Race Week or Bike Week?
When the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix motorcycle races come to Laguna Seca in July each year, you can expect crowds of nearly 150,000 people at the track. Most of these are motorcycle-riding, speed demons with fast bikes of their own. Where do these people spend their off-track time during race weekend? They overwhelm tiny Monterey and its normal population of around 30,000 residents.
The off-track action during race week is split between Cannery Row and Old Monterey. Old Monterey hosts most of the official events such as the motorcycle demonstrations and stunt shows at the old railroad station and Alvarado Street. Cannery Row has the unofficial events such as the see-how-many-bikes-you-can-jam-on-Cannery-Row extravaganza. Known as Race Night on the Row and running both Friday and Saturday nights, this event is historically Cannery Row's busiest time of the year. Walking through this area that usually resembles an outdoor mall, you can see why as it transforms into a sober (but-louder!) motorcycle-only version of New Orleans' Bourbon Street.
It is estimated that the U.S. Grand Prix generates close to $100 million annually in visitor spending for Monterey, including packing all area hotels, gorging on mounds of food at local restaurants, slurping keg after keg of beer, and receiving hundreds of moving violations which helps fill the police departments coffers. And its no wonder, about half of the guys on bikes are crazed lunatics, riding wheelies through the Lighthouse Tunnel, passing without turn signals at twice the legal speed limit, and swerving all over the road so other drivers have no idea what they are doing. Even better are the riders who do this while wearing shorts!
California State Rodeo in Salinas
The California State Rodeo is held annually in Salina each July. This is considered one of the top 20 rodeos in the nation of the 800 or so held each year, and it attracts about 50,000 visitors. The rodeo features continuous action in the side-by-side arena and track including barrel racing, team roping, tie-down roping, bareback riding, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wresting, and even bull fighting to cap off each night.
The rodeo has been held in Salinas for 85 years.
Tickets list for $12 to $76, but watch for special deals...we got in for $5 each because we brought a couple of Pepsi cans with us; they also have a ladies' night where the first 1,000 females get in for $5. For a special treat, you can get the cheap general admission tickets and stand down along the fence just feet from the horses and the bulls.
In 2007 and 2008 the California Rodeo and Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix Motorcycle Championships were in town the same weekend, meaning a total of some 200,000 extra people in town at two events just miles apart.
Dirt Track Racing at Watsonville's Ocean Speedway
Ocean Speedway has weekly Friday night races in a variety of classes of cars on their quarter mile dirt oval. Entrance costs $15 per adult, $8 for children, and $10 for seniors. Be sure to bring sunglasses to block the dust, warm clothes to fight off the late evening chill, and a blanket to cover the hard wooden benches. Unfortunately you can not bring alcoholic beverages to the track.
Qualifying starts around 6pm, heat races begin around 7pm, they had a few short 4-lap trophy dashes at about 8pm, then the longer feature races started around 8:30. Everything was finished about four hours after it all began around 10 pm. The crowds are pretty small at Ocean Speedway, perhaps a few thousand spectators at best. Beer costs a very expensive $5 per 16 ounce cup, and other food and drinks are available.
We were there on June 6th 2008, and we got to see the American Stock Cars, Dwarfs, Micro Sprints, and the big show was the load and quick Wright One 360 Sprint Cars. American Stock Cars are 1970s and 80s cars like Mustangs, Monte Carlos, and similar cars that can reach top speeds of perhaps 70 mph on a quarter-mile oval. Dwarf Cars are 5/8-scale model replicas of 1928-'48 vintage American Stock cars that have Suzuki, Kawasaki and other motorcycle engines; these cars weigh about 1,200 pounds, can reach top speeds of under 100 mph, and cost about $10,000 brand new. Micro Sprints are 1/4 scale sprint cars powered by 600 cc motorcycle engines; average lap speeds reach 70mph, cost at least $15,000, and are extremely light at just 750 pounds including the driver. Sprint Cars are the main event at many dirt tracks across America and for good reason: these big winged cars have 360 cubic inch engines, weigh 1525 pounds, and fly around the track at speeds up to 110 mph.
Ocean Speedway also has several other classes of cars that race on different weekends including 360 cubic inch wingless sprints, Ocean late models, IMCA Modifieds, and small four cylinder stock cars.
In October 2008 Ocean Speedway will host the nation's premier dirt track touring circuit: the World of Outlaws!
Laguna Seca Raceway
Monterey's Laguna Seca Raceway and Laguna Seca Recreation Area are co-located just a few miles outside of town on Highway 68 toward Salinas. This is a beautiful area on a small portion of the former Fort Ord that offers beautiful views over the surrounding countryside as well as camping, hiking, playgrounds, and most unique: a 2.238 mile paved road course raceway.
The park is run by Monterey County Parks Department and has various facilities including camping and rifle and pistol ranges. Park entrance for non-race days is $6 per vehicle, camping is $20 to $20 per night, and shooting at the range is about $8 per hour.
The 11-turn racetrack has been in use since 1957 and has been driven by famous drivers such as Bobby Rahal, Michael Andretti, Helio Castroneves, and Al Unser Jr. The track is famous for its tight "Andretti Hairpin" turn, the tough corkscrew, and its 300 foot elevation change. While the track was previously used by Indy Cars (now Champ Cars), it most famous races are now run by the American Le Mans Series. The track also hosts the annual US Sports Car Invitational, the Red Bull US Grand Prix for motorcycles, the Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races, the AMA Superbike Series, and the Monterey Sports Car Championships. Tickets for a single day of racing range from $20 to over $300 depending on the event and seat location.
Swimming pool and Gym
Monterey Sports Center
If you happen to be looking for a gym or swimming pool, here it is. It's run by the City of Monterey and the facilities are very nice. Visitors are welcome. The hours vary a little by season (all facilities are open all year), so check the website. It isn't very expensive compared to a private place.
Kayak the Monterey Bay
The Monterey Bay is full of kelp forests below the waterline, but the sea otters, sea lions, whales, and birds are all there, and ready to greet you. The Whales are typically further off-shore, so the fear of being capsized by one of them is unwarranted, but the bay is on a summer day quite still. Kayaking is obviously a popular sport here. For those unfamiliar with the geography here, the Monterrey Bay is a long crescent that from Moss Landing, the center of the arc, is difficult to discern as a bay at all. The shallow harbor and rocks of Monterrey were barely adequate shelter from the Pacific sized surf for the Spanish galleons. Fog shrouds the bay in May and June, while from July through October, a long period of warm envelopes the region in normally calmer waters.
Equipment: I believe that any type of kayak would work, except for some sit-on-top types. The bay waters are calm on a good day, and so a sea going kayak isn't strickly necessary. I'd bring warm clothes though as both the water and the air can get quite chilly even on a summer day.
- Sailing and Boating
Scuba at Monterey Bay
Now, I'm not a diver, so you'll have to interpret my observations with a grain of salt. Basically, the Monterey Bay offers cold water and somewhat turbuent conditions most of the time, but the range of sea life is extra-ordinary due to the huge kelp forests. Full body gear is probably required most if not all year. This is a marine santuary, so spear fishing isn't allowed, and the range of sea life, again, should be extraordinary compared to most places if the visibility is good.
Equipment: Check with the local shops in Monterey or Santa Cruz on this issue.
- Water Sports
- Diving and Snorkeling
See Pebble Beach Golf Links on the 17 Mile Drive
Considered by many to be the world's premier golf course, Pebble Bech Golf Links entices golfers and spectators alike with emerald fairways buttressed by the rugged Pacific coast. Pebble Beach opened for play in 1919, and has been a favored site of the U.S. Open and 1977 PGA Championship. Along the way you will discover nature's treasures as you explore the Del Monte Forest and encounter The Links at Spanish Bay and Spyglass HIll Golf Course and Pro Shop.
Equipment: When we pulled up in the parking lot of the Pebble Beach Golf Links and Pro Shop we saw Tom Watson get out of the car in front of us. We didn't play golf when we were there but we enjoyed the beautiful scenery and browsing through the Pro Shops.
Scuba dive Monterey
Visibility is just ok, winter is the best time to go scuba diving. This is when the kelp beds flourish, and many marine creatures lives or feeds off of it.
Equipment: Wet suit is ok. I've seen several divers use dry suits and I guess it works for e'm.
- Diving and Snorkeling
Cold Water Scuba diving
For a different type of diving, this is a great location for scuba enthsusiasts. This is cold water diving, although I've only used a 7mm suit with hood. Swimming through the kelp can be tricky but fun. You never know when a seal will come up to play.
Equipment: Of course you will want your own mask, snorkel and fins but there are several good dive shops to rent gear if you are only there for a short time.
- Diving and Snorkeling
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