Spreckels is one of the best-preserved company towns in the United States. It was built to house workers for the Spreckels Sugar Company plant which operated there from 1899 until 1982, named after its founder "Sugar King" Claus Spreckels. When it opened, the Spreckels plant was the world's largest sugar beet factory, each day consuming 13 million gallons of water (much of it pumped from wells) to process 3000 tons of beets. The Spreckels post office opened in 1898.
Spreckels is associated with the writer John Steinbeck, who lived and worked there for a time, and used it as a setting in Tortilla Flat. Spreckels was used as a location for the 1955 Steinbeck movie East of Eden.