How to do Monterey Car Week for under $1000

It’s America’s greatest car event – but it’s expensive! Here’s how to enjoy Pebble Beach, Laguna Seca, Concours d'Lemons et al without breaking the bank

August’s Monterey Car Week is on just about every petrolhead’s bucket list of must-attend car gatherings. It’s not merely a single event, but rather an entire week of rallies, meetings, concours and more. If you love cars, then you owe it to yourself to attend this amazing spectacle at least once in your life.

This year marks the 17th in a row that I’ve attended Monterey Car Week – yet I’m still amazed at what I see and experience there. This includes no fewer than six concours, half a dozen auctions, races, seminars, two automobilia shows and much more. The anchor tenants are, of course, Pebble Beach and the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

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The biggest issue with going to Monterey Car Week is the expense involved. Some people spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to attend, which is an expense too far for many.

However, a surprising number of free events happen during the week, which makes the prospect a little more viable – and now I’ve created an affordable way to ensure you have a fabulous time. I’m not promising that it involves five-star hotels, but for those on a budget here’s my guide on how to do Monterey for $1000 for the entire week.

Where to stay in Monterey

One of the biggest costs associated with Monterey is travel. I’d suggest you consider driving to Monterey. This is what I do every year, and I live on the East Coast. The drive just adds to the fun, and kicks off proceedings in a fun way – especially if you have a classic sports car.

Unless you live on the East Coast like me, driving to the event is cheaper than flying – and it gives you a car for the week, avoiding the need to rent. You might well have friends you can stay with en route; if not, you can always use KOA campgrounds to save money.

Of course, once you get to Monterey you’ll need somewhere to stay. Hotels are expensive, so you really have only one option.

Trackside Camping at the Laguna Seca race track provides the cheapest accommodation for the week, and is your only choice if you’re on a budget.

Opt for Reserved camping at $225 for Thursday, leaving Sunday – and do this fast, as it fills up quickly. Add Tuesday and Wednesday for another $50 per day. Any motel, even in Salinas, will cost a minimum of $1000 for the week. Premiere camping gives you a track view, and yes there are showers as well as restrooms, BBQ grills and picnic tables.

You’ll also need a general admission ticket for the track. These are available for $170. There are other options, though, if you’re driving a Porsche or BMW to the event. In this case, do consider adding a car corral parking package. To participate, you need a Porsche or BMW, and must be in the PCA or BMWCCA.

Both these special areas provide lunch on Saturday, and breakfast snacks on both Saturday and Sunday. The corrals are fun, and while there are other marque corrals, the Porsche and BMW ones are the best.

The PCA corral pass costs $65 and includes breakfast and refreshments; Saturday lunch is an additional $30. It has a great viewing area with a tent to get out of the sun. You can find more info on the PCA packages here.

The BMW corral also boasts a tent, and offers lunch, soft drinks and beer. The BMWCCA offers various hospitality packages, the best of which is the $185 Festorics Corral Package for Saturday and Sunday. This package includes a two-day race ticket, corral parking trackside, an event T-shirt and hospitality.

BMWCCA defines hospitality as the tent and seating area trackside, beer, soda, water and a perfect viewing area from which to watch the races. The BMWCCA also has additional packages for other events, including a Friday-night club members’ dinner. More info is available here.

Eating out in Monterey

You can spend as little or as much as you desire. There are tons of fast food places in and around Monterey. I do recommend having dinner Tuesday or Wednesday at the Crown and Anchor pub. The food is excellent, it is a big gathering place for event attendees, and it’s a great and very authentic British pub.

Monterey Car Week events

Now we get down to the various events. Amazingly, most Monterey Car Week events are free and well worth going to. If you’re clever you can even attend the auction previews for free by registering for one of the free auction tours that are presented by various publications. Try doing an Internet search for ‘2018 Monterey auction tours’ and see what you find.

The first of the Monterey Car Week events is on the Friday before the week starts, and there's the Monterey Pre-Reunion too, which is a chance to watch the practice sessions for the Monterey Motorsports Reunion. But to keep costs sensible, we say start on the Tuesday, as follows.

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Carmel Concours on the Avenue

Tuesday 21 August 2018

The first concours of the week features amazing cars of all types, with a serious slant towards sports and racing machinery. It starts around 8.00am in downtown Carmel with the cars driving in for placement, and goes on until 3.00pm. This event is absolutely free of charge. Read more here.

Automobilia Monterey

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Held at the Embassy Suites in Seaside, this is probably the finest automobilia sale in the US. If it is car related – whether books, badges, manuals, toolkits or artwork – you’ll find it here. The inexpensive $20 admission fee goes straight to a local charity. I’ve never known anyone leave this sale empty handed.

There is literally something for everyone, with prices from $5 to multiple of thousands of dollars for rare items. You also get a few free car magazines with your admission. Automobilia Monterey is the perfect place to go after the Carmel Concours. More info can be found here.

Little Car Show

Wednesday 22 August 2018

A showcase for cars of 1500cc or smaller, this fun event features models from Fiat 500s to MG Midgets to OSCAs – and everything in between. I guarantee you’ll find a car here that you’ve never before seen or didn’t even know existed. Find out more here.

The rest of the day can be spent going to the second day of Automobilia Monterey, or possibly attending a free auction tour (see above).

Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance

Thursday 23 August 2018

This is the tour for all the cars at Pebble Beach. While not every vehicle participates, most do. It’s amazing to see all these incredible automobiles on the road. The tour schedule is:

  • 7.00am: Cars line up on Portola Road in Pebble Beach
  • 9.00am: Tour departs
  • 11.30am: Tour arrives in Carmel-by-the-Sea
  • 12.00pm: Cars are displayed on Ocean Avenue
  • 2.00pm: Tour returns to Pebble Beach

Many people stake out a part of the tour route to take pictures, and to assist you there is a map of the route here. More information on the tour can be found here.

Today also sees the first real track activity for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. The paddock is open to anyone with a general admission ticket, and you can easily spend all day at the track.

Legends of the Autobahn

Friday 24 August 2018

This is a celebration of every German marque outside of Porsche. It’s located at Monterey’s Nicklaus Club on 100 Pasadera Drive, and the only fee is $20 for parking. You will see cars from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Volkswagen and maybe even a DKW or Heinkel. If you love German cars, you need to go. More info is available here.

Porsche Werks Reunion

Friday 24 August 2018

If you love Porsche, this is a must-attend event. Located at the Corral de Tierra Country Club in Salinas, it opens at 7.00am. You’ll see hundreds of Porsches at Werks Reunion, with everything from the earliest 356 models to the latest new cars. It’s a celebration of all things Porsche, and amazingly is free to attend. Find out more here.

Concours d’Lemons

Saturday 25 August 2018

This is many people’s favourite concours of the week. It’s essentially the Island of Misfit Toys for cars. Located at the Seaside City Hall, it’s a showcase for AMC Pacers and Gremlins, Yugos, Renault Fuegos, Chrysler TC By Maseratis, Ford Pintos and every other car that you thought had long been consigned to the junkyard. Not only that, but many of the examples are true concours-quality restored or survivor cars.

Attendance is free, and Hagerty Insurance provides coffee and doughnuts to early attendees. You are bound to see Wayne Carini in his latest rented Lemons show car, and even notables such as Jay Leno make a point of going. Get your tickets here.

Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion

Saturday 25 August 2018

After Lemons, head back to the track and check out the big day for the races. Saturday is the day to see historic cars in action, meet famous racing drivers of the past and present, and essentially take in everything that the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is all about.

Today is also a great one for hanging out at the RM auction at the Portola Hotel in Monterey watching the cars come up to the block. This is another free attraction, and can be a lot of fun. You won’t be able to get into the auction room itself, but RM provides speakers outside so that you can hear what is happening. Lots of people do this, and you can’t beat the price.

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

Sunday 26 August 2018

This is the one place where you should spend some money, because you should see the Pebble Beach Concours in all its glory at least once in your life. The tickets are steep at $325 – as long as you buy them before August 1. I agree that it’s a lot of money for a singe event, but the quality of cars on the field represents the best in the world, and it gives you a good idea of what a concours automobile should look like.

If you get there at 5.00am, you can get a coveted Hagerty Dawn Patrol hat. And no, you can’t sneak in for Dawn Patrol, so buy a ticket – which, by the way, includes a free programme. You’ll see cars at this world-class event that you simply won’t see anywhere else, and no matter what kinds of automobiles you’re into, you’ll fall in love with something at the Pebble Beach Concours. Find out more here.

After Pebble, I personally head back to the track, as it tends to be the lowest-attendance day and the crowds are smaller, making for a great track event.

How much will it cost?

So, if you want the breakdown for the week’s expenses, they are:

  • Travel: Whatever it takes to drive to Monterey. One day, figure $150. If two days, think $250
  • Lodging: Camping at the track, $325
  • Motorsports Reunion admission: $170-$185 if you do the BMW deal
  • Parking at Legends: $20
  • Automobilia: $20
  • Pebble Beach Concours: $325

This makes a grand total of around $960, which still gives you $40 for food. This means fast food is probably in your future. If you go with a friend, you can split the gas and camping fees, and spend a lot less. You should seriously consider doing this, as the entire Monterey Car Week is an experience that should be shared with your best car pal.

For this money, you get to attend the following events:

  • The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion for four days
  • The Carmel Concours on the Avenue
  • Automobilia Monterey
  • The Little Car Show
  • The Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance and Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
  • Legends of the Autobahn
  • Porsche Werks Reunion
  • Concours d’Lemons
  • An auction or auctions (again, free tours)

That is a lot of value for money when broken down this way and done on the cheap.

Ultimately, if you’ve always thought attending Monterey Car Week would be out of your budget, you might want to reconsider. Be sure to bring a friend along, both to help with costs and to enjoy the week with.

You’ll remember the experience forever and – who knows – maybe, like me, you’ll make it an annual pilgrimage.

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