In prehistoric times the Rumsen were one of the linguistically distinct Ohlone groups of the Monterey Bay Area who inhabited the area now known as Pacific Grove. This tribe subsisted with hunting, fishing and gathering in what has been deduced as a biologically rich Monterey Peninsula. Spanish Missionaries arrived to the area in the 1760s. After years of enslavement under the Spanish missionary system the Tribe was forced into exile to avoid violent persecution by settlers and California State sponsored racist policies toward Native Americans. The Costanoan Rumsen tribe moved to Southern California and found work on the ranchos in 1864.
Pacific Grove was founded in 1875 when Pacific Land Improvement Company, owned by David Jacks, donated acreage towards the first West Coast Chautauqua retreat formed by a group of Methodists who modeled the town after Ocean Grove, New Jersey. In time, the butterflies, fragrant pines and fresh sea air brought others to the Pacific Grove Retreat to rest and meditate. The initial camp meeting of the Pacific Coast branch of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle was held in Pacific Grove in June 1879. Modeled after the Methodist Sunday school teachers' training camp established in 1874 at Chautauqua Lake, New York, this location became part of a nationwide educational network.
The main shopping area in Pacific Grove featuring 1880s Victorian
In November 1879, after the summer campers returned home, Robert Louis Stevenson wandered into the deserted campgrounds: "I have never been in any place so dreamlike. Indeed, it was not so much like a deserted town as like a scene upon the stage by daylight, and with no one on the boards."
The Pacific Grove post office opened in 1886, closed later that year, and was re-opened in 1887. Pacific Grove incorporated in 1889.
Pacific Grove, like Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey, became an artists' haven in the 1890s and subsequent period. Artists of the En plein air school in both Europe and the United States were seeking an outdoor venue which had natural beauty, so that Pacific Grove was a magnet for this movement. William Adam was an English painter who first moved to Monterey and then decided on Pacific Grove for his home in 1906. At about the same time
Eugen Neuhaus, a German painter, arrived in Pacific Grove with his new bride.
Charles B. Judson was an artist of aristocratic lineage who painted in Pacific Grove over a long period of time beginning in 1907; Judson's murals decorate the halls of the California Academy of Sciences.
The Asilomar Conference Grounds are located at the western edge of Pacific Grove. Asilomar opened in 1913 as a YWCA summer retreat it now belongs to the California State Park System. Thirteen buildings on these grounds were designed by the architect Julia Morgan, who also designed Hearst Castle.
For a number of years, John Steinbeck lived in a cottage in Pacific Grove owned by his father, Ernest, who was Monterey County treasurer. The cottage still stands on a quiet side street at 147 11th St., without any plaque or special sign, virtually overlooked by most Steinbeck fans. Another Steinbeck related house is at 222 Central Ave, which was his grandmother's house. A golden statue of Steinbeck in the front yard stood for years before it was removed. In Steinbeck's book Sweet Thursday, a chapter is dedicated to describing a (probably fictional) rivalry that arose among the town's residents over the game of roque.
Southern Monterey Bay area in 1917
Local traditions include a Butterfly Parade held in early October to celebrate the return of the monarch butterfly to its wintering habitat. Also held in July is the Feast of Lanterns, a unique faux Chinese festival whose origin is rooted in the traditional Chautauqua closing ceremonies from the late 1800s. Feast of Lanterns is a weeklong festival with opening ceremonies held at Chautauqua Hall, a pet parade and a Chinese style pageant with fireworks at Lover's Point Beach on the last Saturday in July. Mid April a Good Old Days festival is held downtown which includes rides, crafts booths, food, entertainment and parade.
Hopkins Marine Station originally at
Lover's Point maintains a campus next to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
In the 1980s, Pacific Grove was the site of the pioneering microcomputer software company Digital Research. Originally located in Gary Kildall's house on the corner of Lighthouse and Willow it later moved to offices on Central Ave.
On October 12, 1997, John Denver died when he crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Pacific Grove in his personal plane.
Pacific Grove was the last dry town in California. Due to its religious and gated history alcohol was not served to the public until July 4, 1969, at the grand opening of the Pacific Grove Art Center by ElMarie Dyke, its founder. This caused much controversy because the law wasn't to take effect until November of that year. Ironically, ElMarie was also a great proponent for keeping the town dry. To this day Pacific Grove has very strict laws regarding the service of alcohol and there are no stand-alone bars. (Alton Pryor, November 15, 2005, California's Last Dry Town).
At the November 6, 2018 general municipal election Pacific Grove voters approved Measure M, which prohibits short-term vacation rentals in residential districts outside the Coastal Zone.