What's your favorite California memory? | Column

Even though I’ve always lived on the East Coast, I just love California: the beauty of the coast, the fog of the Bay Area, the deserts of the Old West. The state ranges from the grittiness of Los Angeles to the tranquility of the mountains. 

Whether I’m there for work or pleasure–I’ve been going there for nearly 40 years–the state offers me so much. Where else can you take in so much nature along with more than 100 years of automotive history? And then add in the food, the music, the culture. 

We have visited almost every nook and cranny of the state. Last fall, a couple of our best friends, my racing buddy Steve and his wife Deb, asked us to show them California for her 60th birthday. We had 10 days to cover a lot of ground.

[Road tripping from L.A. to Monterey Car Week] 

Our recent trip started in Los Angeles, and our mount would be a new BMW M5 fitted with the Competition Package: more than 600 horsepower and zero to 60 in about 3 seconds, all while pampering you with just about every modern convenience. Trust me, you want this car. 

We started at the Petersen–which has really upped its game–and then took in Jay Leno’s garage before visiting Autobooks-Aerobooks, a Burbank institution for car folk since 1961.

While there, I picked up another book on the history of the Sunset Strip. I’ll add it to my collection, as I’ve read just about everything I can find on the state–and, of course, my favorite author is John Steinbeck.

With reading material in hand, we drove some 1000 miles that week, hitting the interstate only once or twice–and largely without GPS navigation, too. (And you know that you’re truly familiar with a place when you know where to find the bathrooms at each stop on the schedule.)

Secretly, I wished I’d been born in L.A. in about 1940 (instead of in Massachusetts in 1960) and been able to experience the golden age of sports cars. You had the Shelby juggernaut, Vasek Polak’s all-conquering Porsche program, and the winning MGs and Triumphs coming from Hollywood Sports Cars. Entry lists from local events featured factory hotshoes, Hollywood legends and special guests from out of town. 

I recently interviewed our own Peter Brock about this period–you can watch it on our YouTube channel–and he recalls what it was like to live in a time when famed builder and racer Max Balchowsky just happened to park in the next paddock space. It was a time of unbridled optimism mixed with sheer creativity. 

We recalled those days when we visited the Cobra Experience in Martinez. For our hourlong visit, I felt like I was back in those days as I was surrounded by so many machines that shaped the Shelby lore. 

Visits to famed, longstanding restaurants like Canter’s Deli, El Coyote and Musso & Frank further reminded me what those days must have been like. The Magic Castle, another state landmark going back more than a century, requires an invite from a member but will similarly transport you to another age. 

So here’s my invite to you: Come join us in California. 

The Tuesday of Monterey Car Week, we’ll again host our Kickoff party in downtown Pacific Grove. Come enjoy cool cars, live music and a delightful evening. We’ll also be set up at Concours d’Lemons Saturday at the Seaside town hall.

[Insider's guide to Monterey Car Week 2022]

Looking for a more personal tour of the state? We have expanded our touring series to include the Golden State. This year’s tour focuses on the area north of the Golden Gate Bridge and will include a stop at the Cobra Experience.

So, what are your favorite California memories? I would love to hear about them.

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MGWrench New Reader
8/9/22 12:05 p.m.

For me, it's a personal memory:  My son moved to California after grad school for a job.  He missed being around my MGB-GT and other assorted MGs, so he bought his own - the only rusty MGB-GT in southern California!  On one trip out to visit, he bought all of the parts to rebuild the suspension and we planned a weekend thrash to get it done.  I even got an extra set of spindles to build up the front stub axles ahead of time.  We started on Friday night and by 10pm we had a list of additional parts that we needed to get the job done.  The MGB-GT was his only car, so it had to be drivable my Monday morning so he could go to work.  On Saturday morning in the wee hours, we took my rental for the run to Goleta to get parts at Moss as soon as they opened.  We were back in LA by 11am and working on the car.  We finished completely rebuilding the front suspension, rear suspension and upgraded the brakes before dawn on Sunday.  We rewarded ourselves with breakfast at Porto's and a drive on the Angeles Crest Highway.  It was the best of times.  He still has the B-GT and it's still his primary driver.

Serge Small
Serge Small New Reader
8/9/22 12:56 p.m.

I actually have two favorite California memories. The first was in June 2017. My son and I had signed up for the Targa California, sponsored by Autokennel and TRE Motorsports. We flew out to LA from Philadelphia; after picking up Daisy, my 1972 Porsche 911 T, our first stop was In N' Out Burger. Even before checking in to our hotel, we went to the Petersen Museum, having heard so much about it; it did not disappoint.

When it came time to get ready for the Targa, we went to the meeting point in Lancaster. An amazing assortment of vehicles greeted us...Porsches, Mustangs, all sorts of Italian machinery, and a lone Volvo Amazon. We all went immediately to Willow Springs International Raceway, the "fastest road in the west", for really fast parade laps. The Targa consisted of 3 days of drives through the Sierras, Death Valley, Lone Pine, Mammoth, and other incredibly beautiful sites. My favorite memory is coming out of the Sierras onto a straight downhill road that crossed Death Valley and up the other side of the Sierras. I just opened up the Porsche going down...reaching a speed of around 125 mph. Over the next days, we went through Inyo, Mono Lake, and Lee Vining for the obligatory stop for lunch at the Mobil station, and eventually ended up at our hotel in Mammoth Lakes. The day we left, it snowed!

My second favorite California memory was my trip to Rennsport Reunion VI in Monterrey. As a Porsche guy, there is no better event than seeing a thousand Porsches of all kinds driven by many of the guys I had been in touch with online. There were many beautiful and historic Porsches sent over from Europe and the Museum in Stuttgart. Of course, I signed up for the parade laps on the track at Laguna Seca., one of my bucket-list tracks to drive on. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to do the Corkscrew.

There are other trips to California, but these two stand out.

8/9/22 1:18 p.m.

My Dad traveled with me when I was transferred to San Diego in June 1988. Before he went home we were able to drive up to Riverside to see the last Budweiser 400. We were happy to experience the course before it closed.

vjonesjr New Reader
8/9/22 3:02 p.m.

So far for me it was participating in your 2021 Golden State Tour!

Warlock New Reader
8/9/22 8:29 p.m.

Goodness, which ones?  Late night runs along Skyline Drive (SR35) above the South Bay.  An unnamed back road running from Wheatland, in the northern Sierra foothills, through the nut orchards and rice paddies down to Sacramento.  Anything running through Gold Country...if you really wanted a burn in the shoulders, SR20 from Grass Valley to Emigrant Gap (a favorite warmup when heading to autocrosses over in Reno).  SoCal pavement gets all the publicity, but the driving gets better the further north you go. 

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