A complimentary pass for the National Steinbeck Center was provided to facilitate this story; however, all opinions are my own. Read more about our favorite spots to eat, stay, and explore in and around Monterey, CA. #seemonterey
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The National Steinbeck Center is a museum dedicated to the life and works of author John Steinbeck. It was founded in 1998 and contains both an archival collection and special exhibitions. The Steinbeck Center is located on Main Street in Old Town Salinas, CA, in a beautiful modern building surrounded by an eclectic neighborhood with a small-town feel. The Center is bright and welcoming and staff members are warm and friendly and obviously have a great love for their treasured author.
Much of the Center’s archival collection is made up of pieces donated by family members as well as a private collector. It’s through these mementos and artifacts we learn more about the man behind the writer. The archival collection includes more than 600 copies of Steinbeck’s books, including first printings, signed editions, and more. There are also many pieces of correspondence through which visitors are able to get a feel for what everyday life was like for this prolific writer.
There are, of course, many pieces of art, photos, in addition to some of the awards and honors he received. Still, with all of this, the museum is never stuffy or dull. The exhibits are highly interactive and visitors are encouraged to touch, feel, think, and put themselves back into time to really experience special moments during Steinbeck’s life.
Travels with Charley
Agriculture is a large part of the exhibit and you soon learn how it affected the stories he wrote and characters he created. But I think my favorite part of the exhibit is the vintage camper he traveled in when he wrote his travelogue, “Travels with Charley in Search of America.” Peering into the back of the camper was like peeking back into my childhood. It was comforting and peaceful to see the simplicity of his life during his farewell journey with his Poodle. It’s a book I’m now l longing to make time to read as it was his way of revisiting the country before he died. As I get older, I find it’s a journey I myself would love to make for the same reasons.
National Steinbeck Center – 2014 Exhibits & Activities
The Steinbeck Center puts on special exhibits and activities every year. I visited during the Weston: Four Generations 1886-2013 Event. It runs through May 31, 2014 and is an opportunity for you to meet the Weston men and learn more about their journeys as photographers. Photographic equipment is also highlighted showing how much technology has changed, demonstrated by the enormous cameras required in the late 1800’s in comparison to the digital models the current generation enjoys.
Beginning April 4 and ending August 3, 2014, experience Steinbeck Festival: Onward The Grapes of Wrath 75th. Also check out their current programs, calendar of events, and download the Steinbeck Country App to learn more about the people and places that influenced his life. It’s available free for iOS systems (iPad, iPhone, etc).
National Steinbeck Center – Educational Programs
The Center also offers the Steinbeck Young Authors program for middle school students in the area. Their goal is to introduce children to his works, something Steinbeck would have appreciated as he was said be inspired by a good book, as well as strong teachers.
If you don’t live nearby, there is an online resource for the 75th anniversary celebration of “The Grapes of Wrath.” They’ve created activities online that can be used by families, librarians, teachers, community groups, and book clubs to encourage learning more about the piece of work. There’s also a Tell Us Your Story Contest where the winner will receive and iPad mini.
Before You Go – What You Should Know
The Center can be toured in 45 minutes to 1-1/2 hours easily. It’s not a strenuous walk, but there are not many places to sit and rest should you have mobility issues. There is an outdoor courtyard between the two wings of the building with seating if you need a few moments to relax. There are areas with dramatic lighting which may create some obstacles for those with sight problems. There isn’t a cafe on location, but there are restrooms with drinking fountains, and several places to grab a quick bite nearby.
The Steinbeck House – Birthplace and Childhood Home
Extend your visit into history by walking two blocks from the National Steinbeck Center to The Steinbeck House. While it wasn’t on the itinerary for this trip, I would have loved to have visited. I will definitely see it the next time I’m in Salinas. The Queen Anne-style Victorian home was John Steinbeck’s birthplace and boyhood home. It now houses a beautiful restaurant, complete with a gift shop so you can take home a souvenir of your travels.
The Steinbeck House offers summer tours and Saturday Tea Dates (these are popular, call 831-424-2735 to reserve your spot). They have a limited menu of some delicious looking dishes at reasonable prices and much of what they serve is in season and sourced from the surrounding valley. Be sure to check their hours of operation before setting out and make a reservation to hold your spot.