Last week we took a small detour on the way to the “BlogHer 2014 Conference” to tour a place that has been on our bucket list for years – the National Steinbeck Center!
It is a gem; not only for those interested in 20th century American literature but to introduce middle and high school students to the beloved author too.
The museum is in the center of the very town that turned against (and later forgave) Steinbeck after the publishing of The Grapes of Wrath. It is open seven days a week and conveniently only several blocks away from his childhood home.
They fabulously impart the author’s life through personal letters, journals, pictures, movie clips and newspapers as well as interactive displays enticing visitors to explore and discover details about the writer.The exhibits centered on his works are filled with interesting facts, quotes and artifacts.
The Early Years
Upon entering the museum’s Route 66 Rotunda, you can watch a short movie about Steinbeck’s life, see his image in statue form, then tour the six main galleries based on different periods in the author’s life.
The first gallery features his childhood bedroom where he said he would write “little stories and send them out to magazines under a false name.“ Included are the Stanford college years where he studied English (without graduating).
Two galleries focus on some of the books. As well as browsing letters and journals, you get to start up the antique Model T Ford from The East of Eden, walk through Lee Chong’s grocery store from Cannery Row and try on the hats of the various characters from the Of Mice and Men bunkhouse.
The Cannery Row section highlights the author’s strong connection to fisherman and the sea through interviews from when he lived on the Monterey Peninsula. It surprised us that one of his stories, Pipe Dream, had been turned into a 1930’s Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway musical!
Steinbeck aficionados will find The War and New York years gallery most appealing but next to it is an entire gallery dedicated to the writer’s ‘The Pearl’ and a replica of a Mexican Market stall with the different fruit and vegetables from Emiliano Zapata’s life that is bound to appeal to all ages. Each interactive booth can be opened to discover something inside.
Travels with Charley
Without a doubt, the most impressive gallery is the one housing the same camper that carried Steinbeck across the US as told in his legendary travelogue Travels with Charley. While living in Rocinante, Steinbeck documented his diner, truck stop and bar meetings with fellow countrymen. Peek inside the trailer and see the author’s set dinner table replete with drink and vase!
The Late Years
The final section describes Steinbeck‘s Nobel Prize, Presidential Freedom medal. More documentary in nature, it puts historical biography in context.
We were slightly disappointed at the gift shop because apart from the author’s books, some magnets, and mugs, it lacked kids’ souvenirs. Our son would have liked some book-based Steinbeck movies for example.
I highly recommend the museum for families and visitors of all ages because of its interactive, hands-on nature, and its legacy to future generations about a cherished storyteller.Our son with autism loved going through the exhibits and learned quite a bit about the famous in the hour we spent there.
Autism Travel Tips
- Check out the Center’s detailed and well-designed web page as a way to prepare your kid for what exhibits they are about to see during their visit
- Allocate an hour and a half for a complete walkthrough
- The staff is exceptionally helpful and friendly
- Ask for a disability discount before purchasing your ticketsFor an enhanced experience, introduce your child to Steinbeck’s works before your visit by having him/her read them ahead of time if possible, or rent the movies on DVD
Disclaimer: Special thanks to the Steinbeck museum that provided us with complimentary tickets for the review. However, the tips and opinions shared are always our own.