On the southern edge of majestic Monterey Bay, 117 miles south of San Francisco, lies the historic city of Monterey. Once the capital of Alta California, a land owned by Spain, Mexico and as of 1848 the United States, Monterey is a trip back through California history. Here are six important historical sites that bring California’s colorful past to life.
• The Custom House, originally built in 1827 and rebuilt in 1841, is California’s oldest government building. It was here that Commodore John Drake Sloat raised the American flag on July 7, 1846, claiming over 600,000 square miles of territory for the United States. Today the building houses exhibits from the early “hide and tallow” trade days.
• Cannery Row is the waterfront street featured in John Steinbeck’s books, “Cannery Row” and “Sweet Thursday.” Cannery Row is named after the old sardine canning factories that used to line it. The canning business began in 1902 with the Booth Cannery and Monterey Fishing & Canning Company (a Japanese venture). In 1927, the American Tin Cannery was added to the Row. World War I saw the expansion of Monterey’s canneries driven by wartime demand. World War II brought further cannery expansion. Monterey became the “Sardine Capital of the World.” Today the factories are no longer operational and instead house stores, restaurants and bars. Great for dining and shopping.
• Old Fisherman’s Wharf was built in 1870 by the Pacific Coast Steamship Company for regular passenger and freight service. Growth of the sardine industry prompted the City Council to assume ownership of the pier in 1913. By 1920 the Wharf served as location for nearly 20 wholesale and retail fish outlets. When sardines began to disappear after World War II, Fisherman’s Wharf converted to a tourist-oriented operation that included restaurants, gift and candy shops, a theater, an aquarium, snack bars, and of course, fish markets. Where once tons of sardines were shipped daily, now thousands of visitors enjoy the Wharf’s many fine establishments. The Wharf Theater continues to present plays throughout the year.
• Colton Hall Museum is a landmark in the city. It is the building where California was born and the first constitution was created. Colton Hall was the first public building constructed under the American flag. The city of Monterey built the building to serve as a public school and town meeting hall. The second floor porch balcony made a dandy scaffold, and prisoners were hanged from it by a rope. Locals believe the ghosts of the prisoners still haunt the building today. Colton Hall now offers visitors a re-creation of the meeting room where California’s first Constitution was drafted in October 1849 and offers exhibits from early Monterey days.
• The Custom House Plaza is the centerpiece of Monterey’s long history. The Maritime Museum is among the attractions on the plaza and is the starting point of the Monterey Walking Path of History. Follow this path and view the site where Spanish explorers first landed in Monterey in 1602. See one of the nation’s last remaining whalebone sidewalks and discover some of California’s most historic homes, buildings and beautiful gardens along the way.
•The Monterey Bay Aquarium was built on the old Hovden Sardine Cannery site. In fact, the aquarium commemorates the old cannery by blowing the original Hovden cannery steam whistle everyday at noon. The Monterey Aquarium’s approach to marine biology embraces the conservationist direction set in motion by Ed Ricketts, marine biologist/philosopher and the model for the fictional “Doc” in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and other works. At the Aquarium you will see giant Kelp forests, otters, sharks, penguins, seahorses and a fantasia of jellyfish. Kids will love the marine interactive experiences and the touch pools. So will grownups.
While in Monterey, you will find other historical sites, but you must not miss these six important sites.
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