Geographical Context

Steinbeck Country

Map of Steinbeck Country

Take a virtual tour of Steinbeck Country


Big Sur

"Flight" (1938) is set along the Big Sur coast below Monterey. In the early 1920s Steinbeck worked for the first surveying crew in the Big Sur area before the U.S. Highway 1 was constructed. Steinbeck's mother had also taught school in the Big Sur area before marrying his father.

Carmel Valley

In Cannery Row (1945) Mack and the boys drove Lee Chong's old truck to the Carmel Valley on their famous frog-hunting expedition. The valley is now a residential and recreational area noted for its galleries and gift shops.

Corral de Tierra

Steinbeck set his second book The Pastures of Heaven (1932), in this valley 25km (~15 miles) from Monterey. This valley is also described in Steinbeck's short story "The Murder"(1934).

Fremont's Peak

The highest point in the Gabilan Mountains is Fremont's Peak (966m (3,169 feet) elevation), located 18km (~11 miles) southeast of San Juan Bautista. It can be reached by a scenic winding road that provides an excellent view of the Salinas Valley. Steinbeck described it in Travels with Charley (1962) and in East of Eden (1952).

The Great Tide Pool

The Great Tide Pool is an area on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula near the whistling buoy off Ocean View Boulevard. Ed Ricketts frequently collected marine specimens here, as mentioned in Cannery Row (1945) and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951).

Hollister

Hollister is located in San Benito County between San Jose and Salinas. In 1874 John Adolph Steinbeck, John Steinbeck's great grandfather, arrived here and opened a flour mill.

Jolon

Jolon is the primary setting for Steinbeck's early novel To a God Unknown (1933).

King City

John Steinbeck had strong ties with King City. In 1890 his father settled here, met his wife, Olive Hamilton, and developed his skills in bookkeeping and in the flour mill business. Steinbeck records the romance of his parents inTravels with Charley (1962) and other family history in East of Eden (1952). King City is also the setting for parts of Of Mice and Men (1937) and To a God Unknown (1933).

Monte Sereno (Los Gatos)

When Steinbeck was working on Of Mice and Men (1937) in the spring of 1936, he and his wife Carol built their first home 3km (~1.9 miles) west of Los Gatos. Here he wrote The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Because the area became increasingly populated and noisy (he complained of the noise in the journal he kept while writing The Grapes of Wrath), Steinbeck sold the house and built another on the old Biddle Ranch property some 11km (~7 miles) south of Los Gatos in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Monterey

In 1944 Steinbeck moved back to California from New York and purchased the Lara Soto adobe, a house he had admired since boyhood. John Steinbeck and Gwyn, his second wife, lived there only a short time, however, and sold the house a year later. Monterey is the setting for some of Steinbeck's best writing --Tortilla Flat (1935), Cannery Row(1945), Sweet Thursday (1954). Mentioned in Travels with Charley (1962) and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951).

Pacific Grove

In 1903, Steinbeck's father built a three room summer cottage on 11th Street in Pacific Grove. Steinbeck lived in this cottage with Carol from 1933-1936, and returned here intermittently in the 1940s. Pacific Grove sites are frequently mentioned in Steinbeck's fiction, including Cannery Row (1945), Tortilla Flat (1935), The Red Pony (1937), and Sweet Thursday (1954).

Point Lobos

Located between Monterey Bay and Big Sur on the Pacific Coast, Point Lobos is a National Landmark. Point Lobos served as setting for scenes in Cannery Row (1945), Sweet Thursday (1954), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez(1951). Ed Ricketts collected specimens in caves at Point Lobos. It is a beautiful point that John Steinbeck and his sister Mary especially enjoyed frequenting when they were children.

Salinas

In 1902, Steinbeck was born in Salinas. He lived here until 1919, when he left to attend Stanford University. Salinas is a central location in many works, particularly East of Eden (1952), as well as "The Day the Wolves Ate the Vice-Principal," "How Edith McGillcuddy Met R. L. S," (1938) and The Red Pony (1937).

San Jose

San Jose is the northern gateway in Steinbeck Country. Both Steinbeck's mother, Olive Hamilton, and his first wife, Carol Henning, were born in San Jose, and the town is frequently mentioned in Steinbeck's fiction.

Soledad

Of Mice and Men (1937) takes place near Soledad. In the 1920s Steinbeck worked briefly at a Spreckels ranch near Soledad.

Spreckels

10km (~6 miles) west of Salinas, Spreckels is a company town. In the 1920s and 1930s the Spreckels Company was the largest sugar beet factory in the world. Steinbeck's father worked as a plant manager at Spreckels for a number of years and was instrumental in getting summer jobs for his son as a handyman and later as a bench chemist. Working at Spreckels, Steinbeck heard stories he included in Tortilla Flat (1935). Parts of the film version of East of Eden and the television presentation of his short story "The Harness" (1938) were filmed at Spreckels.

Watsonville

Located between Santa Cruz and Monterey near the Santa Cruz Mountains, may be the setting of Steinbeck's strike novel, In Dubious Battle (1936).

For Further Information

Steve Crouch's photographic essay with text, Steinbeck Country: Photographs and Words (Palo Alto, CA: American West, 1973). This work has also been reprinted by several other publishers.

Dr. Martha Heasley Cox, the former director of the Steinbeck Research Center at CSU, San Jose, traces the places that Steinbeck used in his writing in her essay "In Search of John Steinbeck: The People and His Land," San Jose Studies, 1.3 (1975): 40-60.

Oral historian Pauline Pearson has published an excellent guide that includes maps in her Guide To Steinbeck Country(Salinas, CA: John Steinbeck Library, 1984).

Steinbeck scholar Dr. Susan Shillinglaw's A Journey into Steinbeck's California (Berkeley, CA: Roaring Forties, 2006), richly photographed by Nancy Burnett, gives a detailed tour of Steinbeck's Central Coast. The book was updated with substantial new content in 2011.