The town is located near the original Spanish mission, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, founded October 9, 1791 by Fermín Francisco de Lasuén, the 13th of 21 missions in the California mission chain.
Soledad is located in one of the premiere wine grape growing regions of California with over twenty vineyards and wineries within a thirty mile radius, several of which have tasting rooms and offer a wide selection of wines for sale. Some of the Vineyards and Wineries located nearby are Chalone, Scheid, Paraiso Vineyards, Pisoni Vineyards, Hahn Estates Smith & Hook, San Saba, J.Lohr, Kendall-Jackson, Ventana, Hess Select, Estancia, The Michaud Vineyard, and Graff Family Vineyards.
Also located near Soledad is the Salinas Valley State Prison, a maximum security penal institution which includes a 64 bed inpatient psychiatric program primarily servicing high security inmates who have a major mental disorder that has diminished their ability to function within the prison environment. Adjacent to it is the medium security Correctional Training Facility.
The original community of Soledad was founded as a Spanish mission October 9, 1791 by Fermín Lasuén, and founded under the rule of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Virreinato de Nueva España) 1535 to 1821.
The current community of Soledad began in 1874 as a few buildings and shops. The two main streets were named Front and Main. In 1886, land was subdivided into lots and sold by its owners, the Munras family. In the late 1880s the Southern Pacific Railroad laid rails and began serving the area.
In 1898 Fort Romie was founded a few miles north of the mission and west of the city. San Vicente School was built in 1913 forming the Soledad School District. The City, a general law city, incorporated in March 1921 with a City Council/City Manager form of government.
Soledad is used as a backdrop in John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men 1937, an emotional short story about two close financially failing friends of opposite personalities who must farm others land to make what meager living they can, always dreaming for their own personal property. One of the most important themes of the novel is loneliness, which is likely one of the reason why Soledad was chosen as the setting, as Soledad is Spanish for solitude.
The Soledad Prison was three miles north of the city until annexed in 1992. It was built in 1946 and currently has an operating budget of $245 million.
In May 1996 the Salinas Valley State prison was opened at a cost of $236 million, with an annual operating budget of $60 million. Currently as of 2007 the annual operating budget has risen to $177 million yearly.
There were 2,472 households out of which 60.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 69.9% were married couples living together, 13.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 9.3% were non-families. 7.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 3.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 4.54 and the average family size was 4.58.
In the city the population was spread out with 36.7% under the age of 18, 12.9% from 18 to 24, 31.4% from 25 to 44, 13.1% from 45 to 64, and 5.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 25 years. For every 100 females there were 108.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 106.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $42,602, and the median income for a family was $41,188. Males had a median income of $31,566 versus $23,964 for females. The per capita income for the city was $11,442. About 16.3% of families and 18.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.1% of those under age 18 and 9.2% of those age 65 or over.
Land for agriculture is Soledad's most abundant natural resource. Soledad's farmland is considered "Prime Farmland", meaning the soils around and near the city have some of the best physical and chemical characteristics for farming. Due to this fact great efforts in conserving farmland is a very high priority for the city. Prime farmland is the backbone of the Soledad economy. Future planning will consider the effect of urban sprawl amongst the farmlands. Class I, II, and III soils are the most valuable to farming. The climate also allows for year round crops.
Although Soledad has great soil for salad green crops, it also has a large presence of vineyards and wineries in the valley and foothills. Some famous wineries include Chalone Vineyards, Paraiso Springs Vineyards, Hahn Estates, Richard Boyer Wines, Smith and Hook Winery, and Ventana Vineyards. It was once the home of the Paul Masson Winery which is now closed.
Dole Food Company maintains a plant in Soledad. Opened in 1994, it is touted as being the "world's largest pre-cut salad plant."
As of 2007, Soledad features a weekly certified Farmers' Market on Soledad St.
As of mid-2006, the plant was again closed.
Controversy surrounding the plant. Several violations at the plant have been issued by the California Integrated Water Quality System Project. The plant was issued violations from 2002 to 2006 for various reporting and pollution allegations.
Soledad is serviced by the Monterey-Salinas Transit lines 23 (Salinas - King City) and 53 (South County Express). As of September 1, 2007, the bus stops in Soledad are located at the correctional facility, Front & San Vicente and Monterey & East .
Television service for the community comes from the Monterey-Salinas-Santa Cruz designated market area (DMA). Radio stations Monterey-Salinas-Santa Cruz area of dominant influence (ADI) or continuous measurement market (CMM). Local newspapers include the Monterey County Herald, Salinas Californian and Soledad Bee.
Soledad is located in the heart of the Salinas Valley also known as the "World's Salad Bowl".