Travel Playbook: Cleveland, Dallas among must-visit sports destinations
There's nothing better than a sports travel weekend. But the actual game will only take up about three of the 48 hours you need to fill. Here's you guide for where to eat, drink and avoid when you hit the road to catch the game this weekend.
Must-Watch Game: Ravens at Browns, (Sunday, Nov. 3 at 4:25 p.m.)
This game probably looked like quite the bust when the schedule was drawn up. The Browns are proving themselves to be a tough squad to beat while the Super Bowl champs have fallen back to earth. Oh yeah, and Cleveland fans are probably still bitter that their beloved team, and its two eventual championships, were shipped off to Maryland 17 years ago.
Best Sports Bar: Winking Lizard Tavern
The only number more impressive than this bar's 14 locations is the 300 beers it has on offer between them. The especially ambitious can partake in the Lizard's World Tour of beers, a challenge to try 100 of their global brews in one calendar year. Those who complete the tour earn themselves a custom commemorative jacket and respect from man and beast, near and far.
Best Restaurant: Lola
You may think that this place finds itself at the top of most "Best of" lists on the back of the growing celebrity of head chef, and Iron Chef, Michael Symon. But such criticism ignores the innovative, sophisticated and downright delicious meals that come out of his kitchen. You will lose your mind over the smoked Hampshire pork chop with chilies, cheesy polenta and BBQ onions regardless of the notoriety of the man who cooked it.
Best Layover Viewing Spot: Panini's Bar and Grill
Hopkins Airport does have a proper sports bar, Winners, but the real winner is the airport location of this Cleveland institution. The regular locations are among the city's best sports bar and the terminal locale maintains that standard. Most importantly, the prices for food items (including the famous overstuffed sandwich) are exactly the same as out in the real world.
How to Get to the Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium is right in the heart of downtown Cleveland, so getting there is a breeze. It's only about 45 minutes from the airport to the arena on the Red Line train. There's also an Amtrak station directly across the street.
Essential Tailgating Advice: Do your homework. Each of the different lots at Hopkins Stadium has its own personality and party-style. To get closest to Cleveland's most famous fans, you'll wan to be in the Muni Lot, but be careful, you may mindlessly park in a spot that's belonged to the same fan for many years. Ask around and avoid the inevitable chastising.
Must-Watch Game: Grizzlies at Mavericks (Saturday, Nov. 2, 8:30 p.m.)
Dallas takes its speedy new roster up against the Grizzlies' twin towers in the middle. There will either be bruised little guys or exhausted big fellas by the end of this one.
Best Restaurant: Lockhart Smokehouse
You're not coming to Texas for sushi (though you could and it would be great). Dallas is a BBQ town and the best of the bunch is Lockhart Smokehouse. Proprietor Jill Grobowsky's family has been feeding people in Dallas for more than 100 years. The food here is simple, smoked and succulent. No forks necessary.
Best Sports Bar: Texan Station at the Gaylord Texan
The Dallas-Fort Worth area just has too many stellar sports bars, you need to find something to differentiate between them. Enter the Texan Station and its 52 foot television. You read that right. Not 52 inches ... 52 feet. It's enough to make Jerry Jones jealous.
Best Layover Viewing Spot: Reata Grill
Just because you're only in the city for a few hours doesn't mean you have to miss out on classic Texas cowboy food. Reata's mixes a selection of down-home favorites with killer Tex-Mex options to create probably the best food selection in DFW. Throw in a TV with the game on over the bar and you're all set.
Must-see Arena Entertainment: Dallas Mavericks ManiAACs
If the trim midsections and precise moves of your typical dance team aren't your style, you'll enjoy the antics of the ManiAACs. The crew is made up of a collection of portly gentlemen who awkwardly wiggle their way through hilarious dance routines. Yes, they're in on the joke as well.
Where to Sit: Mavs owner Mark Cuban is the rare head honcho who is an attraction in and of himself. His rants against bad calls, fiery celebrations and general rowdiness are legendary. If you'd like to witness the man in action try to get seats in section 114. Cuban sits in the floor seats right below that area.
Must-Watch Game: Hurricanes at Seminoles (Saturday, Nov. 2, 8:00 p.m.)
It feels like the 90's again. These two storied rivals meet as top-10 ranked opponents for the first time in almost a decade. Each team is undefeated. One likely loses its chance at a national title.
Best Sports Bar: A.J. Sports Bar and Grill
As close to a unanimous best as you'll find anywhere, A.J. is owned and operated by a die-hard FSU alumni. The menu features $4 burgers and brats on game days. The 50 TV's will mean you don't miss a single play and the optional 24oz. "Big Daddy" frosted mug of beer will make sure you get your game face on in an efficient manner.
Best Restaurant: Wells Brothers Bar and Grill
This may not be the fanciest joint in town, but this joint, known locally as "Monks" is a quintessential Tallahassee experience. The essential meal is one of their signature burgers, preferably the Gator-Hater so everyone in the joint knows your allegiances.
Best Layover Viewing Spot: Samuel Adams Celebrates Tallahassee
For such a small regional airport, Tallahassee provides a high-quality locale to catch the game. Try some of your favorite Sam Adams brews along with a handful of selections you won't find anywhere else.
Must Witness Stadium Traditions
Definitely don't be late or you'll miss Chief Osceola ride in on his trusty horse Renegade and thrust his flaming spear into midfield. Another great tradition is the Sod Cemetery. Since 1962, a handful of sod has been brought back to Tallahassee each time the team defeats a favored opponent on the road. That turf is commemorated as a token of another time that the Seminoles overcame expectations to grab victory.
Must-Watch Game: Real Salt Lake vs. L.A. Galaxy (Sunday, Nov. 3, 6:00 p.m.)
L.A.'s quest for a third-straight title begins against a tough Salt Lake team that finished just one point out of the top spot in the Western Conference. Landon Donovan is still the face of American soccer, but he might be watching from home after this weekend.
Best restaurant: Spago
It may be a bit cliché, but hey, you're in L.A. This is probably your best shot at having a legit celebrity encounter, especially since superstar chef Wolfgang Puck tends to say hello to nearly all of his customers when he's in town. It's not all about the scene, though. The food here is consistently among the best in L.A.
Best Sports Bar: Barney's Beanery
What started as a quaint onion soup restaurant in the 1920's has blown up into a rowdy, garishly decorated chain of killer sports bars that dot the L.A. landscape. The crowd varies based on location. For the highest volume, join the UCLA student body in the Westwood version.
Best Layover Viewing Spot: The Encounter
Finding a comfortable seat and an eye line to a television is usually a whatever-works affair at the airport. Rare is the bar that checks those boxes while also being a destination in itself. The Encounter's futuristic exterior is LAX's most recognizable landmark. Inside is a similarly sci-fi interior which may even suck your attention away from the game for a few moments.
Must Know Travel Advice: Public transport is pretty sparse in LA, so you'll probably be driving. Be prepared for traffic. The StubHub Center lies right at the intersection of some of the city's most nightmarish freeways. The 6 p.m. start puts you right in the heart of rush hour. Your best bet is to get into the area early. Download the Sig Alert app. It's the life blood of locals.
Where to Sit: Love of the beautiful game is alive and well in Los Angeles. So is the enthusiasm of the hardcore fans. To be in the mix with the die-hards, sit in section 108 or 110. Brush up on your soccer knowledge before you head to the game. These are no sections for misunderstanding the offside rule.