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Annual Big Trip: Best of Monterey

Published on 3/29/2019

In March 2019 club members spent 1/2 - 3 days exploring and photographing a variety of venues in Monterey. This trip was organized by Richard Mirabella. Multi-day participants stayed at the historic Asilomar Conference Center. Details of the event are below.


This field trip is designed so you can go for as little as 1/2 a day on one of the three days, do just a single day or even go for it all over 3 days.  Commute from home, or stay at the Historic Asilomar Conference Center.  Asilomar, a great place for photography itself, is on the coast adjacent to Pebble Beach.  It has a favorable price, great views and architecture and a nightime fire pit we can gather at after dinner and sunsets.

The trip is designed to be highly social, including group picnics and restaurants.  

The photography opportunities are highly varied.  Trip Highlights include:

  • Elkhorn Slough with its famous coastal wildlife and birds. This is the best time of year to see Elkhorn Slough wildlife.  Our chartered pontoon boat allows us to determine how long to stay in different spots, while our guide knows the best spots for wildlife photography.  Normally, the boat accommodates 24 people, we are limiting it to 15 or 16, so members have much more flexibilty moving about the boat for better shots. You can go in the late afternoon on Friday or Saturday tour  - go on one or two  times.  Sunset Photography should be considered at Elkhorn Slough as well.
  • Laguna Seca Raceway  If you have never been to a race track that is reason enough why you should go.  Laguna Seca is one of the top race tracks in the world.  When we are in Monterey, Laguna Seca is holding one of its top eight annual auto races.  Premier international teams compete in the Intercontinental GT Challenge This series represents the highest achievement in long distance GT endurance racing and features GT3 teams from Audi, Bentley, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz AMG, Porsche, Ferrari, Nissan and Honda.  Great photography opportunities of pit crews in action, the race, cars, spectators, and general event photography as a form of street photography. Friday is for qualifying (determining positions at the start), the actual race is Saturday from 9am to 5pm, in this 8 hour race.  One approach to taking in the race is to be there around the start and finish, and spend the middle 4 hours in Point Lobos.
  • Point Lobos State Park.  One of the very best spots for landscape and seascape photography on the California coast.  It has very different vistas from different parts of the park.  Point Lobos State Reserve is a special little patch of coast in Central California. It's at the northern end of Big Sur, and the rocky cliffs that form the point's headland give way to rolling patches of forests, canyons, and wildflowers on one side, and the crashing waves of the Pacific on the other. The reserve protects an incredibly diverse ecosystem of wildlife (which include harbor seals, sea lions, elephant seals, orcas, sea otters, gray foxes, coyotes, Monarch butterflies, and more) and plant life. 
  • Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds.  Renown archetect Julia Morgan designed and built 16 of the buildings on the property, of which 11 are still standing.  It is the designated hotel for the trip due to its architecture, natural beauty and a top location for sunsets. Excellent photography opportunities of the grounds, buildings, coast and nearby Point Pinos Lighthouse.  As a hotel it is an exceptional value for money in Monterey.  Asilomar is a breathtakingly gorgeous 107 acres of ecologically diverse beachfront land. Situated within the quaint and scenic town of Pacific Grove, Asilomar offers guests the simple comforts of cozy cottages and historic lodges 


  • Fisherman's Monterey Wharf and Carmel-by-the Sea.  Great spots for street photography, coastal views and lunch

Advance Purchase Admission Prices to Laguna Seca are $30/day for 1 day or $50/both Friday and Saturday


The Senior rate is for those 55 and over, there are also AAA discounts, other discounts may apply.  You can see these discounts with the on-line form by clicking on the link "Promo Code" and then selecting the drop-down-box labeled "Special Rates". 




Below is the current schedule and recommedndations for the 3 days.  Based upon what members sign-up for and comments there may be improvements made to the following.  Please note the following: 

  • Few people will go for all three days.  I expect many will just go for one or two days.  
  • The Friday and Saturday boat tours have the advantages of being close to Golden Hour and the tide is lower, which may increase sightings of land/water animals.
  • If you go to Laguna Seca for the race, Keep in mind that the race is an 8 hour race.  So if 8 hours sounds like too much time for you to spend at the race, do something similar to what I am doing.  Be there at 8am to photograph the pre-race atmosphere and the start of the race at 9am and leave at about 10am.  The go to Point Lobos, Then return to Laguna Seca at about 4pm, see the finish at 5pm and leave at about 6pm.  

 You don't need to stay exclusively under Optiona A or Option B, think of it as alternatives at different times.

Time Option A Option B
FridayNoon to 5pm
Laguna SecaPhotograph time trials of race teams to Qualify, pit crews, etc.Planning photography locations for Saturday race (Laguna Seca is a large place)
Take theElkhorn boat tour.Be there before 2:40pm so the boat can depart on time at 3pm and return at 5pm


If you arrive arround 9am and are not going to Laguna Seca, I recommend going to Pt Lobos, asSaturday is more crowded

FridaySunset Carmel by the Sea and Carmel Beach for Photos.After sunset we will gather at Asilomar for dinner and then after dinner drinks at the outdoor firepits Go to Asilomar for Sunset photos or have dinner in Carmel after Camel Beach Photos.
Saturday8am to 10am Race Start @ Laguna Seca is at 9amin this 8 hour race and Finish is at 5pm.My personal plan is to be at Laguna Seca from 1 hour before the start of the race until 1 hour after the start.Then go to Point Lobos at 10am.Then return to Laguna Seca at about 3:00pm for the last 2 hours of the race and race finish at about 5pm until 6pm.Then go to Asilomar for Sunset, dinner and after dinner firepit social.I am taking the Sunday boat in Elkhorn Slough Point Lobos is frequently called the crown jewel of the Califoria coast.If you are only in Monterey for one day and want to do more than just the Elkhorn Slough 2 hour boat tour in the slough, this should be your first stop. There are no less than 5 different areas to Point Lobos near the ocean that are dramatically different from each other.Try to arrive close to 9am, as parking can backup which means you will need to wait at the entrance before you are allowed in.Make good use of carpooling as some of the more popular areas have limited parking.
Saturday 10:am - 1:00pm Laguna Seca.As the race is 8 hours long, and the race starts at 9am you may want to leave Laguna Seca after 10am or 11am go to Point Lobos and return between to Laguna Seca beteen 3pm and 4pm so you can see the last hour of the race, the finish and the celbration for the winner. Leave Point Lobos no later than 1:30pm if you are booked for the Elkhorn boat tour this day
Saturday 2:45 to 5pm See above for Laguna Seca Be ready to board Elkhorn Slough Pontoon Boat at 2:45pm so our time on the water is not reduced $50/person.Arrive in the Elkforn area before 1pm so you are not pressed for travel time and get to see Elkhorn Slough on foot
Saturday Sunset Photography Asilomar & Point Pinos Lighthouse for Sunset Photography.The distance from Asilomar to the Point Pinos Lighthouse is about 1 mile, where one can walk along the coast. If we are lucky we may have very rough surf for dramatic photos.This is also very convienant to having dinner in Asilomar and after dinner drinks at the firepit. After the boat tour in Elkhorn Shough, you may want to look for a good spot for a sunset .If you plan to return home on Saturday, Elkhorn Slough and Moss Landing area may be a good balance between a good setting and drive times.Overwise consider shooting in the Asilomar and Point Pinos Lighthouse as described in the column to the left
Sunday 7am-9am Sunday pre-breakfast shoot.Grounds of Asilomar, Point Pinos and immediate coast Sleep-in and/or enjoy a slow breakfast with friends
Sunday 930am to 1:30pm Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium, Street Photograpy on Monterey Fisherman's Wharf or Carmel-by-the-Sea Point Lobos is frequently called the crown jewel of the Califoria coast.If you are only in Monterey for Sunday this is probably the best use of your time


Sunday 2pm-6pm Consider Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium, Street Photograpy on Monterey Fisherman's Wharf or Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Point Lobos (see right column)


The Laguna Seca Schedule with Recommendations

Friday, March 29, 2019

Depart Palo Alto by 7am to arrive at Laguna Seca at about 9am.Keep in mind Laguna Sec is a very big place, so once you arrive and park it will take time to get to where you want to go.

10:00 am - 11:00 amRACE #1 - GT4 SprintX West 
This is a serious amateur race that lasts one hour.  Plan to arrive by 9am to see this, so you have time to find a good position for photography.  Shooting this will help you prepare for the pro-race.  Plan to attend this race if you will be at Elkhorn Slough in the afternoon.

To photograph the cars in motion with motion blur, try panning your camera to stay steady with the car while using a slow shutter speed - try 1/30 to 1/100 of a sec using burst shooting mode, so the car is in sharp focus and the background and wheels have motion blur.  Experiment to see what works.  If you have 3 to 5% of your photos with the car in focus - you are doing great.

11:10 am - 11:20 am   Podium - GT4 SprintX West
Festivities for the winner of the above race

11:20 am - 11:35 am   Qualifying 1, Driver 1 - California 8 Hours
These are time trials to determine car starting positions for the Saturday race.

11:42 am - 11:57 am   Qualifying 2, Driver 2 - California 8 Hours
12:05 pm - 12:20 pm   Qualifying 3, Driver 3 - California 8 Hours
12:30 pmQualifying Interviews - California 8 Hours

IF YOU ARE GOING TO TAKE THE BOAT TOUR ON ELKHORN SLOUGH, LEAVE LAGUNA SECA NO LATER THAN 1 PM.Without traffic, this will take about 40 min (per Google)

1:00 pm - 2:30 pmLunch, VIP Hot Laps
Hot-lapping refers to cars driven around a race track without actually competing for a position or any other recording of performance.

2:30 pm - 3:15 pmAutograph Session - California 8 Hours

2:30 pm - 3:30 pmRace # 2 - GT4 SprintX West
Another GT amateur race.

3:40 pm - 3:50 pmPodium
3:40 pm - 3:55 pmPole Shootout - California 8 Hours
4:00 pmPole Shootout Interviews - California 8 Hours

Saturday, March 30, 2019
Try to arrive by 7:30am if you want to see the start of the race,  If staying at Asilomar, depart by 6:45am, as even without traffic it takes about 25 minutes to drive to Laguna Seca

7:15 am    Race Directors Track Inspection
7:46 am - 8:16 am   VIP Grid Walk
8:15 am    Pre-Race California 8 Hours
8:30 am - 4:30 pm   RACE - California 8 Hours

If you are on the Elkhorn Slough boat tour, leave by 1pm