Star Gazing at the Portola Hotel & Spa

Red Bull USGP

Good things – that is, motorcycle things – seem to happen to me whenever I stay at the Portola Hotel & Spa in Monterey, California. When MotoGP came back to Laguna Seca in 2005 our magazine hosted a salon there. Valentino Rossi was staying at the Portola Hotel & Spa (evidently he still stays there for the event). When I checked in on the Wednesday prior to the event in 2005 I saw my friend, the late Marcel Fortney.

Marcel was the North American AGV rep and was taking care of Rossi while he was stateside. Marcel was laughing. He said he had just seen Rossi in the lobby looking slightly bewildered. He said that when he asked Valentino if anything was wrong, Rossi said, "No one knows me here." Marcel then asked where he was headed, and Rossi answered, quite enthused about this welcome anonymity, "I’m going to go for a walk down Main Street."

I met Valentino Rossi the following Friday. He strolled in late one night to the salon just before closing. He had come especially to see Randy Mamola’s Cagiva, which we had on display. We exchanged a few pleasantries; I gave him a copy of the magazine, and then thanked him for coming. He graciously kind of bowed, then, in classic Rossi-esque broken English said, "Tank you, tank you bery mutch."

The following year, Loris Capirossi and Carlos Checa (fellow Portola lodgers) made appearances at our salon, as did Mick Doohan. Other notables I’ve seen at the Portola Hotel & Spa during race weekends over the years include Kenny Roberts Sr., Mert Lawwill, motocrosser Marty Moates, and Sete Gibernau.

What separates the Portola Hotel & Spa from other establishments in the area are its logistics. It’s directly in the middle of the action on race weekend. Walk out the front door and you’re on Monterey’s Main Street, with a plethora of restaurants and plenty of bars. Of course you can stay in and settle into Jack’s Lounge at the hotel 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, which is closed to cars and becomes an impromptu motorcycle show.

In addition to the USGP weekend, there are other motorized activities for which the Portola Hotel & Spa is perfectly situated. There’s the annual Concourse d’ Elegance, held each August just around the corner in Pebble Beach that runs in conjunction with the Vintage Sports Car races at Laguna Seca. A major car auction takes place at the Portola the same weekend, so you’re literally in the heat of the action.

During the event you can usually find an antique Rolls Royce, several vintage racing Jaguars, and a new Bugatti parked in the lobby. Laguna Seca (Mazda Raceway) has a number of track days throughout the year, and the Portola is just a short drive from the circuit, making it the perfect track day attendee’s digs.

The Portola Hotel & Spa’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.

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.

Other points of interest within an easy ride of the Portola Hotel & Spa include Carmel; the gateway to legendary motorcycle enthusiast essential; Highway 1, the Coast Road where you’ll find Big Sur and the Nepenthe restaurant, along with seventy miles of twisting, beautiful coast road. 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.

If you plan to stay at the Portola Hotel & Spa 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.