Get the best of Pebble Beach on a pauper's budget

| 21 Aug 2012

Just back on the red-eye (as better-paid-than-me people like to call it) from Monterey, exhausted but elated after another spectacular trip to the Americas' leading celebration of classic cars.

It isn't just the quality of the events, but the sheer quantity of them: nowadays, you could practically spend two weeks there and do classic-related stuff every day.

That, of course, comes with some fearsome costs. The prestige events of Pebble Beach Concours itself and The Motorsports Gathering at Quail Lodge will leave all but the well-heeled near-penniless.

And if it isn't the stuff that you actually want to be there for that cripples you, it will be the little necessities such as accommodation.

My room for five nights in an OK at best motel cost nearly £800. I've just checked on-line and the same room in the same place for the same nights next week would be, wait for it… £154!

So, because I think everyone should visit Monterey week, here's how to do Monterey on the cheap. Naturally, if you are going to make the effort, you should see everything, but accepting that that just isn't possible for most people, these are my top tips.

Flights: best international airport for Monterey is San Francisco, but to do it in one jump is one pricey long-haul flight. No one likes an indirect flight, but do it in two steps (changes at places such as Buffalo and Minneapolis are popular from the UK) and it can cost half as much.

Accommodation: stay a little further out, Salinas (below) is almost as convenient for everything (especially the track at Laguna Seca) and was a fair bit cheaper this year at least.

Free event 1: yup, it's true, you can see many of the cars that will be gracing the fairways at Pebble Beach on the Sunday for free by tracking the Tour d'Elegance on Thursday. It circles Monterey, then heads off down Highway 1 (the best place to view, just park up by one of the bridges and watch them come through) before the convoy parks up in Carmel's main street for lunch so the public can enjoy it.

Free event 2: auctions, especially RM at Portolo Plaza. The public can stand outside watching all the cars being driven into the salesroom and see all the action from in the room on a giant telly.

Free event 3: Concours de Lemons. Not only the perfect antidote to the megabucks cars that flood the area for the week, but free… and one of our favourite events. This year it took the form of a tour, but keep an eye on the website for details of next year. You may be pressganged into a charity contribution, but you won't begrudge or regret it.

Free event 4: Thursday night at the Baja Cantina. This has exploded in popularity in recent years, but is still great fun. Just turn up and enjoy the free car show in the car park.

Free event 5: Less of an event than an experience. One of our favourite stretches of road will get you to the Cantina from Laguna Seca or vice versa. Take Laureles Grade for a great driving experience and, like us, dream what a sprint/hillclimb course it would make.

Free event 6: The Motorsports Gathering at Quail Lodge is the priciest and most exclusive ticket of the weekend. However, there are no ticket checks whatsoever until you are at the gate. If you go and park up, you can have a day's entertainment just lapping up some of the other cars in the car park. You can also stand outside the Bonhams auction and see/hear most of the action and see the parades coming on to the Quail showground.

Free event 7: parking could be a nightmare, but the RetroAuto and motorcycle auction elements of Pebble Beach are, along with a load of motor manufacturer stands, outside the main event and (I think) free to enter.

Bargain event 1: the Gooding & Co auction takes place over two nights on site at Pebble Beach. The catalogue that gains entry for you costs a mighty $100. However, if you subscribe to C&SC for a year at Concorso Italiano or Laguna Seca (cost this year was $69 for US readers), you'll get that catalogue for free and your ticket to two evenings of jaw-dropping entertainment in the auction tent (where you can eat and drink should you so choose). So, looked at another way, you save $31 on the catalogue AND get C&SC free for a year. What could be better?

Bargain event 2:  Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca. A whole day's entertainment on the track, a wonderful paddock to explore and the best range of affordable, no-nonsense cuisine at any track in the world (it's like a music festival for variety). All from $20 upwards. Plus, you haven't lived until you have climbed the hill and watched the racers stream through The Corkscrew. It's baking up there, though, so drink plenty of water and wear a hat and sunscreen.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Do your research and there is plenty more on offer for free or cheaply. You may find you save so much elsewhere that you can afford that ticket to Pebble Beach (below) after all. Go on, you know you want to...