Travel Playbook: Houston, Detroit among must-visit sports destinations
Congratulations, you've accomplished the hard part. You got tickets to one of the weekend's biggest games. But travel comes with questions: where to eat, where to party, what mistakes to avoid. Well, fear not. Here's your traveler's guide to the sporting weekend.
Must-Watch Game: Clippers vs. Rockets (Saturday, Nov. 9 at 8 p.m.)
Both offenses exploded when these two teams met this week in L.A. Dwight Howard is playing like his old self and Chris Paul is playing like an MVP candidate. Close your eyes and imagine Blake Griffin jumping up for a slam with D-12 rising to block. You simply can't miss this.
Best Restaurant: Oxheart
When you're as good as chef Justin Yu, you get to control everything. The only choice the customer gets is a selection of three tasting menus, each populated by a collection of dishes that feature bold, creative uses of fresh local ingredients. Give up your need for control and let Oxheart take you places that you'd never take yourself.
Best Sports Bar: Lucky's Pub
Lucky's stays true to everything being bigger in Texas with its 21-foot HD screen (and 50 more flatscreens hung on the walls for good measure). Great food and a huge selection of beers mean that this place doesn't just rest on the electronic fireworks.
Best Layover Viewing Option: Fox Sports Skybox
This is about as close to a proper sports bar as you'll find in any airport. This sprawling restaurant in Terminal E has the standard pub fare and offers a killer selection of TVs to catch whatever you happen to be into. Seriously, the flatscreens are like wallpaper in this place.
Sneaky Arena Advice: Red and White Wine Bistro
You can set yourself up with your own luxury box view for a fraction of the price by snagging a table at this high-end buffet. Many of the tables face right out over the arena, giving you the exact view that the high-rollers have from the expensive seats. Make your reservation early, the good viewing spots fill up quick.
Must-Watch Game: LSU vs. Alabama (Saturday, Nov. 9 at 8 p.m.)
This storied rivalry has defined the national championship picture for the past several years. The Tigers are out of contention, but would love nothing more than to spoil the Tide's pursuit of a third straight title.
Best Sports Bar: Gallette's
As a city built around a football team, Tuscaloosa has conveniently placed its central restaurant district, known as The Strip, within a few blocks walking distance of the stadium. The Strip offers any number of great places for revelry before, after or during the game. The bar's slogan is, "Everyone always ends up at Gallette's." You might as well join them.
Best Restaurant: Nick's Original Filet House
Let's be honest, you didn't come to Alabama for sushi. Locals call this place Nicks in the Sticks and for good reason -- you'll probably only find it with a quality GPS. The hunt is worth it though, as this unapologetically simple hole in the wall offers up some of the best BBQ and fish you'll ever have. The prices are mercifully at a level even a student can afford.
Cheer Like a Local
There are a couple moments when you'll want to join the Tide fans in a cheer. The first is when everyone shouts "Roll Tide" in unison at the opening kickoff. The second comes if Alabama is fortunate enough to come out victorious. The, sometimes-controversial, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer chant is sung once the Tide has put away their opponent for good. Study the words and be ready to join in.
Where to Sit
You'll want to be as close to the South endzone as possible. That's where the Alabama student section is. They will be loud, they will be crazy, they will probably be a bit inappropriate, but there's no better way to get yourself into a game than to get as close as possible to people who care about it more than you do.
Tailgating is almost as important as the actual game in Tuscaloosa. The place to be is The Quad on the university campus where the school's official pre-game party takes place. There's an autograph tent, fan apparel store and even a spot to dump your used up charcoal. Don't miss the Walk of Champions, which takes place 5:10 p.m.; it's a rare opportunity to see the team up close before game time.
Must-Watch Game: Lighting vs. Red Wings (Saturday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m.)
Detroit is hockey. Take the chance to enjoy the Red Wings in their historic home before they move to a proposed new stadium in the coming years. The Lightning are the surprise team in the NHL's Eastern conference so far this year. It's legends vs. upstarts on the ice.
Best Sports Bar: Nemo's Bar and Grill
Nemo's has literally everything a sports fan could need. Located down the street from the old Tigers stadium, Nemo's has plenty of booze, a charming dive atmosphere and one of the best burgers in town. This even offers a shuttle to games so you can get loose before the puck is dropped or celebrate afterwards.
Best Restaurant: Slows
Run by an enigmatic former model, come city planner, Slows could easily be called the most important restaurant in the city. The success of this slow-cooking BBQ joint encouraged other restaurateurs to invest in a once-forgotten area of the city. People often wait for hours for a taste of the pulled pork and brisket. Slows is less of a restaurant and more of a Detroit experience.
Best Layover Viewing Option: SlapShotz Bar and Grill
What better place to catch a hockey game while waiting for your flight than an actual hockey-themed sports bar. The walls are lined with TVs and memorabilia to help you feel at home. Another bonus: The drinks are famous for being strong, and not just for an airport bar.
Free Swag Alert
Saturday's game is a fan giveaway night. The first 5,000 fans get a free scarf, which you may need on your way out of the arena. The temperature should be in the 30's come late night.
It's pretty widely known that the thing to do at Red Wings games is to throw an octopus onto the ice. It's a tradition that dates back to 1952, but may be on its way out. Fans have been ejected in recent years for the throwing of octopi. There's even reports of one fan getting a $500 fine. Throwing the cephalopod might be the coolest thing you do at the game, but it also might be the last thing you do.
Must-Watch Game: Panthers vs. 49ers (Sunday, Nov. 10 at 4:05 p.m.)
Barring playoff games, this is one of just four chances to see the 49ers play at the legendary Candlestick Park. A new stadium, 40 miles down the road, is slated for completion in time for next season. The game also features two of the league's best defenses and most dynamic quarterbacks.
Best Sports Bar: Kezar Pub
Pay homage to the 49ers past by visiting this rowdy sports bar directly across the street from the team's former home, Kezar Stadium. The Niners played in Kezar for 25 years before moving to Candlestick in 1971. The bar itself is no slouch. It's frequently voted among the best in the city and is just a few blocks from the famous Haight-Ashbury intersection, should you fancy a wander into hippie history after the game.
Best Restaurant: Supper Club
San Francisco is one of the weirdest cities on the planet, so why not head here and indulge your freak flag. You don't sit at a table; you lie in a white bed with your shoes off. All around, performance artists will have you constantly engaged and perplexed. Each night features a unique prix-fixe menu of creative dishes. Saturday's experience is built around an absinthe fairy tale. What could possibly go wrong?
Best Layover Viewing Option: Knuckles Historical Sports Bar
Just down the road from the main terminals, Knuckles is the rare hotel bar that invokes a unique, intimate feel. There is quality food and more than 30 beers on tap. The staff is friendly and the atmosphere is comfortable and quiet.
Public nudity wasn't made illegal in San Francisco until last November (the protests were a sight to see). Be prepared to run into the occasional free spirit who's chosen not to adhere to the new guidelines. The Castro neighborhood, the birthplace of the gay rights movement, is one of the city's most important sights to see. But maybe leave the kids at home or you may have some uncomfortable questions to answer on the ride back to the hotel.
Getting to the Game
Give yourself way more time than you think you need. San Francisco traffic and transit delays can be epic -- as in miss the first half epic. You may want to invest in a ticket on the Ultimate 49ers Experience. It might cost a bit more, but you'll know you can get to Candlestick well before kickoff.