An Evening with Steinbeck in Oldtown Salinas

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I was in Palo Alto for a few days for work and decided that as soon as my meetings wrapped up I would take myself on a little adventure through parts of Northern California that I hadn't visited before. So after my meeting, I packed up my bags and had a rental car delivered to my hotel, and I took off towards Salinas -- my first stop.

I'm a literature geek, and visiting the National Steinbeck Center has been on my list of places to see for years. I fought my way through Silicon Valley traffic, passed Gilroy (the land of garlic), and finally arrived in Oldtown Salinas with only 30 minutes left until the Steinbeck Center closed for the day. I ran inside and asked the person at the front desk if 30 minutes was enough time to make my way through the exhibits.

"Most people usually spend at least an hour," she said. "But it's small, and you could probably see everything in about 30 minutes. Here's a sticker. But we close promptly at 5."

She handed me a visitor's sticker and let me go on in. Free admission. I lucked out.

The John Steinbeck Exhibition Hall is one of the best designed and most interactive museum spaces I've seen. The path through the hall follows Steinbeck's life and works chronologically. You see his family tree, a model of what his childhood bedroom looked like. And I love the quote from his mother, Olive Steinbeck: "He'll either be a genius or amount to nothing." I know a few people like that.

You can touch most of the displays, quiz yourself on your Steinbeck knowledge, and enter spaces that are designed to let you see the people, places, and things that inspired Steinbeck. Yeah, some folks might think it's too "interactive," but the set design is superb and really transports you to different places and times. I think this is excellent for school kids and is a great way to introduce them to one of the greatest American authors of the 20th century.

Hopefully when I'm back in NoCal, I have a chance to go back to Salinas and visit the National Steinbeck Center again -- and explore it in a more leisurely and hands-on fashion. Also, I'll need to bring someone with me so I can get my photo taken sitting in the Model T or riding on top of the red pony.


National Steinbeck Center

One Main Street, Salinas, CA 93901

http://www.steinbeck.org