking for each stop.


Cannery Row

The first time we visited Cannery Row was in 1962. We were on our honeymoon, heading to Old Fisherman's Wharf for a seafood lunch. We only gave the deteriorating canning factory buildings a passing glance. Most of them were neglected and abandoned at that time, and the last remaining cannery closed about ten years later. There seemed to be no pedestrians and few vehicles in the area.

The over-fished coastal waters were no longer yielding the huge tonnage of sardines and anchovies which had kept fishermen and factory workers busy in previous decades.Many of the huge buildings and warehouses had fallen into disrepair. The area was obviously not providing many employment opportunities back then.

Some of the old buildings were eventually torn down, but other factories and warehouses have since been remodeled and re-purposed. Original foundations, piers, and walls of old factories have been incorporated into some of the new establishments.

The area has now turned into a major tourist attraction with hotels, restaurants, shops, parking structures, and a variety of businesses. Especially during the summer, the narrow street is full of people seeking a seaside town experience.

The huge Monterey Bay Aquarium was once the site of a sardine factory operation. Part of their exhibit includes the large boilers where the canned fish was pressure cooked. The street itself was originally called Ocean View, but it was renamed "Cannery Row" for the famous John Steinbeck novel which presented a nostalgic slice of life with a colorful cast of characters. Set in the Depression when the factories were at peak production, the story was written by Steinbeck in 1945. Since the author grew up in the area, he was well acquainted with the flavor of the canning district, which he used as a backdrop for his tale.

A leopard shark in the kelp forest.
A leopard shark in the kelp forest. | Source

Monterey Aquarium

When I first saw the prices for the aquarium, I wondered if it was worth it just to go look at fish. As it turned out, our hotel offered a discount ticket that was good for two days. We found out that there was much, much more to see than we originally thought. Not only that, our pre-paid discounted tickets meant we did not have to stand in line to purchase admission. We walked right in and were clicked through the turnstile.

And yes—even at full price, the experience would have been very interesting and worthwhile.

Lines outside the aquarium start forming before opening time, especially on summer weekends.
Lines outside the aquarium start forming before opening time, especially on summer weekends. | Source
A small fishing boat in the Italian style, backed by the old cannery boilers.
A small fishing boat in the Italian style, backed by the old cannery boilers. | Source
Children point at the Sheepshead fish.
Children point at the Sheepshead fish. | Source

Feeding Times

When you enter, you will get a diagram map of the exhibits and a list of times for feedings and special presentations.

We enjoyed seeing the puffins diving for their food and "flying" underwater, but we did not get as good of a view of the sea otters. It is a very popular exhibit, and I think it could have been planned to provide better viewing. Also, we heard that the particular Saturday when we were there might have been a record-breaker for a day's attendance. The aquarium is large but it got quite crowded by noon. The good news is, you can have your hand stamped to go out and have lunch or shop and come back later in the day, which we did.

Huge ocean sunfish (Mola mola)
Huge ocean sunfish (Mola mola) | Source

The "Must-See"

Make sure you see the largest tank, called "The Open Sea". It is a 1,200,000-gallon tank which has one of the world's largest single-pane acrylic windows. The size of the13 inch thick window makes you say, "how did they do that?" (It's a closely guarded trade secret of a Japanese company.)

I originally thought the exhibit was "open to the sea", but it is not. Unlike most of the other underwater displays, there are no rocks, kelp or sea plants that are typical in coastal zones, in the "Open Sea" exhibit. Instead, it is made to simulate the deep oceans, rather than the shores.

The creatures in there are impressive, even when just swimming at a leisurely pace, but they really show their speed and power during feeding times.

Thousands of sardines swarm past viewers in "The Open Ocean".
Thousands of sardines swarm past viewers in "The Open Ocean". | Source

Someone advised us to get a spot at least 15 minutes before the scheduled feeding-- which we did-- and we also secured a good viewing spot by sitting in the balcony where there was no one standing in front of us. There are a few tiers of benches up there, and it was also a good time to rest the feet.

The tank has giant sea turtles, a huge sunfish, dolphin fish (mahi mahi), tuna, various sharks, rays, a few other things as well as a silvery school of about 25,000 sardines. At various times they have had a Great White Shark, but these are usually studied for a few months, then released again.

All of the residents eat different diets and the aquarium has devised a special way to feed each species. Don't miss this one.

The aquarium also has shore birds and sea otters.
The aquarium also has shore birds and sea otters. | Source

Other Aquarium Offerings


Since we had a two-day pass, we went back the following morning to see the shorebirds without so many people in the same place. This is one area where you walk through without glass between you and the creatures. The birds seem accustomed to the people passing by just a few feet away. It is a wonderful way to get a close look at them.

The caretakers had just filled the feeders and sprinkled live crickets in the habitat, so the birds were active and visible.

They seemed to ignore people, so it is very easy to see them up close with no windows in front of them.

There are Avocets, Stilts, Phaleropes, Sanderlings, Oystercatchers, and others. The habitat is beautifully designed to simulate a natural setting with a beach that has gently lapping waves at one end.

Fish. | Source


In much of the aquarium, it can be difficult to take pictures in the dim light.

I found that you can have a little bit of luck if you have a "museum" setting on your camera, but if you have a flash setting, you are going to get bad reflections if you try a straight on shot. You may also get bad reactions if there are people around you.

In some areas—like the jellyfish exhibits—photos are restricted. Jellyfish apparently freak out if you try a flash picture. (No one wants to see a jellyfish freak.)

More of the Aquarium

There are lots of "touch pools" where the kids (and the big people) can feel the squishy sea cucumbers, the bumpy sea stars, or even let a reclusive hermit crab crawl across their hand. Another pool lets people feel the sand-papery skin of the sting rays (stingers removed).

There are no extra charges for the shows and programs, and most of them are brief. You can spend more money if you want souvenirs or if you decide to take a scuba lesson. Watching people take the diving lessons is free.

This is how we looked 150 years ago on our wedding day.
This is how we looked 150 years ago on our wedding day. | Source

Other Things to Do

Aside from visiting the aquarium, there are a lot of other things to do on Cannery Row.

Preserving Your Image

One fun activity that leaves you with a personal memento, is posing in the photo gallery that puts you into another era.

Choose an old western theme, Civil War clothing, or some Victorian apparel.

It doesn't take long, though the photographer gives a lot of attention to detail and coaches you on the poses.

It's even fun to see other people getting their portraits taken.

Checking Out The Stores

Shopping is popular with a lot of visitors. Even though there are many shops full of tacky and cheap souvenirs, there are also a few upscale places for apparel, jewelry and gourmet foods.

Art galleries and stores with handcrafted items are also here and there.

People Watching and Pedaling

People from all over the world visit this area, and it seemed that there were a lot of families with young children. You will hear many languages being spoken.

Especially on the weekends, you are likely to hear street musicians playing in many different styles.

The local people are often biking or walking their dogs on the bike and pedestrian path that is just one street over and free from motor vehicles.

Bikes and pedal cars are also for rent, especially for those who want to pedal to Fisherman's Wharf or along the Pacific Grove shoreline.

Tide Pools and the Rocky Shore

The shoreline in this area is a protected nature preserve. There are several places where you can observe tide pools and sea birds, as well as harbor seals and sea lions.

Near the Fish Hopper restaurant, you can walk down to the water, especially at low tide and perhaps you will see a mommy sea lion with her pup, out of reach on the rocks.

Or was it more like this?
Or was it more like this? | Source

Eating and Drinking

The area is jammed with restaurants, cafes, brewpubs and wine tasting rooms. Some are casual some are fancy. In fact, some say there are 199 restaurants in Monterey, but who's counting? As you might imagine, seafood is king here. Most eateries have a seafood specialty or several, even if they are a steakhouse, fast food, Mexican or Italian.

As on the Old Fisherman's Wharf, many cafes on cannery row have a person out in front ladling tiny free tastes of clam chowder and giving them to the people who pass by. I think some people bring their own sourdough roll and make a meal out of the chowder samples as they walk down the streets. Others may choose their meal site by which chowder they deem tastiest.

On Friday we had already had eaten a big lunch on the wharf, so were not too hungry by dinner time. We tasted the chowder samples, anyway. One of them was so good, we went into the Fish Hopper and had a bread bowl filled with clam chowder-- and shared a crab cake appetizer, plus a fresh berry and raspberry lemonade cocktail. (We weren't hungry, you see.)

The next day we had fish and chips and a draft at the brewery, and dinner at "The C" at our hotel. The service was great and we had a four-course "Chef's menu with wine pairing" It was delicious and the service was impeccable. Nice ocean view, too.

It was an anniversary splurge.

"A Taste of Monterey"  wine room on the waterfront.
"A Taste of Monterey" wine room on the waterfront. | Source

Wine Tasting in Monterey

Monterey County is also one of California's wine growing regions there are at least four or five wine tasting rooms on Cannery Row. They charge a nominal fee for a certain number of tastes, but usually also offer a discount with the purchase of something in their shop.

Most of these places are sponsored by a single winery, but the "Taste of Monterey" on the upper floor of the Monterey Canning Co. building represents several local wineries.

They also have an arrangement with many local restaurants that allows you to buy their wines and take it to a participating restaurant which will not charge a corkage fee. This tasting room also has a nice view of the bay through their window walls. You can sit down with your tastes. I even saw some people who had brought along their own cheese and crackers to enjoy while watching the water, and sipping wine.

The sky bridge over Cannery Row, between two parts of the hotel. View  from our room window, in the early morning, before traffic and crowds.
The sky bridge over Cannery Row, between two parts of the hotel. View from our room window, in the early morning, before traffic and crowds. | Source

The Clement Hotel

Our time was limited. We didn't want to waste it by spending it in traffic and hunting for scarce metered parking.

We decided to stay at The Clement which is in the heart of Cannery Row, within walking distance to a lot of restaurants, and virtually 'next door' to the Aquarium.

Even though it was WAY more expensive than the places we usually stay, it was very nice and had a lot of advantages. (Look online for different rates, packages and deals for the rooms.)

It was a special anniversary for us, so, as I said before, we splurged a bit.

The staff was excellent, efficient and unobtrusive. Also, they were polite and helpful when you had a question or request. In the restaurant, they know how to refill a glass so that you barely notice.

Interior design was what I would call "minimalist modern" with subtle neutral colors, which also gave it a very calm and clean feeling—a contrast to the busy outdoor street.

Rooms are large, quiet and comfortable. The linens were high quality; towels and robes, large and thirsty. The bed was comfortable; there was a large flatscreen TV. (Nice, since the Olympics were on.) The marble/granite bathroom had a big enclosed glass shower and separate deep bathtub.

A refrigerator contained a full bar of mini-liquors, beer, juices, mixers and even energy drinks. I'm pretty sure there is an extra charge for these, and we didn't use any since we brought our own beverages. If they were part of the deal, we missed out.

I think most of the rooms have a gas flame fireplace. Ours did. Even though it was early August the coastline weather was overcast and cool. We turned on the fireplace and opened the window to breathe the evening sea air. This was probably not energy efficient, but it was very pleasant. They also have spa services and kid activity rooms (babysitting). The kids even had a climbing wall, and it looked like they were having a great time.

Room fireplace and window.
Room fireplace and window. | Source

Room service arrived at the breakfast time we requested with the correct order.

Plenty of utensils, heavy plates (I don't know how that girl lifted the big wooden tray with all that), and lots of tiny condiments like jam, honey, catsup, hot sauce, sugars and real cream.

There were many other little details and extras: A plush sea-otter mommy and baby were snuggled between the pillows on the bed.

There were also luxury toiletries, including palm oil soap made in Poland (Polish palm trees?), manicure items, a tiny sewing kit, bottled water with their logo on it, a live bonsai tree as well as subtle maritime-themed art.

There was also an amenity I have never before seen in a hotel room ... a miniature zen garden with white sand, pebbles and a tiny rake.

The Zen Garden. If you need to meditate, or if you have nothing  better to do, you can move the rocks, rake the sand and ponder the meaning of life.
The Zen Garden. If you need to meditate, or if you have nothing better to do, you can move the rocks, rake the sand and ponder the meaning of life. | Source
For the price of a night's stay, you could buy a boatload of these-- but it still  seemed like they 'gave' us a lot of stuff.
For the price of a night's stay, you could buy a boatload of these-- but it still seemed like they 'gave' us a lot of stuff. | Source

Look for the Deals and the Freebies!

Cannery Row and The Monterey Bay Aquarium provide a nice weekend trip or an interesting stop on your tour of California, but it can be pricey. Lodging, food and even the aquarium tickets can be more expensive than you might expect. Look for deals and discounts online. Take advantage of the free trams, and taste all of the clam chowder samples you can.

Spend some time watching the seabirds and the sea lions along the rocky shore. If you are lucky, you might spy some sea otters playing in the kelp beds. Their shows are free!

Questions & Answers

  • Was there no microwave at the Clement hotel?

    I didn't really notice if there was a microwave. Room service was great and the restaurant was excellent.

    You could request a room with a microwave, but I'm sure there are other accommodations in the area that would have what you need


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    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      4 years ago from California Gold Country

      AliciaC. it's just a few miles down the coast. for you :)

      Truly, this was really a relaxing and interesting trip for us, but it was less than three hours of scenic, relaxing driving for us. I'm tempted to do it again. Thank you for the nice comment. My hub about Mission San Juan Bautista was from a stop on our way back home. That was also interesting.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love reading travel hubs, and this one is a great example. Thank you very much for the virtual tour of a place that I may never visit in real life.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      5 years ago from California Gold Country

      I agree. The California coast (as well as Oregon and Washington) has many natural wonders as well as interesting history and cities. One could spend a long time exploring them all.

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      5 years ago

      Monterrey is nice. Pretty much anything on the coast is worth visiting.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      6 years ago from California Gold Country

      There is a lot to see in this beautiful area-- certainly worth a return visit. Thanks for the comment, NateB11. (I thought I answered earlier, but maybe I forgot to hit the 'post' button.)

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 

      6 years ago from California, United States of America

      Monterey is one of my favorite places. I used to live in Seaside, about 5 miles from Monterey, when I was a kid. About ten years ago, I lived in Salinas, but not anymore. Salinas is about ten miles from Monterey. For a time, I worked in Pacific Grove. So, I'm pretty familiar with the area. Love Cannery Row and the Aquarium. You've given great descriptions of the Aquarium, some of the information I was not aware of until I read this piece. Love the photos too, makes me want to go back to that area. I do love the ocean.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      6 years ago from California Gold Country

      You should do a hub with your jellyfish photos. They really have a lot of them there, but we didn't spend too much time in that section. I appreciate your comments, David Warren.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      6 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you, Peggy W. It's not that far from San Francisco. The surrounding area is worth seeing, too.

    • David Warren profile image

      David Warren 

      6 years ago from Nevada and Puerto Vallarta

      Greeat hub! My wife and I go to Monterey at least every other year. I have a lot of fantastic pictures of the jellyfish from using longer shutter speeds and a tripod. Thank you, I enjoyed reading your hub.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Rochelle,

      What a wonderful part of California! I hope to retrace your steps someday and get to see and do the things that you and your husband got to do on your anniversary. Cannery Row and the Monterey Aquarium sound amazing. That zen garden in your hotel room was an interesting touch. Like you, I have never seen anything quite like that in any other hotel. I like the old time photos of you and your husband. Something we have never done. I really enjoyed myself reading this hub. Many up votes and definitely sharing. Thanks!

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      6 years ago from California Gold Country

      The building identified as Ed Rickertt's Lab is at 800 Cannery Row, Monterey,CA. You can find it on the street view on Google maps.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      6 years ago from California Gold Country

      I think the location that inspired Doc's laboratory is located right between the aquarium and The Clement Hotel. Now I'm sorry I didn't take a photo-- you might be able to find it on Google maps street view. Thanks for commenting, Cogerson. Hope you get a chance to visit.

    • Cogerson profile image


      6 years ago from Virginia

      A wonderful look at Cannery Row....I have never gotten there but ever since Steinback's book and the Nick Nolte movie I have wanted to check it out....I think Steinback's Doc character is one of his best...and I can easily picture Doc walking around in the awesome photos you included. Voted up and awesome.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      6 years ago from California Gold Country

      It has something for almost anyone, whether you like seafood, Steinbeck, California history, whales, wine or shopping. Thanks for the comment, shermanblake.

    • shermanblake profile image

      Blake Sherman 

      6 years ago from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

      Really is a nice place to see....particularly for John Sreinbeck fans.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      No, we didn't make it to theater. As I said, there is a lot more to do and see-- and it wasn't a bad drive, except for the localized slow traffic. We don't regret the splurge a bit.

      Thanks for commenting, Pennypines,

    • Pennypines profile image

      Lucille Apcar 

      7 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

      What fun, Rochelle, and you really did Monterey justice. By any chance did you visit the little old theater down by the Customs Building? That's another must. Their shows are corny but a little corn does the heart good. Like you say, everything is a bit pricey, but what the heck, one weekend's splurge?

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks for the comment, drbj. I'm sure you will enjoy both of them.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      Based on your very informative hub, Rochelle, I will have to visit Monterey once more and this time visit that fascinating Aquarium you described so well, and stay at the Clement hotel.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      This is really just a small part of Monterey, Frieda. There's also Fisherman's wharf, the beautiful 17 mile drive, and the historic district, the presidio which hearkens back to the Spanish colonial period, and the Mexican history before California was ceded to the US. There are a lot of museums. The town of Carmel is close by, and has its own attractions.

      I appreciate your comment.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you, lorlie6. Hope all is going well for you.

      We didn't visit Carmel this time, though it is also charming. The traffic coming into Monterey from the north side was veerrry slow. We stopped at Fisherman's Wharf looking for lunch. We actually ate there on our original honeymoon-- but couldn't remember which place. There are more of them now.

      There was plenty to see and do on Cannery Row, so I was glad we decided to stay right there, instead of trying to drive and park.

      My photos are point and shoot digital on a not-very-expensive camera. I took a lot of them, because I had "Hub" in the back of my mind and wanted a choice. I found out my husband had "always wanted" to do one of those old time portraits. It was fun.

      Didn't see Clint.

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 

      7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Everything I'd ever want to know about visiting Monterey! Just love the photos. Who knew there was really so much to do. Fabulous to have been able to see it back when the factories were there, but it sounds like an even better place now for sure. Never thought I'd want to go, but now I really do. Great hub, Rochelle.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 

      7 years ago from Grizzly Flats, Ca

      Long time no see, dear HP pal!

      Steinbeck country is probably my favorite nation of all, so this hub grabbed my attention immediately-you really nailed it here. I used to adore visiting Monterey during the 70's when I was high-schooling in Palo Alto.

      Oh, and I voted 'undecided' up in your capsule since I adored everything-mostly the idea that I could ooh, la la, possibly meet Clint Eastwood there...(Hey, I WAS in High School ;)) and, well, just being in such beautiful surroundings.

      Glad to know it's thriving, Rochelle,


      PS: Love your photos-didn't know you were so very talented-esp. the old timey ones. Your hubby looks awesome, and so do you!!

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you very much , Curiad. I appreciate all comments, especially from those who have been there. We enjoyed it immensely.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a great review of the area. I have been there many times and love the area.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks so much for your comments, bdegulio.

      Yes, there is much more to see there than I mentioned-- but Monterey certainly has changed a lot in the last few decades.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts

      Rochelle, this was so informative and well written. Excellent Hub. I was last in Monterey back in 1987 and definitely should go back as we missed so much. Great job, voting up, sharing, etc....

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Yes, it was cool, overcast and a bit drizzly-- but we didn't mind a bit. Very refreshing. It's been hot where we live, too.

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 

      7 years ago

      Wonderful Hub and photographs on Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Rochelle! I love that whole area, and visit whenever I can. Since reading your Hub, I want to visit as soon as possible! I have friends visiting Monterey right now, so I am just green with envy. A+++ and everything else. Thanks for the reminder! Monterey is a great place to beat this valley heat!


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