The Sea Otter Classic Mountain Bike Festival should be on every cycling fan’s bucket list! This sports extravaganza has been providing terrific fun for fans of two-wheeled racing for over a generation. Road cyclists, gravel cyclists, and e-bike riders also get a look-in, with events ranging from cross-country to downhill and dual slalom.
You don’t need to be glued to the track to have fun, though. Sea Otter calls itself a ‘celebration of cycling’ in all its forms. The event has expanded over the years from a solely race-focused event to a four-day festival that highly encourages audience participation. Amateurs are welcome to register for events. If you don’t feel like competing, you can sign up for a Gran Fondo Tour that takes you from the festival’s location in the gorgeous Californian town of Monterey and along 49 miles of beautiful Pacific coastline.
Sea Otter almost invariably has a jam-packed schedule of events, so camping is a must if you don’t want to miss out on any of the fun. Parking your RV at the campground in Laguna Seca Recreation Area is well worth the extra price of a camping ticket. Tucked away in the Salinas Hills, the campground features some stunning views of the surrounding area and has a really friendly vibe to boot.
Gear-heads might also be glad to know that Sea Otter is home to one of the country’s largest consumer bike expositions, with over five hundred vendors ‘pedaling’ their wares each year. Not only that, but the festival is super family-friendly. There are activities run by Skipper the Sea Otter for the smaller kids and cycling clinics for older kids and teenagers, with special classes to encourage young girls to try competitive cycling. And if you feel like stepping away from the saddle, you can always chill out at one of the yoga classes.
Ticket sales and race registration for the Sea Otter Classic usually begin in midsummer of the previous year. Though you can generally get tickets at the gate, it’s best to buy online as soon as they come available. You might save around $3 on a one-day pass that would otherwise go for around $20, or $5 on a four-day pass that usually goes for around $60. Kids under 12 and those registered for races go free.
Camping is going to set you back a little extra, around $120 per night, but what you gain is significant. Spots are in high demand, so be sure to book early. You can also expect to pay a bit more if you’re looking for a little more luxury, as sites with electricity and water hookups carry a further charge. Campers can usually expect a three-night minimum stay in the campground.
Monterey sits pretty on the California coast, around 90 minutes from San Jose, two hours from San Francisco, or three hours from Sacramento. California’s highway system serves the area pretty well, but as always, traffic can be a problem, particularly after you take the exit to Monterey.
Leave early, and you can leave the highway behind and treat yourself to a drive down the spectacularly scenic coastal route. Road and weather alerts are usually available through the County of Monterey but may also be shared by the Sea Otter Classic through social media.
If you’re bringing a second car, you’ll be glad to know that your camping pass snags you space for two vehicles at the campground. Otherwise, festival staff will direct you to the parking lot at Wolf Hill. Parking is free, and spaces fill up fast, so get there well in advance of the event time. There are a limited amount of ADA accessible spaces available; it’s a good idea to contact the festival organizers first to ensure you get a spot that suits your needs.
While it’s certainly possible to get to Laguna Seca Recreation area by public transportation, it may not be super easy. From San Francisco, it’s at least a six-hour bus ride with several connections, and the journey from San Jose isn’t much better. However, a local bus company, Monterey Airbus, does run a service from the airports in both of these locations with a drop-off near the festival grounds. In past years, guests have been able to book a seat via the festival website.
Camping at Sea Otter is definitely a joyful experience. If you’ve managed to grab a space before they’re gone, you’re in for a treat when it comes to the view of the hills and the ocean, but alas, shade is at a premium. Not all sites have hookups, but wherever you park, you’ll have access to showers and a dump station. Keep in mind that not all sites are level, either, so you may have some work to do before you settle in for your favorite biking adventures.
Monterey’s gorgeous coastal location between Big Sur and Santa Cruz, as well as the history of the surrounding towns, means that the area is pretty popular with tourists year-round. You’ll find no shortage of camping spots nearby. From no-frills state park campgrounds to full-service RV resorts, there’s an option to suit every taste and budget. Some options may be as close as a 20-minute drive, but this is gorgeous country so you may want to check your route to the area and consider more than one camping location along the way.
Golf carts and ATVs are banned at the Sea Otter Classic, and while you’re certainly welcome to bring your bicycle, using it to get around the grounds is frowned upon. Fortunately, the whole area is relatively compact. While the grounds are pretty flat, guests in a wheelchair or mobility scooter may desire help navigating through the crowds.
April brings Goldilocks weather conditions to Monterey, with temperatures sitting between the high sixties and low seventies and rainfall unlikely. Unlikely doesn’t mean impossible, though, so be sure to bring a light, waterproof jacket. You may need to stand in line quite a bit, particularly if you’ll be attending the expo, so bring sturdy, comfortable shoes.
Of course, if you’re taking part in one of the races or Gran Fondo Tours, you’ll have to have the appropriate gear for your cycling adventure. It can get chilly at night, so bring something to wrap up warm in for a cozy and relaxing evening; layers are a good bet all around.
The temperature may be relatively low, but the sun can still do some damage, so bring a shade structure of some sort if you’re planning on hanging out in the campground during the day. The water at Laguna Seca Recreation area isn’t safe to drink, so if you have a filtration system, now’s the time to break it out; be sure to have more than one method of safe drinking water available for you and your crew.
Sunscreen, and lots of it, is an absolute must. While the water at the campground is not potable, there are plenty of water filling stations dotted around the track and festival grounds, so bring a refillable water bottle. While there is a first aid tent at Sea Otter Classic, it never hurts to have your own kit in case of minor cuts and scrapes.
You can cook to your heart’s content in the campground, as long as your fire isn’t touching the ground or destined to leave a mark on the land. Grills and stoves are generally permitted, but as always in this part of California, regulations can change with the weather. In terms of picking up supplies, you’ll find a variety of grocery stores and big-box supermarkets in Monterey.
Monterey is something of a place of pilgrimage for foodies and wine-lovers from all over the country. No matter what you fancy, you’re sure to get your hands on it, whether that’s French-Thai fusion, authentic Mexican or a top-notch steak. Whatever your dietary requirements are, you’ll find something to fit the bill. Since festival passes allow for re-entry, there’s nothing to stop you checking out what’s on offer. Whether fine dining is what you're looking for or if budget-friendly fast food is more your speed, you’ll find options in town.
You certainly won’t go hungry at the Sea Otter Classic. While food isn’t the main draw of the festival, you can expect to find plenty of places to chow down. Offerings skew towards fast food and BBQ, but attendees will find a good selection of local vendors serving up healthy delights, craft beers, and more. It’s not too difficult to sniff out something gluten-free or vegan.
The Sea Otter Classic is patrolled by private security, and you can generally expect a police presence as well. As always with public events, guests can expect that belongings are probably going to be searched at the gate. Alcohol and outside food are not permitted in the venue, but you can keep what you like in the campground, as long as it’s not in glass containers.
Weather in Monterey is at its most stable in April, but adverse weather events can and do happen, so it’s best to be prepared for all eventualities. Be sure to keep hydrated if you’re participating in any of the races, tours, or cycling clinics. Events at Sea Otter happen come rain or shine; if at any point you’re feeling unsafe, feel free to inquire with staff or make your departure.
As with most sporting events, Sea Otter Classic makes first aid a priority for both participants and spectators, and you’ll find several medical tents dotted around the recreation area. You’ll also find a pharmacy, general practitioners, and urgent care centers about twenty minutes away in Monterey. While the Sea Otter Classic doesn’t have an actual policy on medication storage, it’s best to keep any pills in sealed bottles or blister packs to avoid any confusion.