Hot tips on California's premier racetracks
How to get the most bang for your buck in and around the Golden State's top tracks: Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Golden Gate Fields.
Santa Anita Park was the home of the legendary Seabiscuit. (Santa Anita Park / October 14, 2011)
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia
Racetracks have the best ambience of any venues in sports, and Santa Anita Park is Exhibit A. This track is a LeRoy Neiman painting sprung to life. The picturesque venue is best known for being the home of the legendary racehorse Seabiscuit. It has had a role in many Hollywood hits and will be featured in the upcoming HBO series "Luck."
Seasons: Sept. 30-Nov. 6, Dec. 26-April 22.
Getting there: Thirty minutes from downtown Los Angeles and 45 minutes from LAX.
Inside tips: At Clocker's Corner, racing fans can watch early-morning workouts and mingle with the jockeys, trainers and owners as they work their horses. Sessions run 4:45-10 a.m., but prime time is 7-8:30 a.m. Concessions sell breakfast and coffee.
Need a post-race beverage? The Derby, just a few furlongs off the track, is a classic steakhouse and drinking trough and draws crowds of Santa Anita horsemen. 233 E. Huntington Drive, Arcadia; (626) 447-2430, http://www.thederbyarcadia.com.
Need a steak? Pasadena's Arroyo Chop House has great cuts of beef. Dinners from about $40; 536 Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena;(626) 577-7463, http://www.arroyochophouse.com. The track's mouthpiece, Mike Willman, also recommends Callahan's in Azusa, a friendly joint that serves a nice slab of prime rib and features a convivial bar. Dinners from about $15; 200 S. Irwindale Ave., Azusa; (626) 334-5532.
Other hangouts: For a neighborhood vibe and a wide-ranging menu, try Nikki C's. Dinners from about $20; 470 S. Rosemead Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 792-7437, http://www.nikkics.com. The racing crowd also gives high marks to Matt Denny's for its well-priced burgers and $15.95 tri-tip platter; 145 E. Huntington Drive, Arcadia; (626) 462-0250, http://www.mattdennys.com.
Lodging choices: The grounds at the Langham Huntington, formerly the Ritz-Carlton, feel like an extension of Santa Anita. Rooms from $170; 1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena; (626) 568-3900, http://www.pasadena.langhamhotels.com. DoubleTree Inn is more affordable though significantly less memorable. Rooms from $122; 924 W. Huntington Drive, Monrovia; (626) 357-1900, doubletree1.hilton.com.
Hollywood Park, Inglewood
This former Hollywood hangout burned down in 1949, was rebuilt in 1950 and in 1951 hosted racing's first $1-million horse, Citation. It's still vibrant, as seen when it hosted
Zenyatta's 19th straight win last year.
Season: Nov. 10-Dec. 18.
Getting there: 10-minute cab ride from LAX; 20-30 minutes from downtown.
Insider tips: Hollywood Park is popular for its night racing, rarely available at other tracks. Concerts follow the races on some nights.
Need a post-race beverage? Pancho's in Manhattan Beach is a great place to watch sports and drink margaritas with friends. Or grab brunch before the races. Brunch from $16.95; 3615 Highland Ave.; (310) 545-6670, http://www.panchosrestaurant.com.
Need a steak? For a classic steak or seafood, try the Buggy Whip. Better cuts of beef start at about $30, which includes chowder or salad and sides; 7420 La Tijera Blvd., Westchester; (310) 645-7131, http://www.thebuggywhip.com.
Other hangouts: Paco's Tacos in Westchester makes tortillas fresh all day long, entrees less than $10; 6212 W. Manchester Ave.; (310) 645-8692. Coffee Co. serves good affordable breakfasts, crepes and home-style food; 8751 La Tijera Blvd., Westchester; (310) 645-7315.