Unless you hitch a ride in a support vehicle trailing the riders, there’s really no way to travel along as a spectator for the Amgen Tour of California. Best you can do is encamp at the start or finish, or somewhere strategically along the course, and briefly cheer these Lycra wonders as they pedal off or sprint to the finish.
The northern stages of this cycling race meant, in part, to show off the natural wonders of the state afford several enticing opportunities for fans to make a day trip out of watching an international field of skinny-armed, rippling-quadriceps athletes in action.
And there’s plenty for noncycling fans to do in the host cities while your obsessed spouse geeks out about Tyler Farrar’s pedal-stroke volume. We focus on four sites featured in Stages 3 and 4 – hey, we figure you already know about the first two stages, Sacramento and Folsom – giving you places to carbo-load and top off your protein before or after the riders whiz by, museums to visit to wile away the wait time, and hikes you can take to get a little exercise yourself.
You’ve got to be strategic, though. If you commit to seeing the start of a stage, it’s going to be really difficult to make it to the stage finish, given road closures and the sheer mass of spectators. Better, perhaps, to get a glimpse of the cyclists, then enjoy other sights and catch up on the TV coverage later at home.
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Tuesday: San Jose to Mount Diablo summit
Start: Raging Waters theme park, Lake Cunningham, 10:45 a.m.: 2333 S. White Road, San Jose. Get an early start and get to Lake Cunningham, south of downtown San Jose, well before the start. You can bide your time watching the riders walk their funny walk in cleats to and from their trailers and gawk at their high-four-figure-price bikes.
Lake Cunningham is a great spot for boating – but probably not today. You can, however, probably sneak in your fishing pole, since the site’s website says the lake is “amply stocked.” There are picnic sites and barbecue pits, but how much real estate the Amgen folks will take up in uncertain. Information on Lake Cunningham: www.sanjoseca.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/179. Raging Waters itself will be closed and not raging on race day.
After start, now what? If you’ve had enough cycling, travel 9 miles north to the Tech Museum of Innovation in downtown San Jose. This is the geekiest (and we mean that in the best sense) museum in the state. Fair warning: You might spend so much time exploring all things techie that it’ll seriously cut into your trip. But it is possible to take only a few bites (bytes?) out of the two-story, gadget-packed museum and still make it home by dinner.
I preferred the upstairs galleries, where it’s more hands-on and visual. On a recent visit, a middle-school group from the Peninsula had commandeered the “Reface” display, where you stare into an eye and the face-tracking software blends (distorts, really) your ugly mug with those who have come before. Information: 201 S. Market St., San Jose. www.thetech.org.
If you’re a cycling fanatic, you can hustle up to the summit of Mount Hamilton provided race officials will let you drive on State Route 130 to get there before the riders. Riders will reach the base of Mount Hamilton at about 11:20 a.m. It might be better to bag the start and ride your bike to reserve a cheering spot along the Route 130 climb or, better yet, at the summit. While there, you can check out Lick Observatory, whose Shane Telescope Building is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. You also can go to the Shane Dome to view the 120-inch reflector from the visitors’ gallery. Bring a jacket. At more than 4,000-foot elevation, it can get a tad chilly. Information: www.ucolick.org/public/visitors.html.
Finish: Mount Diablo summit: If you want a good spot to watch that onerous 2,500-foot ascent of Mount Diablo to the stage’s finish, it’s best to go early in the morning and wait it out. Eric Smith, of Medalist Sports, which handles race logistics, said the north (Walnut Creek) and south (Danville) gates will be open at 8 a.m. and close about 2 p.m. (riders will come by around 3) but no cars can go anywhere near the summit. The best way to watch is by bike. Smith said no spectators on bikes will be allowed beyond the Muir Picnic Area, but a “bike valet” will watch your ride while you hoof it up to the summit.
Actually, the summit will be way too crowded for most spectators. Better, Smith said, to line the road leading up to the finish. “You’ll still see the same pained expression on the riders’ faces as at the finish,” he said. “The best thing I recommend for photos is to stop (after) Diablo Scenic Gate. You get a nice view of the riders with Danville in the background. Then, when (riders) pass, you’re quickly on your way home.”
Those who want to make a day of it will find that Mount Diablo is chock full of trails to hike or run. In fact, you can avoid the crowd at the north and south entrances by parking at the Mitchell Canyon trailhead in Clayton and hiking or running to the summit.
Sure, it’s a 5-mile, 3,000-foot elevation gain trek, one way. But it’s mostly on fire roads (Mitchell Canyon to Deer Flat to Juniper Trail to the single-track Summit Trail), and it’s doable. Bring water and provisions. Diablo’s summit has a small but nice visitor’s center – but it’ll be overrun with people – so veer off on a half-mile trek to the North Peak Trail, where you can see the damage from last summer’s fire. Information: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=517.
Post-stage: Dinner in Danville: This tony Contra Costa ’burb has several options. Try Bridges (44 Church St.) for steak; Esin (750 Camino Ramon), a wine bar with Modern American fare; or Ascona (3414 Camino Tassajarra) for pizza.
Wednesday: Monterey to Cambria
Start: 11:50 a.m. Alvarado Street, downtown Monterey. Yes, you can make this a day trip, thanks to the relatively late start of the stage. (Of course, if you opt to see the finish late that afternoon in Cambria, you’re going to want to stay over – unless you are a caffeine-crazed, drive-all-night type.)
After start, now what? Alvarado Street is a restaurant hub. Grab an espresso (or, around lunch time, a craft beer) at Caffe Trieste (409 Alvarado St.) or go more upscale at Rosine’s (434 Alvarado) and LALApalooza (474 Alvarado). Of course, a trip to Monterey is not complete without the requisite visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (886 Cannery Row; www.montereybayaquarium.org). You can walk the Path of History in Steinbeck’s shoes and then go all touristy and shop for trinkets on the Row.
Another option is to eschew the start and beat the bikes (and the Amgen officials shooing you away) by heading down Highway 1 early and decamping at a lovely spot around Big Sur. A good spot is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, where you can wile away the time hiking, communing with the redwoods or combing the beach while awaiting the cyclists, who’ll be climbing at a 6 percent grade as they pedal by.
You also could go even farther south and spend the night at the Ragged Point Inn (19019 Highway 1, Ragged Point, raggedpointinn.com), where at $125 a night, you get a room with a patio not 20 feet from the cliffs and even a personalized trail down to the black-sand beach where only a select few have dipped their toes in the surf. Venture 10 miles south to Piedras Blancas ( www.elephantseal.org), home to a growing elephant seal rookery. Since the early 1990s, the beaches between Ragged Point and San Simeon have been home nearly year-round to elephant seals, who mate, give birth and just hang out before heading back to their watery homes.
Finish: Cambria is a homey town that caters to tourists, but not gaudily, like Monterey. Two of the best restaurants for dinner are vegan-friendly Robins Restaurant (4095 Burton Drive) in a pleasant garden setting or the Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill (6550 Moonstone Beach Drive), for the catch of the day or the cioppino, crab legs sauteed in marinara sauce.
Of course, a trip to Cambria is not complete without a pilgrimage to Nitt Witt Ridge, the anti-Hearst Castle. It’s a folk art monument erected over the years by a local eccentric, the late Arthur Harold Beal. It’s an edifice slapped together from driftwood, creek stones, metal tire rims, abalone shells, toilet seats and too many Busch beer cans to count, all held together by a concrete foundation and sheer force of will. Beal, the town garbage man, began the project in the 1930s and still was working on it, at least conceptually, in 1992 when he died at age 96.
The Ridge has been kept alive – and open for tours – by local Michael O’Malley, a de facto historian as well as curator. The state historical landmark is at 881 Hillcrest Drive, Cambria. For private tours, call Michael or Stacey O’Malley at (805) 927-2690.