Who knows Monterey best? Locals do. We asked locals what they love most about Monterey County. Whether you are a resident looking for new spots or a visitor looking for some local gems, meet our Monterey locals and hear their recommendations of the best things to do.

Every month we will share favorite local spots to eat, shop, drink and explore outdoors in our series, Inside Monterey. Now is the moment to explore an unknown side of Monterey County. Get the inside scoop from the people who live here and start adding these local favorites to your next itinerary. 

In honor of John Steinbeck's birthday, February 27th, we interviewed Lisa Josephs, Archivist for the National Steinbeck Center. The National Steinbeck Center, located in Steinbeck's hometown of Salinas, showcases interactive exhibits, rare archives, themed theaters dedicated to his iconic novels and one of the largest literary museums in the United States dedicated to John Steinbeck.

Meet Lisa Josephs

Lisa Josephs_Inside Monterey

Lisa, who originally hails from Illinois, relocated to Monterey County in autumn of 2014. She is responsible for managing the archive collection, conducting research on various Steinbeck-related topics, and keeping records of the Center's events and activities as the archivist for the Center. "Learning new things is one of my passions and I find great joy in sharing my knowledge, especially when it comes to something as beautiful and moving as literature. I enjoy speaking with huge Steinbeck fans and seeing the happiness on their faces when they can finally talk to someone who "gets it." It is gratifying to be someone they can just geek out with. On the flip side, one of the significant challenges I face is that the Center is always busy, and there is never a dull moment. This means I am constantly trying to keep things organized, so anyone looking for old marketing material or information on past events can easily find it.”

What are some must-see and must-do activities or events at the Steinbeck Center?

"The must-see item at the Center is Rocinante. Travels with Charley is one of the all-time favorite works among our visitors and the truck Steinbeck used for that trip has its home at the end of our permanent exhibit, in the section dealing with Steinbeck's works from the 1960s.

The must-attend events are, first and foremost, the Steinbeck festival in late September including our Street Fair featuring local partners. Additionally, we hold Cocktails and Culture at least three times a year, celebrating the opening of a new exhibit in our temporary gallery space. We also have regular book signings with exciting authors."

How many of Steinbeck's books have you read? What are your favorites?

“I’ve read most of them, I think. I need to sit down and read Working Days and Journal of a Novel, which were Steinbeck’s diaries as he wrote The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, respectively. I should also try to make some time to read the film script of the film “Lifeboat.” I think re-reading is my next task. As for favorites, there’s a special place in my heart for The Moon is Down and I also love The Grapes of Wrath. Maybe it is cliche, but The Grapes of Wrath is a wonderful book.

What are your favorite must-visit attractions or hidden gems in Monterey?

“The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History does fantastic work to make excellent programs for kids to get their hands dirty—literally! Mission Soledad offers a unique historical experience and a different vibe compared to the larger Carmel Mission.”

What outdoor activities or recreational options do you enjoy most?

"There are several fantastic hiking trails located within an hour's drive from here. Personally, I love Moss Landing. It's a great place to go bird-watching with binoculars, and the visitors and migratory birds change every year, making it a unique experience every time you go. Jack's Peak is another lovely park that I highly recommend, and it's not usually very crowded.

However, my all-time favorite spot for a unique experience is Pinnacles. The rock formations give this otherworldly feeling to the place. The first time my husband and I went there, we half-expected a dinosaur to walk out of the mist!" Visit our 7 Hikes to Take Your Breath Away blog.

Where are some of your favorite local places to eat in Monterey County?

If you're looking for some great dining options in Monterey County, there are several fantastic restaurants to choose from. Salinas City Barbecue, Villa Azteca, and Patria are all located in Salinas and offer a variety of delicious meals. In Pacific Grove, you can check out the Red House Cafe for some tasty breakfast and lunch dishes. If you're in the mood for Indian food, Ambrosia Indian Bistro in Monterey is a must-visit. Finally, La Bicyclette in Carmel-By-The-Sea is another amazing restaurant I dine at often.

Do you have any local tips for someone who might be a first-time visitor to Monterey County?

"Wine. Napa and Sonoma are lovely places to visit, but Salinas Valley wines are exceptional, a fraction of the cost, and the tasting rooms can be a fraction as crowded. As smaller wine producers, our local winemakers are able to experiment and take risks in ways that larger producers cannot." Check out our three-day Monterey County wine itinerary here

What is your favorite way to spend a day off in Monterey County?

“My favorite way to spend a day off is outside if I can! Most local towns and cities have great places to walk, though Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Pacific Grove have charming walking paths. I also love visiting our local parks like El Dorado in Salinas, Manzanita County Park in Prunedale, and the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge north of Marina.”

Are there any historic or cultural sites that showcase Monterey's rich heritage that you enjoy?

"Absolutely! The Steinbeck House is a must-visit. It's decorated in the turn-of-the-20th-century style, cozy and beautiful. Another excellent place to understand life in California during the 1860s is the First Mayor's House in Salinas."