Going to auto racing school in Monterey; what else to see and do while I'm there

For years (decades, really), I’ve thought it would be fun to take a high-performance driving school. Well, next week is the time. I’m going to a three-day racing school at Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. So I thought I’d start this thread to share the experience, and answer any questions.

I’ll be driving one of these:

Plus, I wanted to get suggestions for what else to do while I’m in the area. I’m flying to San Francisco on Saturday. Sunday I’m planning to go to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. The school starts on Wednesday. I’ve got a couple free days and no particular plans. I figured I’d drive down the coast on Monday or Tuesday, unless there’s a more scenic route. I’m definitely a science and tech guy, so if there’s a good computer museum in Silicon Valley that would interest me. Any other suggestions for good restaurants, nice view, historic sites, or interesting buildings in the Bay Area?

(I originally planned to do this last year, but had to postpone for a year. I went to Florida instead and got to see a rocket launch to the moon; something else I’d wanted to do for decades.)

The ambiguous sequence of phrasing makes it amusing to imagine you screaming down the coastal highway in one of the high performance racing vehicles.

Definitely take the drive down the coast! Half Moon Bay has a nice little downtown and a few chowder shops (Barbara’s Fish Trap at Pillar Point Harbor). Pigeon Point Lighthouse is a nice stop for the views - if it’s nice out walk around the ocean side of the lighthouse - there are a few benches to watch the waves and have a snack. At Santa Cruz, leave Hwy 1 and head coastward to Natural Bridges/W Cliff Drive - super scenic - stop at the Surfing Museum at Steamer Lane (old lighthouse). In Monterey park the car at Dust Bowl Brewery and take a walk along the recreation trail to check out the wildlife. You can also do the Aquarium in Monterey. Sea Harvest has good Seafood. Further scenic driving is out past Pacific Grove to Asilomar, and on to 17-Mile Drive to Carmel.

On your way back to SFO, you can hop on 101 to San Jose. The Tech Interactive may be of interest. Intel has a museum. The Computer History Museum is in Mountain View.

My son would love to do what you are doing one day (minus all the scenic stuff and museums). Please come back and share what the racing school was like!

It’s is about 100 miles from San Fran to Monterey (I didn’t realize it was quite that much) so I need to get to the track, first. I have time to take the scenic route, and the coast road in California is one of the great drives in the world. One of the items on my bucket list is to drive the full length of Rte 101, ideally on a motorcycle.

I have fond memories of The Sardine Factory in Monterey. Cannery Row (very nearby) is a bit of a tourist trap in my memory, though.

The drive down (or up) the coast between Pacifica and Santa Cruz is really nice. Not as dramatic as Big Sur, but there are many places to pull over and take in the scenery. Pigeon Point Light Station is worth a visit–you can’t go inside the lighthouse but you can walk around the grounds and I think the visitor center is open on Mondays. You can grab a cup of great clam chowder to go at Sam’s Chowder House just north of Half Moon Bay and slurp it on a bench by the water’s edge.

Ano Nuevo is famous for Elephant Seals, but it’s a little early in the season and the big males probably haven’t shown up yet. The visitor center has some interesting displays and there’s a nice coastal trail out to the main beach where the seals hang out. Note: if you want to stop at any of the State Park Beaches, the day use fee is good for all locations.

Wilder Ranch State Park just north of Santa Cruz has a really nice trail along the coastal bluffs.

If you want a quick easy walk through the redwoods, Henry Cowell State Park is just 16 miles up Highway 9 from Santa Cruz,

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk will be dormant but a walk along the midway and out on the pier on a sunny day is a nice way to spend an hour or two.

Point Lobos, a little south of Carmel, is definitely worth a stop if you want a taste of the Big Sur coastline. Go early if you can, the parking lot fills up quickly.

Two things worth pointing out:

  1. I’m in Boston, which, I’m reliably informed, has a few places that make some pretty good clam chowder. It’s not something I have to look for when I’m travelling.

  2. I don’t like clam chowder.

I’m loving the recommendations so far; keep 'em coming. The computer museums sound interesting, but I’ll have to figure out the dates and times. I’m not a big fan of shellfish, but wouldn’t turn up my nose at any good fish-and-chips or salmon. And, being from Boston, I’d be on the lookout for any good Mexican food or teriyaki.

In the “interesting buildings” category, there’s a really neat “Bank Barn” just outside of Half Moon Bay at Burleigh H. Murray Ranch State Park.

Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos is worth a visit if you’re into that kind of thing.

Paging @commasense. He used to teach this stuff nearby there.

Do the 17 mile drive.

Stop in Carmel overnite, do a town walk.

Do Cannery Row in Monterey, the aquarium if you have time.

Please. San Francisco in the parlance of our times. Also, I think you mean Hwy 1 (colloquially known as “Pacific Coast Highway”) as Hwy 101 is a burly, busy, dirty urban/rural freeway. The coast south of Monterey/Carmel (Hwy 1) is world class, but at the moment it is closed about 50 mi south of Carmel. Maybe it will be open next time you are in the region so you can check that one off your list!

As for Mexican food, there is an El Torito right on the water in Cannery Row, but that is for the tourists, and probably just like the El Torito (or similar) in Boston. Go over to Alvarado St or Lighthouse Ave in Monterey - the farther you go from the water the less touristy it will be.

At least I didn’t call it “Frisco”.

I want to drive the whole 101, someday, From Olympia to L.A. (excuse me, Los Angeles). For most of its length, it is along the coast. For the section I’ll be driving on this trip, I do plan to follow the coast. Probably won’t go too far south of Carmel, so the closure isn’t a problem.

There really aren’t very many Tex-Mex restaurants around Boston, although I do have one that I like. Even touristy Mexican food might might be better than what I can get here.

You’re coming when we have the best weather. November skies are usually clear. Little to no fog along the coast. Good timing!

@snowthx’s tips are spot-on. Definitely do the Monterey Aquarium. It’s one of the best in the nation. My favorite is the jellyfish display. They’re mesmerizing.

In Pacifica stop in at the Taco Bell. Hey, it’s just a Taco Bell but for a fast food joint the views are to die for. It’s right on the water. A very unique place, in all of the US.

In San Gregorio stop in at the old, historic General Store on Stage Road and have one of their fantastic Bloody Marys.

In Mountain View is the CHM. Computer History Museum. You’ll like it. If you go and if you see the Babbage Difference Engine being worked, the docent operating it is probably named Erik (with a K). If he goes by “LIFO”, tell him that echo7tango sent you to him. Ask him about his vintage computing hobby. He will out-geek you to no end! LIFO if a good guy. I’ve known him for over 25 years.

The Pigeon Point Lighthouse is one of my favorite places to stop and take in the views.

Dude. It’s San Francisco. Not San Fran.

@carrps is right, Cannery Row is a tourist trap. But if you go to the aquarium you won’t be able to avoid it.

@blondebear knows his way around these parts. He’s got good tips too. And he’s right about the clam chowder (sorry, you’re from Boston; it’s spelled chowda). But of course you don’t need to try ours. (And I grew up in your parts of New England)

And definitely tell us about your class!

I stayed in Monterey for about 4 months 20-ish years ago to do a trial and would ordinarily hesitate to make any recommendations based on experiences that dated. But there was one restaurant in Monterey that was superb. It was Montrio. I see they are still there, and, given that it’s Monterey, I expect the quality of the place remains high.

Spendy, you bet. Worth. It.

The 17 mile drive is nice, but IMO the drive along Ocean View Blvd. from just north of Cannery Row up to Pacific Grove is just as scenic, and it doesn’t cost anything (The 17 Mile Drive charges admission).

But I think the aquarium is definitely worth a visit. I love the sea otters, myself.

If you’re coming to California, don’t eat chowder, eat cioppino! It was invented in San Francisco, after all. I would recommend Phil’s Fish Market in… it looks like they moved from their original location right by the docks in Moss Landing and are located in Castroville now. Well, I’m sure they still make a good cioppino, but they probably lose a bit of ambiance since they’re not right on the water anymore. It was nice to be able to get your food to go and go eat on the beach.

Totally agree!!

I recommend a visit to the historic Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninusla. What makes it historic, you ask? I was born there. :grin:

Hmm, I may change the schedule around a little bit. The Computer History Museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday. I may go there on Sunday, the Academy of Sciences on Monday, and drive down to Monterey on Tuesday.

I know it’s short notice, but if any dopers in the area want to get lunch or dinner while I’m there, we might be able to find a time.

It’s now a shrine, I assume.

For me, the real highlight of the Computer History Museum is the PDP-1 demo. For preservation purposes they only fire it up a few times a month, it looks like the first and third Saturdays of the month. Unfortunately it sounds like you won’t be able to make it there on a Saturday. Likewise the IBM 1401 demos are scheduled on Saturdays and Wednesdays, which also don’t fit your schedule.


However, they are unaware of this fact. :slight_smile: