The neighboring cousins to Monterey inspired John Steinbeck for a reason, with their humble settings, thriving agriculture, and commitment to small-town spirit.
Attending a business conference or just passing through? Corporate titans have helped make places in Seaside like Holiday Inn Express at Monterey Bay (hiexmonterey.com) and Embassy Suites Monterey Bay (embassysuites.hilton.com) popular. For something more relaxed, Sand Castle Inn is near a troika of notables: Seaside's famous sand dunes, the Monterey Fair Grounds, and a slew of outlet stores. Over the past decade, downtown Salinas has experienced a welcome transformation, and the area boasts a variety of budget-friendly options. For kitsch, check into Good Nite Inn Salinas (salinas.goodnite.com) or the Inns of California Salinas (innsofcal.com/salinas.htm) and add the National Steinbeck Center to your itinerary.
This is the land of mouthwatering Mexican food, so bring an appetite. For authentic fare, consider no-frills venues like Rosita's Armory Café (831-424-7039), where the chips and guac stand out. Meanwhile, Giorgio's (831-800-7573), which puts a creative spin on American fare, offers an unforgettable Sunday brunch buffet.
In Seaside, Gusto's Handcrafted Pasta & Pizza (831-899-5825) creates an innovative spin on Italian fare, served family-style. Stammtisch, the town's legendary German restaurant, holds true to the meaning of its moniker, which means "the cherished table, reserved for loyal guests." Order the baked Camembert, then move on to a wiener platter, stuffed beef, or owner Claudia's tasty Hausseschnitzel.
Don't forget the sushi standout that is Ichi-Riki Japanese Restaurant (831-394-7733).
For a unique memento, head to the West End Artist Community (sandcity.org/artists) on California Avenue, where local painters, sculptors, and photographers open their studio doors. Take home an authentic work of art or have it shipped. If you're around in late August, a street fair and Open Studios tour attracts art seekers and those who love live entertainment. Specialty shops, antiques, and thrift stores are best found along Main Street in downtown Salinas.
Post No Bills Craft Beer House (postnobills.net) in Sand City is always a lively romp. Bold craft beers and sodas, dynamic ciders, and wines help you relax while the local crowd makes you realize just how fun the area can be — the bartenders here are friendly, and every night is a party. Pajaro Street Bar & Grill (psgrill.net) encourages crowds, chatter, and all things festive on Friday evenings, when live music ignites the scene — the belly dancers are a nice touch. The historic Fox Theater (foxtheatersalinas.com) in downtown Salinas is the venerable movie palace-turnedlive entertainment venue. Music acts and comedians share the roster year-round.
No attraction commands attention in Salinas like the National Steinbeck Center (steinbeck.org). Here, we learn just how dynamic the writer was. On select Thursdays, the Center invites locals and visitors for lectures, performances, talks, and author events. Outdoors in Sand City, Eolian Dunes Preserve (mprpd.org/eolian-dunes-preserve) stuns with sublime views of the bay and ethereal sand dunes that recall many a Star Wars film. Note: The Monterey Peninsula Recreation Trail moves directly through the area. Gusty winds at Marina State Beach (Reservation Road and Highway 1) make it the perfect spot for kiting and paragliding, but be sure to bring a coat.
California Rodeo Salinas, July 19–22, 2018
Cowboys, bulls, and a bevy of livestock. The annual celebration marks its 108th year.
The National Steinbeck Center, located in Oldtown Salinas, honors the late writer's creative legacy.
Photo Courtesy seemonterey.com