11. Cycling to Monterey County’s History Spots

Why do they call it “Old Monterey”?  What’s up with “Steinbeck Country”?  And where’s that 1791 mission in Soledad?

One of the greatest things about traveling by bicycle is that you notice your surroundings more.  And history buffs will surely notice the many signs of early California history throughout Monterey County.  To get you started, check out the information about Monterey, Salinas, and Soledad below.

Do you like biking the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail? Click here to view a City of Monterey video about the history of the trail!

The Hetland family—Jeremy, Nichole, Autom, Aiden, and Aubrie—

were Monterey County residents while military dad Jeremy was assigned here.

They are pictured biking in front of the historic Custom House.

City of Monterey

Did you know that in 1776  Spain named Monterey the capital of Baja and Alta California? Monterey was the capital of Alta California under both Spain and Mexico. Alta California ceased to exist after the Mexican–American War, with the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Visit the Monterey County Historical Society website to learn more.

Have you ever thought about what bicycling was like here in days gone by?

Australian visitor Carey Beebe at the Royal Presidio Chapel, Monterey.
All around Monterey…

The official City of Monterey website is one place to begin exploring Monterey history.   Check out the City of Monterey museums.  And explore other local history spots, including the Royal Presidio Chapel (AKA San Carlos Cathedral) and Heritage Museum, En Encinal Cemetery, and so much more.

The California History Room and Archives at the City of Monterey Public Library are a treasure chest for history researchers.  Something about biking makes many of us want to sing while we’re pedaling!  And when I wanted to find an early California children’s song for which the lyrics escaped me, where did I go?  To the California History Room at the library!

Museum of Monterey at  the Stanton Center

An easy stop for people biking the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail is the Monterey History & Art Association’s  Museum of Monterey at the Stanton Center. This HER Helmet Thursdays spot of “Art, History, Innovation & Maritime” shares local history “through the lens of its connection to the sea.”

The  Museum of Monterey at the Stanton Center has bike racks at the front and side of the building. The Museum of Monterey is located alongside the historic Custom House Plaza.

Monterey Police Officers on bikes, at Larkin House on Calle Principal

At the Monterey State Historic Sites…

Where to get the most up-to-date info on Monterey State Historic Sites?   Call 831-649-7118 with questions; you may want to speak with Jeannie Sturges, who has a wealth of info to share about local history sites.  First, though, please refer to the California State Parks website, http://www.parks.ca.gov/mshp

There is an entire menu of web pages about the various historic sites, which are sure to pique a history buff’s interest!  As of June 2012, two pages remain especially relevant:

http://www.parks.ca.gov/mshp – The address takes you to this default  page, which includes directions  http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=575

And this page includes upcoming events:  http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=24072

As of June 2012, California budget cuts mean some historic sites remain closed, others open on weekends only.   That needn’t keep you from experiencing Monterey’s history via those open sites, and in other ways, as described on this page.

Reminder:  Check in with http://www.parks.ca.gov/mshp for the latest news, then phone 831-649-7118  with any questions. As of 6/19/12, among opportunities are Historic Walking Tours and Custom House & Pacific House tours on Fri-Sat-Sun (with free admission to Monterey County residents the last Sunday of the month); and Robert Louis Stevenson House tours on Saturdays and the fourth Sunday of the month.   There are special house tours of Larkin House and Cooper Molera Adobe on Fri-Sat-Sun too.

What’s behind those walls?

One positive exception to closed historic sites:  as of June 2012, the museum store (and gardens) of the Cooper Molera Adobe continue to remain open.

The Cooper Molera Adobe

Seeing the adobe from the street, you’d never guess what’s happening behind those walls.  Many Monterey children have had the joy of a living history experience here during summer programs, and you can get a taste of that history too.  And if you’re here during the winter holiday season, don’t miss Christmas in the Adobes!

Also known as “The Cooper House,” this historic adobe sits at the top of Alvarado Street, at the five-way intersection (including Munras and Alvarado).  It is across the street from the Monterey’s downtown Monterey-Salinas Transit Center.

Taking an MST bus? Bicycles are transported free with a paying passenger.  You’ll find reliable tips, confirmed by MST, in Bicycling Monterey’s bike-and-ride section.

MST makes it extra easy in the summer for youth to reach history spots and other destinations all over Monterey County.  Youth 18 and younger can purchase a special Summer Youth GoPass good for unlimited rides June 1 – August 31. Price for 2012 is $38 for three months of travel–and, as always, bikes ride free!  Click here for “18 and younger? No car, no worries.”

The Stevenson House

Leaving the Cooper Molera adobe, bike along Pearl Street, which is on the left/north side of the Monterey-Salinas Transit Center.  (You’ll bike between Ordway Pharmacy and the Transit Center.)  Continue past the first stop sign.  Then watch for little Houston Street on your right, just after Alfredo’s Cantina, across from HER Helmet Thursdays spot East Village Coffee Lounge.

Houston is a one-way street, with little traffic.

Make a right on Houston Street, and you’ll soon come to this doorway to the Stevenson House gardens!


State Historic Site gardens are open, 7 days a week

Visit California Parks (parks.ca.gov) website’s  Secret Gardens of Old Monterey web page.

Back in October 2010, all history gardens were open 7 days a week from 10-4.
The state’s website indicates, as of June 2012, that garden hours are extended from May through September to 9-5.

Enjoy lingering on the same soil, sniffing many of the same scents, and otherwise sharing in the beauty that early residents and visitors experienced.

A notable exception is that occasionally a garden may be rented on weekends.  This would most often happen at the Memory Garden, at Cooper Molera sometimes, and at Stevenson House least often.  Don’t let that stop you, as even if one garden is rented, the others will still be open for public enjoyment.

Custom House

The Custom House is commonly referred to as the oldest public building in California.  Indeed, the Custom House is the State of California’s State Historic Landmark #1!

Bicyclist on the multi-use path alongside the Custom House, near the entrance to Old Fisherman’s Wharf/Wharf I.

What kid–of any age–doesn’t like circling the fountain at Monterey’s Custom House Plaza?

To learn more about the Custom House Plaza and other plazas in the City of Monterey–and about biking them–see “Where the plazas are….” on this site.

Self-led tours of State Historic Sites

You may pick up a copy of a map on the door at the Custom House, which accompanies a two-minute phone tour of historic sites  in the downtown area.   Call (831) 998-9458 for the audio tour, which includes:

  • Custom House
  • Pacific House
  • First Brick House
  • Old Whaling Station
  • California’s First Theater
  • Casa Soberanes
  • Larkin House
  • Cooper-Molera Adobe
  • Robert Louis Stevenson House
  • Casa de Oro (J. Boston Store)
Self-led tours of Path of History

Or, if you’re biking the Monterey Path of History with an iPod, you may first want to download the free audio history tour provided by the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau:  http://www.seemonterey.com/docs/main_media_gallery/podcasts/thumb/mccvb-path-of-history-tour.mp3

It’s the law:  safety and earplug use

For safety and to avoid a ticket (see DMV website; refer to VC 27400), remember tobike with one earplug out.  This is essential to staying alert to sounds around you!

If you’re a person who really cares about sound quality, you may want to investigate OneGood Earphones from Far End Gear (the company formerly known as One Good Earbud).

Salinas, the Heart of Steinbeck Country

The official City of Salinas website has a brief intro on local history.

If you’re looking to make history connections with Nobel-winning author John Steinbeck, you don’t stop with Cannery Row in Monterey. You also go to the heart of Steinbeck Country, Salinas!

Visit Steinbeck’s birthplace and boyhood home, the Steinbeck House. Nearby, explore the National Steinbeck Center. You can also visit his gravesite at Garden of Memories. (And if you go to Garden of Memories, you’ll be very near some local biking experts, on Abbott Street:   Doug Chandler Performance bike shop, and next-door neighbor Cycle Stop Honda, which is owned by Velo Club Monterey Answer Man Jan Valencia. Pedal over and say hi!)

At the National Steinbeck Center, not only is there history about Steinbeck, you’ll learn about the agricultural history of the Salinas Valley–Salad Bowl of America/the World too.  Special exhibits happen regularly; check out the Steinbeck Center’s website.

For more tips on biking Salinas, the Monterey County seat, see the “Biking Salinas” section of this site.

Linda and Matt Greenlaw on arrival at the National Steinbeck Center.

As residents of Salinas, they are able to catch the many changing exhibitions and activities at the Steinbeck.

More Monterey County history spots

Fort Ord

The 3rd Annual Fort Ord Warhorse Day (2013) festivities included an 11-Mile Fort Ord Bike Ride. Margaret Davis of Friends of the Fort Ord Warhorse graciously provided written directions for this ride; click here. There you’ll also find highlights of the ride in a 7-minute, 27-second video “Warhorse Day Bike Ride Fort Ord 2013″ by Lynn Moimboissee.

As Margaret points out, this is a nice route for most any day, not just on Fort Ord Warhorse Day. Enjoy!

Monterey-Salinas Transit’s Linear Jazz Museum 

Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST/”The Bus”) has created a  “first of its kind” in the nation history experience. In collaboration with the Monterey Jazz Festival, MST has developed a year-round linear jazz museum that features dramatic jazz-themed displays at 30 new custom-designed shelters along the route. Click here to learn more, including how to bike-and-ride this route.

Soledad

History spots abound in Monterey County!  HER Helmet Thursdays participant Paraiso Vineyards is a neighbor to Soledad mission built in 1791.  Visit the City of Soledad’s webpage about Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad

Another HER Helmet Thursday winery, Hahn SLH Estate Winery, is nearby too.  What a lovely way to spend a day–exploring Soledad area history, biking, sipping wine, picnicking in vineyards, and more.  (Don’t want to pack a picnic? Consider La Plaza Bakery & Cafe or Marisco’s Puerto Nuevo, which are also Soledad HER Helmet Thursdays spots!)

More help in getting around…

Also see “Bike Rentals in Monterey County, plus Self-Led and Guided Tours.