John Steinbeck: National Steinbeck Center

potrait of John Steinbeck in the gift shop

John Steinbeck was an American author and Nobel Prize winner in literature. Born in Salinas CA, he is best known for his works set in the area where he was born which has been nicknamed by fans “Steinbeck Country” in the Salinas Valley.

As a fan, I can’t help but start writing about John Steinbeck and his contribution to the literature world and my home of Monterey County. A little fun fact, my grandmother’s brother one of my great Tio’s appeared in one of Steinbeck’s short stories that were made into a short film “Flight.”

California State University Monterey Bay, Salinas City Center

What to expect when you visit the National Steinbeck Center

This is the third time I have come here and unfortunately, the first two times did not have the opportunity to take in everything. As soon as you enter you are greeted by staff and they ask you if any of the discounts applied to you. I used my Monterey County resident discount so I paid $13.00 to get in.

Once paid they place a wristband on you so you can come and go for the day until it closes at 5 PM. I was shown where to enter the exhibit and suggested I start in the Long Valley Theater which showed two short films. The first one talked about the Salinas Valley and the other was a small biography about Steinbeck’s life.

Long Valley Theater

The history of the Steinbeck museum and its namesake

The museum was established to preserve Steinbeck’s creative legacy and keep his memory alive for future generations. His work has had an immense impact on literature and has inspired generations.

In 1962 John was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his realistic and imaginative writing about life in the Salinas Valley. The National Steinbeck Center opened in 1998 to commemorate his legacy and to offer a unique exploration of his life, career, and writing.

1962 Nobel Prize in Literature

Highlights of the museum’s collection

The National Steinbeck Center is home to an impressive collection of Steinbeck archives, memorabilia, and artifacts that chronicle his works and life. The museum exhibits his medal, manuscripts from some of his most famous works, including Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, as well as personal items that he had kept from his travels.

John Steinbeck Exhibition Hall

Special exhibits and events at the museum

As previously mentioned I had been to the National Steinbeck Center before which housed one of the many events the Salinas City Center allows. Every year, the center plans and runs more than 40 events. The Steinbeck Festival, Steinbeck’s Birthday Celebration, the Steinbeck Young Authors Program, as well as the Salinas Valley Comic Con.

Throughout the year, there are also smaller, reoccurring events that all have something to do with special events, nonprofit organizations, educational programs, agriculture programs, and other California State Monterey Bay programs.

One Voice Murals Project

John Steinbeck’s Best Books: 13 Classics Everyone Should Read

Steinbeck is one of the most widely read and beloved authors in America, and his works are considered by many to be classics of 20th-century literature. Steinbeck wrote many novels and short stories throughout his career, but these 13 books stand out as some of his best works.

1. Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men Display

2. The Grapes of Wrath

Grapes of Wrath Movie Poster

3. East of Eden

Growing Up East of Eden

4. Cannery Row

Replica of Cannery Row

5. The Long Valley

6. The Pearl

Manuscript of The Pearl

7. Tortilla Flat

Tortilla Flat

8. In Dubious Battle

9. Of Human Bondage

10. Travels with Charley in Search of America

Travels with Charlie

11. The Winter of Our Discontent

The Winter of Our Discontent

12. Burning Bright

13. The Red Pony

The Red Pony interactive display

Each of Steinbeck’s works offers a unique and compelling insight into the human experience, and they all share his signature style of lyricism and narrative depth.

Ed Rickets

Ed Ricketts was an influential marine biologist and Steinbeck’s close friend. They both often went on trips along the coast Steinbeck took a break from writing and helping Ricketts would collect his specimens.

Ricketts was the inspiration for Steinbeck’s characters “Doc” in Cannery Row and “Friend Ed” in Burning Bright, as well as characters in “In Dubious Battle” and “The Grapes of Wrath,” where collaborators in Sea of Cortez

Ricketts died in 1948 when a train hit his car on Drake Avenue in Monterey while driving across the tracks, just uphill from Cannery Row.

Sea of Cortez co-written with friend Ed Rickets

Influences of the Salinas Valley and Monterey

Steinbeck’s works have a unique relationship with the Salinas Valley which has had a profound influence on his work. He was born and raised in Salinas, an area of California that is known for its diverse melting pot of cultures and agriculture. It is this connection to the land and the people who inhabit it that John used to create stories that reflect the struggles of everyday people.

His most famous work, The Grapes of Wrath, specifically addressed issues of environmentalism and the struggles of the working class in central California. John’s works continue to influence people around the world, as his stories capture a unique and powerful connection to the region.

"Not everyone has the good fortune to be born in Salinas...." John Steinbeck

Additional Reading on the life of John Steinbeck

1. John Steinbeck a Biography book by Jay Parini

2. John Steinbeck, Writer: A Biography by Jackson J. Benson

3. Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder

4. John Steinbeck: The Voice of the Land by Keith Ferrell

The works of John have been adapted into films, television series, and stage plays. Several of his novels have been turned into movies, including Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Cannery Row. In addition to these adaptations, John Steinbeck’s novella The Red Pony was also adapted into a film in 1949.

Display in the gift shop

John in the museum store
John in the museum store

Location, Hours, and Cost

1 Main Street

Salinas, CA 93901

Hours: Wednesday through Sunday 10 AM – 5 PM

Cost: Adults $15

Seniors, Students, Veterans, active duty military, teachers, and Monterey County Residents $13

Children 6 – 17 $7

Attractions in the area

In addition to visiting the Steinbeck Museum in Salinas, there is the Steinbeck House, in downtown Salinas, and are plenty of other activities to enjoy in the area during your trip.

Nature enthusiasts will appreciate a visit to Salinas River State Beach, Elkhorn Slough, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, and Pinnacle National Park. Monterey’s popular destination for tourists offers a wide range of activities that include Cannery Row, which is now home to shops, restaurants, galleries, and more. Visitors can also take an aquarium tour at Monterey Bay Aquarium, go whale watching, and more.

One of my personal favorites is the Pinnacles National Park in Soledad or Paicines. I am partial to the West entrance in Soledad since that’s the small town I grew up in and rode my bike to with friends growing up. Yes if you’ve ever visited or go visit my friends and I rode on bikes from that small town.

Additional Pictures from the National Steinbeck Center

John his thoughts on needing a change
John his thoughts on needing a change

inside national Steinbeck Center

Ed Ricketts lab building
Ed Ricketts lab building

Salinas Valley


I'm JasonLee and have lived in Monterey County the majority of my life. I am fortunate to have experienced most of what I write on as a child, an adolescent, young adult to now (which is BTW old). My goal is having you the reader understand our beautiful area and hope to have you visit. Thanks for reading.

Recent Posts