Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel
California’s iconic coast has been the setting for some of the most classic novels in American literature, inspiring literary greats Jack London, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, Richard Henry Dana, and others.
Acclaimed adventure author London, who wrote The Call of the Wild and White Fang, grew up in Oakland and spent much of his childhood in the waterfront area now known as Jack London Square.
His book The Sea Wolf, written in 1904, is set here and will put you in the mood to explore the harbor, which was filled in mystery and intrigue in London’s day.
Located on the scenic Oakland/Alameda estuary, the square is a year-round gathering area for shopping and dining, bicycling and kayaking. Be sure to check out the farmers market when you’re here.
No one brings the magic of Monterey Bay to life better than Nobel Prize-winner Steinbeck, who has placed many of his stories there, including Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, and Sweet Thursday. Picaresque and energetic, these three novels capture the quirky feel of Monterey and the unconventional people who live there.
Marine biologist Doc, a central character in both Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, is based on Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts, a key person in the life of Monterey. The influence of Ricketts, who wrote the pioneering ecology book Between Pacific Tides in 1939, is still felt in the community.
Steinbeck writes: “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” Monterey is still steeped in Steinbeck’s prose and you’ll feel it, too, exploring the streets, Fisherman’s Wharf and world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Kerouac, the post-WWII Beat Generation writer known for On the Road – the 1959 novel that inspired countless readers to hit the open road in search of adventure – also focused his attention on Big Sur. His novel Big Sur captures the idyllic feel of this stretch of undeveloped coastline South of Carmel that’s often been described as a national treasure.
Raw and majestic, the section of Highway 1 that runs through Big Sur is one of the most scenic driving routes in the world. And, thankfully, no billboards or advertising are allowed.
Dana, whose 1840 novel Two Years Before the Mast recounts his voyage on a merchant ship from Boston to California, paints a vivid picture of early California’s coastline from San Diego to San Francisco.
Dana Point, in Orange County – one of the stops on his journey – is named after him. It’s a local spot for SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel.
With a beautiful harbor and shops and restaurants to visit, it’s picturesque with a hometown feel. Visit the Ocean Institute when you’re here and you can explore the ocean’s underwater world and maritime history.
Traveling along California’s coast you’ll see how these timeless novels came to life. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself drawn into the stories.
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