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Writers' inspiration

Pacific coast calls the creative, from Steinbeck to beat poets

Sailboats in Monterey Bay

Musicians are the focus in Monterey during the annual jazz festival, but Monterey Bay and its surrounds have long attracted the attention of notable writers as well, among them John Steinbeck, whose "Cannery Row" and "Sweet Thursday" were set in the area.

Henry Miller, author of "Tropic of Cancer" and "Tropic of Capricorn," made his home down Highway 1 in Big Sur from 1944 to 1963, and the Henry Miller Library, with an extensive collection of the irreverent author's writings, is now located there. Miller, whose works contained more sex than the publishing establishment cared for, helped establish Big Sur as an artists colony. Weary of constant visitors, he left the area in 1960, and after traveling in Europe for a short time, settled further south in Pacific Palisades, where he died in 1980.

Poet Robinson Jeffers made his home in Carmel from 1914 until his death in 1962. Jeffers, a native of Pittsburgh, and his wife built their granite home, Tor House, on a craggy knoll high over the sea. Jeffers was apprenticed to the builder during construction, and later began work on the Hawk Tower, a retreat for his wife and twin sons. He completed the project single-handedly in four years.

Both Tor House and Hawk Tower are operated by the Tor House Foundation, affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Monterey and the Pacific Coast nearby were also a focal point for some of the beat writers of the 1950s and 60s. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who published Allen Ginsberg's controversial "Howl," owned a cabin beneath the Bixby Bridge which was the focal point of Jack Kerouac's 1962 novel "Big Sur." Ferlinghetti had loaned the cabin to Kerouac as a place to regroup from his troubles, but the plan backfired, as the writer's depressing novel shows.

The area's most famous son, however, is a native one. John Steinbeck -- author of "Grapes of Wrath," "Cannery Row," and "Of Mice and Men" -- was born in Salinas, just 18 miles from Monterey, and spent much of his childhood at his family's summer cottage in Pacific Grove. In 1930, he moved to the small town with a new bride as he embarked on his literary career.

Pacific Grove

Many sites in and around Pacific Grove are associated with Steinbeck and/or mentioned in his writings. El Carmelo Cemetery (65 Asilomar Blvd.) is the "pretty little cemetery" mentioned in "Cannery Row"; Point Pinos Lighthouse (Asilomar Boulevard), which is mentioned in several works, was a popular childhood play area for Steinbeck and his sister Mary.

Steinbeck purchased many of his writing supplies at Holman's Department Store (542 Lighthouse Ave.), the largest such store on the Monterey Peninsula when it was established in 1891.

The Steinbeck family cottage (147 11th St.), where Steinbeck lived until 1936, and his cottage on Eardley Avenue, where he lived briefly in 1941, remain private residences but may be seen from the outside.

And then there's Cannery Row itself, a mile-long strip that begins in Monterey at the Coast Guard Pier and ends in Pacific Grove at Hopkins Marine Station. The street was called Ocean View Avenue in Monterey until the name was changed to Cannery Row in 1958; its name remains Ocean View Boulevard in Pacific Grove.

The street was home to Monterey's sardine industry, including the American Can Company, which produced cans for the local packing houses. That site is now home to the American Tin Cannery Factory Outlets. The site of Hovden Food Products/Portola Packing Co. in Pacific Grove is now occupied by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Along with the aquarium, Cannery Row sports restaurants, antique stores, hotels and other shops.

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Photos courtesy Monterey Peninsula Visitor & Convention Bureau

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