Portola Plaza Hotel & Spa | Motoring Monterey

Essential Motorcycle Escapes

Man, I love a good hotel at the end of good motorcycle ride. Maybe it stems from spending almost every night of the 1982 AMA Motocross National Championship series in the back of a Dodge van, trying to eek out a few hours sleep sandwiched between spare motors and stacks of knobby tires, the environment augmented with the aroma of racing fuel and WD40. I was wrenching for my friend, Maico rider Scott Johnson, and our estimates on potential winnings and expenditures for his rookie season were grossly inaccurate, resulting in the Dodge serving as our home away from home. We could only afford the occasional splurge, and even that was merely a single room at Motel 6.

Although I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything (you have to remember we were just 24 years old when predicaments like that get chalked up to adventure) now that I’m well into middle age I have acquired a new criteria for adequate lodging. I’ve never forgotten those months we spent in the Dodge Motel, which have made me very appreciative of a nice hotel. And this past weekend I was in one. I attended the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance and stayed at the Portola Plaza Hotel & Spa in Monterey, California. This is the hotel where I met Valentino Rossi and Loris Capirossi (fellow lodgers) during the MotoGP several years back.

What separates the Portola Plaza from other establishments in the area are its logistics. It’s directly in the middle of all the places you want to be on the Central Coast. Walk out the front door and you’re on Monterey’s Main street, with a plethora of restaurants, two movie theaters, a bookstore and bars (plenty of bars), or you can stay in the hotel and settle into Jack’s Lounge for a drink. Exit the rear of the hotel and you’re deposited almost directly onto the Monterey Bay Wharf. A short walk along the clean pedestrian walkway/bike path and you’re at Cannery Row (made famous by John Steinbeck) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

For motor heads, world famous Mazda Raceway (a.k.a. Laguna Seca), which hosts the MotoGP, AMA Nationals, Vintage Sports Car races as well as a full year’s schedule of various paved racing events and track days, is just a quick twenty-minute drive/ride up Highway 68 (except for when the races are letting out on Sunday-then it’s anyone’s guess on an ETA).

The Portola Plaza’s rooms are upscale and comfortable, with relatively modest rates for the quality of the establishment. Parking (the bane of so many hotels) is car/bike friendly, with a covered, guarded parking lot. Beds and bedding are plush, and if you leave your windows open you will be pleasantly awakened by seagulls in the traditionally foggy early morning of Monterey.

Over the course of the Concours d’ Elegance weekend there was an antique car auction taking place on the premises that provided plenty of entertainment and jaw-dropping metallurgical beauty. The lobby of the Portola was dressed with immaculate vintage cars; an antique Rolls Royce, several vintage racing Jaguars, and a new Bugatti.

In the morning you can either have breakfast in the hotel at Jack’s Restaurant (also serving lunch and dinner) or wander around the quaint surroundings of Old Monterey. I found a crepe place less than a block away where the Moroccan teenager behind the counter served up a perfectly strong Café Africano. Excellent start against the famous Monterey fog that shrouds the area in a kind of quiet peace, which traditionally burns off late morning, opening up the peninsula to sunshine and warmth.

Other points of interest within an easy ride of the Portola Plaza include Carmel; the gateway to legendary motorcycle enthusiast essential; Highway 1, the Coast Road where you’ll find Big Sur and the Nepenthe restaurant. Head the other direction and you’ll find Carmel Valley Road, a twisting, relatively empty road that meanders the mountains and takes you out to Highway 101. Salinas is nearby, where you can visit the John Steinbeck Center. Or head over to Hollister, site of the famous "incident" in the late 40s that inspired "The Wild One," and have lunch at "Johnny’s Café," commemorating Marlon Brando’s character in the film. For motorcycle enthusiasts you can plan a different agenda each day with the Portola Plaza Hotel & Spa as your central starting point.

If you plan to stay at the Portola Plaza during some of the bay area’s main events (MotoGP, Concours, Jazz Festival, etc.) best to book early. If you’re fortunate enough to book a room during MotoGP, who knows, you just might find yourself sharing the elevator with Valentino Rossi.