First came the fish — billions and billions of sardines enjoying the nutrient-rich waters of Monterey Bay, California. Then the canneries followed, nearly two dozen of them employing 8,000 people.
Finally, the railroad arrived to service the canneries; 3 billion sardines were shipped from Monterey in 1939 alone. Then the boom went bust, and everything disappeared in the same order they arrived.
The sardine population col-lapsed in the 1950s as a result of overfishing and changes in ocean conditions; the canneries closed, and the trains quit running through town.
Today, Monterey’s sardine history is still in evidence, although now seen through the perspective of tourism. Remaining canneries have been repurposed and filled with shops, restaurants, galleries and museums. The railroad tracks have been pulled up and replaced with a walking/bicycling path called the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail.
The pathway begins in Castroville and stretches 18 miles around the bay’s perimeter to Pacific Grove, following the abandoned right-of-way of the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Of greatest interest to visitors is the section from Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf to Lovers Point Park. Along the way, pedestrians and bicyclists pass an assortment of popular attractions, all accompanied by beautiful vistas of the bay and wildlife viewings of sea lions, harbor seals and cormorants drying their wings.
It’s a wonderful way to tour Monterey, avoiding cars and traffic. Bicycles and canopied quadricycles are readily available for rent near the wharf.
From the Custom House Plaza near downtown, there is easy access to the neighboring historic sites of Old Monterey, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Coastal Trail.
The wharf has been trans-formed from a working pier servicing the local fishing fleet and freighters to a collection of chowder restaurants, tourist shops and whale-watching boat concessionaires. It is also home to a raft of barking sea lions easily found by following their raucous noise.
From here, the trail pass-es a scenic, boat-filled section along the harbor before arriving at the Cannery District, a bust-ling center for more shopping and eating. At one time, there were nearly two dozen canneries processing hundreds of thousands of tons of sardines during the heyday between the two World Wars.
A statue of author John Steinbeck acknowledges his literary connection to the area’s history in his famed title “Cannery Row.”
The old Hovden Cannery is now occupied by The Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the top ranking aquariums in the world. While the $50 entrance fee ($40 for seniors 65+) might seem a bit daunt-ing, the jellyfish exhibit alone is worth the price,
A darkened room with back-lighted displays show-cases these amorphous, undu-lating wonders of the sea.(You can watch them on a live web cam at montereybayaquarium.org/animals-and-experiences/live-web-cams/jelly-cam). Other exhibits include a three-story kelp forest tank, sea otters, open sea aquarium, shore birds and puffins, penguins, and a giant octopus. There are scheduled daily feedings to observe, numerous educational shows, and opportunities for hands-on experiences at the Touch Pool. It is easy to spend an entire day here.
The final stretch of the Coastal Trail from the aquarium to Lovers Point Park, a distance of about one mile, is by far the most attractive and offers separate paths for walkers and bicycles. It hugs the edge of a bluff above the crashing waves and meanders through a carpet of pretty flowers and blooming shrubs. Lovers Point is a community park with the usual park facilities but its most photographed features are its wind-sculpted cypress trees and dramatic rock outcroppings.
The trail is part of the California Coastal Trail, an ongoing effort that will someday connect the entire 1,200 miles of coastline from the Oregon border to Mexico. Today, about 50 percent is completed and open to the public.