It's as much about the time - and the roads - leading up to the race, as it is about the race itself. In July 2010, my brother Jim and good friends Pete, Gary F., and Gary K., and I spent five days of motorcycle touring together, logging a total of nearly 800 miles on our respective bikes: Yamaha FJR, Harley Road Glide, Honda ST 1300, Kawasaki Concours, and a Suzuki V-Strom 650.
Laguna Seca is the first of two US stops on the International MotoGP circuit, and some of the best motorcycle roads in the country are found between San Diego and Monterey. Monterey features a number of attractions, which makes it a great destination. The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers more than 200-award winning galleries and exhibits, and Fisherman’s Wharf serves up some of the best clam chowder and fried calamari that definitely makes the stop worthwhile.
San Diego and Beyond
We start our trip leaving San Diego Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. in order to pass through Los Angeles with the least amount of daytime traffic. Timing is perfect, and with the aid of carpool lanes, we make it through L.A. and are heading north on State Route 101 by 10:30 am.
Just past the city of Ventura, we turn inland and head east onto State Route 33 into the Los Padres National Forest toward Ojai, CA. The shortest route to Monterey is not what this trip is about. SR 33 is just one fast sweeper after another, climbing steadily to over 5,200-feet (we started near sea level). Smooth curves, mountainous climbs, and amazing scenery are just a few of the delights. Some blind curves have small amounts of gravel at the apex of the turn (apparently from cars cutting sharp corners), so we adjust our speed accordingly. The road descends quickly and drops into a valley with picturesque mountains lining both sides of the road. This is an E-ticket ride, if ever there was one, and likely to be the hottest part of the entire trip, with temperatures in the mid-90s.
Motorcycle & Gear
2005 Suzuki V-Strom 650 DL
Helmet: HJC, CL15
Jacket: Frank Thomas (with sewn-in armor)
Pants: Motoport Ultra II Kevlar Pants
Gloves: Decade Ride (leather)
We pick up SR 58, which offers more incredible riding, and then end the day in Atascadero. Having logged about 400 miles, 260 of which were prime motorcycle roads, we stop at Hoover 101 Brewery before heading off to dinner at the delicious Elephant Thai restaurant. It’s been a long and most enjoyable day, which we end at the Holiday Inn Express.
Pacific Coast Highway and Pacific Grove
We’re all up early to start our ride west on SR 46, heading for Pacific Coast Highway 1 (PCH 1), and the quaint coastal town of Cambria. Along the way, we cross some small mountains overlooking the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. We also pass by Hearst Castle, owned and operated by the California State Park system. It’s definitely worth the stop to get a glimpse of the art, architecture, and history surrounding the castle and its creator William Randolph Hearst. Tours run throughout the day.
We opt for a saddle-break to watch the elephant seals soak up the sun. Thousands of these seals, which can get as big as 4,000 pounds and as long as 10 feet, live along this portion of the coast.
The next 90 miles of PCH 1 are again a biker’s dream. Smooth asphalt, sharp curves, with the beautiful Pacific Ocean on your left and mountains on your right. Carved into the side of a steep, rugged coastline, this highway makes for some of the best riding and scenery in the world. I alternate between taking in the vistas and the ride. Slow traffic seems to be the norm, but it at least allows for more viewing of the spectacular Pacific coast.
We have lunch on an outdoor deck at Lucia Lodge with the Pacific Ocean just a couple hundred yards below us. Off the bikes, we get a better sense of the coastline, and the sound of the surf becomes the soundtrack to our enjoyable meal. In the afternoon, we arrive at our destination, Pacific Grove, which borders Monterey and is just north of Carmel — home to Pebble Beach Golf Course and the famous 17-mile drive along the Pacific.