John Steinbeck and Pacific Grove


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Photo courtesy
The Pat Hathaway Collection

In the early years of this century, John Steinbeck and his family spent many weekends and holidays in Pacific Grove. John and his younger sister, Mary, spent their time exploring the rocks and tidepools near Asilomar and Point Pinos and were fascinated and drawn to the ruins of the Chinese settlement at China Point (now called Cabrillo Point).


Even in his youth, Steinbeck was developing a knowledge and love of the natural world and the diverse cultures that figure so prominently in his works. In the summer of 1923, while students at Stanford, John and Mary enrolled in a five-unit course in general zoology at Hopkins Marine Station and were exposed to W.E. Ritter's concept of the super-organism (a holistic perception of nature in which the whole and its parts are ultimately dependent on each other).   

This concept became an important part of Steinbeck's world view. Coincidentally, late in 1923 Edward F. Ricketts moved to Pacific Grove. He and his partner had come from Chicago to open Pacific Biological Laboratories, which later moved to Monterey (1928) and became the inspiration for Doc's Western Biological of Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday.

After Steinbeck married Carol Henning in 1930, they moved into the 11th Street cottage. Later that same year, Steinbeck met Ricketts and a close friendship developed. Steinbeck and Ricketts shared their experiences and ideas in what might best be described as a commensal relationship.

The early 1930s were a time of struggle for Steinbeck, both in his attempts to improve and promote his writing and in his day-to-day existence, but prosperity finally came in the mid 1930s. Although Steinbeck moved from the area, he returned many times during his life. Despite the way he lampooned the town, Steinbeck found a spiritual home in Pacific Grove, and returned here when he needed to rediscover himself.


This digital version of John Steinbeck's Pacific Grove is copyright © 1995 - 2009 by Esther Trosow. All rights reserved.

All reproductions of this guide, in part or in whole, require the written permission of the author.
Most of the historical photos included are from California Views: The Pat Hathaway Collection.
Except where noted, all other photos are by Esther Trosow.

Last updated May 8, 2009.