Top 5 Driving Roads Around Monterey

The Monterey week is all about the cars, and the region’s roads are quickly taken over by classics of all vintages and marques. You may happen across a small road rally with American classic cars, or the Tour d’Elegance, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance’s official route for show cars.

With the opportunity to not only find yourself on the same roads as iconic machinery, but the drivers who visit the festivities are often among the best in the world. Who knows—taking one of these popular driving roads may lead you to sharing the tarmac with a former Formula 1 driver or World Rally Champion…

Road #1: Panoche Road

It will take about an hour on mostly pretty roads to get to Paicines, CA from Monterey, heading back east. For a quick jaunt, there are better options, but if you’re able to incorporate Panoche Road, a little ribbon of tarmac that flows southeast to northwest, we recommend it.

With desert on one side and a few vineyards on the other, and rolling hills as far as your eyes can see, Panoche Road is much of what makes driving in California pleasant, in one stretch. Before long, you’ll hit desert; there’s simply not much to see along the route after a while! It’s a small detour from 101, or #25 Airline Highway heading north, but the section of Panoche Road accessible from Interstate 5 turns to gravel after about a mile.

Road #2: Detour to Lake Nacimiento

Heading north from Los Angeles into Monterey, sometimes, boredom may set in by San Luis Obispo. It’s possible to dip down onto Highway 1 from the 101, have a snack in Morro Bay, and head over to Lake Nacimiento, accessible by County Highway G14, which connects to the 101 from 24th St in Paso Robles.

There are only a few roads in and a few out, but for a detour to help break the monotomy of a highway drive, spending an additional hour out near Lake Nacimiento is recommended. If you’re thirsty, there’s a general store in Bee Rock with a small deck out front…

Road #3: The Pebble Beach Circuit

With the Pebble Beach area changing rapidly, it’s amazing that you’re still able to drive on portions of the old Pebble Beach Circuit. For those of you who own an old Jaguar, MG, Ferrari, or similar ’50s sports racing car, it’s a great opportunity to relive history…as well as take some great photos of your car.

The original start/finish straight is on Portola Road, before making a right onto Sombria Lane, a right onto Drake Rd, a left to Stevenson Drive, a right on Bristol Lane, and then follow Forest Lake Rd. until it connects with Portola; make another right onto Portola to complete the course.

Road #4: 17-Mile Drive

Said to be one of the most scenic drives in the U.S., this route closely hugs the coast and offers incredible views of the ocean, beaches, and wildlife native to the area. With roots that stretch back into the late 1800s, it’s also one of the region’s most historic routes. It is going to be packed all weekend, so plan an early morning jaunt before the road gets busy—or park nearby and watch the amazing cars drive by. Keep in mind, 17-Mile Drive is also the only way in or out of Pebble Beach, and it’s an $8.25 toll road.

Road #5: Carmel Valley Road

Sadly, given its location along the coast, there aren’t too many good roads up there that loop around into that area. The best drive you can do is going into Carmel Valley via Carmel Valley Road.

When going North on 101 after passing King City, look for Central Ave (before getting to Greenfield). Make a left onto Central Ave (as the exit is on the left lane). Go about 1/3 mile to Central Ave, and make a right to stay on Central Ave.

Continue for a while: it will be all farm roads with some kinks and slight bends. Mostly high speed straights, but very pretty scenery. When you get to a T in the road (Elm Ave–G16), make a left.

Continue on Elm until you get to Arroyo Seco Rd. (G16), and make a left. Continue on Arroyo Seco. Eventually, it will turn into Carmel Valley Rd which is pretty twisty all the way into Carmel Valley.

Once you are in the valley, you can make a right on Laureles Grade, which spits you out in front of Laguna Seca or continue on Carmel Valley until you hit the Pacific Coast Highway—just around the corner from Carmel By The Sea, and not far from downtown Monterey. Even better, a good spot to stop for lunch or a cold beer in Carmel Valley is the Running Iron Restaurant and Saloon.

It can take up to a couple of hours, depending how much you stop and what you pace is.

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