Sea Otter Classic is unique among festivals in the bike world. In the U.S., it’s one of the few that brings all three disciplines together – road, mountain and gravity (events like downhill and dual slalom) – so there really is something for everyone.

The annual event, now in its 28th year, can feel overwhelming without insider tips to get through the long weekend and see as much as you can.

Fortunately for spectators, the surrounding hills of Laguna Seca provide the best overall views of many events at once. From the top of the dual slalom hill, located east of the expo, viewers can watch the dual slalom, road circuit races – including the massive multi-story drop down the world-famous corkscrew – the cross-country race, or just soak up the sun with some cold drinks.

Inside the expo and closer to the race action, the spectating is much more up-close and personal, with the opportunity to watch both the cross-country short-track and cyclocross races trackside. The vibe at lower elevations feels more like a tailgate party. Expect music, beers and noisemakers.

One defining event of the festival – well worth the dusty trek beyond the Sea Otter bridge, uphill in the sun, to get a good view – is the men’s and women’s professional dual slalom finals on Saturday afternoon. Top riders face off going down the twisty track, including sharp corners and big jumps, as they race against the clock to qualify for final rounds.

For more fast events, Sunday’s professional downhill finals are a sight of speed. The top section of the downhill track is typically the more heavily-trafficked spectator area with a ton of photographers stationed at the berms and large jumps, but a short walk down the course gives more space to watch the fast-flying bikes.

For fans who don’t want to get too dirty, watching the road racing is a sure bet as riders power through all 11 twisty, tough turns of the paved Laguna Seca car track and spectators are able to see the tight line formations of some of the world’s top road racers as they take on the brutal course.

Lastly, as is typical for the warmer weather in mid-April, sunscreen, plenty of water and a hat are key accessories, as well as a light windbreaker for the afternoons as the wind can pick up quickly, especially up in the hills.

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Staff photojournalist at Monterey County Weekly.

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