If you have never been to the U.S. Grand Prix at the Laguna Seca raceway, you are missing one of the greatest motorsports events in the country. Laguna is nestled in Monterey, just a stone’s throw from Carmel—two historic coastal towns in Northern California that are popular destinations in their own right. John Steinbeck’s historic Cannery Row focused on sections of Monterey that are preserved today, though during the USGP you are more likely to find Repsol CBR1000RR replicas populating Cannery Row than salty fisherman.
Thousands of motorcycle fans flock to Laguna every year, and not just because of the destination. The road to Laguna is every bit a destination as the USGP itself.
The Pacific Coast Highway—Highway 1—is one of the most spectacular roads in the country, draped along the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean like an alluring macadam necklace. The road enjoys a worldwide reputation for its breathtaking beauty and rhythmic pavement. Although Highway 1 spans hundreds of miles of California coastline, 95 out of 100 references to this incredible road focus on the 100-mile stretch between the charming little coastal town of Cambria and the fishing town of Monterey.
The rhythm of the road is enough to transfix most riders, but take the time to enjoy the sights along the way. With the amazing ocean views, historic bridges, lighthouses, famous Hearst Castle, elephant seals that bask on the shoreline, and breathtaking giant redwoods of Big Sur, there are few journeys that match the thrill of Highway 1.
Roads and Rides
Highway 1 north from Cambria to Monterey is always a great ride, but it’s certainly not the only entertaining route to the races. If you travel south to Monterey from San Francisco, you can take another portion of Highway 1, albeit one that is much straighter and not quite as panoramic. A good detour takes you south along the spine of the San Francisco peninsula on Highway 35, the aptly named Skyline Boulevard, past Alice’s Restaurant, the famed motorcycle hangout. Transition down 35 to Highway 9 toward Santa Cruz, where you pick up Highway 1 again, and soon you’re rolling into Monterey.
Beginning from the Los Angeles area, if you want to replace the freeway drone to Cambria, take Highway 33 up and over Pine Mountain Summit. When you intersect Highway 166 you can ride west on this sweeping two-laner or jog east a short way, grab Highway 33 north once more, ride the roller-coaster-like Highway 58 west until it intersects Highway 101 north, then follow Highway 46 east to Cambria.
Once you’re on Highway 1, there’s a bailout point about midway—a fun loop that takes you northeast. Just south of Lucia, there’s a two-laner called Nacimiento-Fergusson that leads to the sleepy town of Jolon. From Jolon, ride north on G14 until you reach Highway 101 just north of King City. A short blast up 101 takes you to Greenfield and county road G16. Ride west on G16 through Greenfield on Arroyo Seco Road, and then take G16 as it continues north under the name of Carmel Valley Road. This is another tight and twisty road that is loads of fun for accomplished riders.
Even on the best of rides, you have to stop and eat sometime. On the way to Monterey, make the time to stop in at Nepenthe in Big Sur. There you will dine on the cliffs of the Pacific and enjoy one of the most spectacular views you have ever experienced. If it’s Monterey you’ll be stopping in, mealtime offers a wealth of options.
Monterey County contains hundreds of restaurants, large and small, many of which have garnered prestigious awards. Take a stroll along the wharf for fresh clam chowder, or walk a little farther to sample all the epicurean delights along Cannery Row. And for get-down fun, Tarpy’s Roadhouse is close to the track, and they absolutely love having motorcyclists stop in. You may see a few famous faces there enjoying the fare as well.
On Saturday night of race weekend, Cannery Row becomes a haven for motorcycles. This exclusive access creates a street fair/bike show as thousands of riders line the street to create a one-night open-air motorcycle show—a very mellow, pure California scene. Thousands of people clad in riding gear fill the streets to overflowing as they stroll up and down Cannery Row, checking out the bikes.
For thousands of motorcyclists, the road to Laguna is as much a part of the USGP weekend as the race itself. Highway 1 is indeed a magical experience that will last a lifetime.