Football isn’t a game of inches, it’s a game of miles — frequent flier miles!
Visitor spending associated with sports events totaled $10.47 billion in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the National Association of Sports Commissions. That’s a heckuva lot of fried peanut butter and jelly bites (a new offering this season) at Buffalo’s New Era Field.
There’s no shame in being one of those have-Stubhub-will-travel fanboys and girls. Just know those three-letter abbreviations you love to hate on the scoreboard — ATL, CLE, HOU, what have you — are actual living, breathing cities offering more than just a sticky seat to occupy for 3½ hours.
The diverse places that are home to the country’s greatest stadiums and football matchups are also chock-full of exciting goings-on. Yes, there’s life beyond the parking-lot tailgate, so here are 11 NFL cities to explore during your next away-game adventure.
Chicago – The Bears, Soldier Field
Best bets inside the stadium: Not sure if you’ve ever witnessed a Chicagoan in the wild, but trust us when we say they enjoy food. Solider Field, accordingly, has had to up its cuisine game this season. New gastronomic goodies include sandwiches from Cafe L’Appetito, gyros from Kronos, machine-vended salad jars from Farmer’s Fridge, meat from Au Feu and fries topped with popcorn chicken, buffalo sauce and blue cheese from Chicken Luv. You’ll also now find more Italian panini options you thought possible in the bratwurst heaven that is Chi-Town
What to do off the field: Chicago may be last in the NFC North (as of press time), but it’s first in the travel glossies. For the second consecutive year, Condé Nast Traveler’s readers voted Chicago the “Best Big City in the US.” Helping the cause might be the beloved Chicago Architecture Center, which, in August, moved to the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive after 25 years in the Railway Exchange Building. Meanwhile, late last month, Art on theMART — a rejiggering of the city’s Merchandise Mart into an enormous canvas for digital art — was birthed in front of thousands. Projectors displayed the works of four artists, followed by a fireworks show. Bankrolled by Vornado Realty Trust, the $8 million, 30(!)-year installation will present art with zero sponsorship and zero corporate branding. It’s slated to run up to two hours a night, five nights a week, from March through December. Since you’re near the water, Odyssey Cruises has a new tech-heavy, Euro-styled, glass-enclosed ship to ply the Chicago River. Views of the 360-degree variety and curated live music can and will do nicely.
Where to stay: Hotel openings are kind of the Windy City’s thing. Two that sprung up this year are reincarnations: the St. Jane Chicago — a rebranded and renovated rendition of the Hard Rock Hotel, named for activist Jane Addams — from $189/night; and the Hotel Julian — formerly the Atlantic Bank, named for St. Julian, the patron saint of hospitality — from $101/night.
San Francisco – The 49ers, Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara)
Best bets inside the stadium: Levi’s seemed bedeviled by a Candlestick Curse the minute the Niners bailed on San Francisco’s gusty Hunters Point for ho-hum Santa Clara in 2014. The field had to be resodded multiple times. The shade-starved stadium suffers from sunlight overexposure (one fan croaked of heatstroke early on). And the scoreboard lights have allegedly blinded pilots flying into San Jose’s airport from time to time. But that’s easily forgotten when you behold its two brand-new, 350-pound statues of Joe Montana and Dwight Clark commemorating “The Catch.”
What to do off the field: Warning, Santa Clara is a Silicon Valley yawnscape. Quick, head to San Francisco, just 50 miles northwest (90-minute bus and shuttle options available), where it’s time for a golf break! Pebble Beach, schmebble beach — the best links in NorCal are at just-opened Stagecoach Greens, located in SF’s Mission Bay ’hood (which will also be the Warriors’ new home, come the 2019-20 season). It’s the city’s first outdoor mini-golf course. Each of its 18 holes are based on San Francisco’s historic past or present, from the gold rush to the summer of love to the tech bonanza. A beer garden and a heavy presence of food trucks keep those above-par putts from ruining an otherwise perfect day. Also worth seeing is China Live, opened in the spring of last year as a kind of Chinatown 2.0. It’s a food emporium considered to be the Chinese Eataly, featuring fine dining, bars, grocers and plenty o’ retail — a $20 million, 90-employee, 30,000-square-foot undertaking. When night falls, head to Speakeasy SF, an immersive choose-your-own-adventure theater experience on SF’s Broadway (the exact location only given the night of your reservation). With jazz, burlesque and casino touches, you’ll be timewarped into a shady Prohibition-era underworld, where there are 35 characters to interact with (“flappers, floozies, gangsters, and bootleggers”). Dressing up is encouraged, so rent something there if your pinstripe suit at home is rife with mothballs or too big to fit in your carryon.
Where to stay: The Virgin Hotel San Francisco is as ready as it is ruddy. Richard Branson’s SoMa-based outpost opens its doors soon, so landing rezzies for its 192 “chambers” and two penthouse suites will be its own competitive bloodsport (from $425/night). But the rooftop bar is worth a drop-in, regardless of where you rest your head.
Denver – The Broncos, Broncos Stadium at Mile High
Best bets inside the stadium: The concession stands this year unveiled a whole bunch of tasty ways to cure your now legalized munchies: beef sliders and fries by Chef Troy Guard of TAG; rice and noodle bowls by Chef Lon Symensma of ChoLon; wood-fired pizzas by Chef Elise Wiggins of Cattivella; Centerpiece’s new BBQ Thunder Dog; green chili mac and cheese; oven-fired pizza subs and Reuben sandwiches to name a few. Tech-wise, you’ll notice self-ordering kiosks and “ripple technology” used to carve Broncos-themed images into the foam of your Bud Light. Nifty.
What to do off the field: Got a tagger’s itch that needs scratching? Skip the self-destructing Banksy and live vicariously through those lesser-known but equally apt at the point-and-spray arts. On the fresh new Denver Graffiti Tour, you’ll explore the city’s best street art in the River North Art District (RiNo), where tour guides deliver full backstories on the unsolicited walled masterpieces. Keep those creative juices flowing at months-old Zeppelin Station, a 100,000-square-foot market hall and creative workspace featuring a collection of chefs, merchants and artistic companies located at a new light rail station along the route from downtown to Denver International Airport. On the beer front, there’s now an Odell Brewing Company taproom and the Bierstadt Lagerhaus. For those looking to troll their livers even more, its new distilleries include The Block Distilling, Ironton Distilling, BOOZ hall RiNo and Rising Sun Distillery. All that pregaming is bound to make the Dior exhibit at the Denver Art Museum even more of a laugh. If you’re going to the football game, get your tailgate on a little early at Briar Common Brewery. It’s a perfectly staggerable 0.2 miles from the stadium.
Where to stay: The grog-lovin’ gang behind Denver’s The Source — an 1880s foundry building turned artisanal market hall — debuted its adjacent, 100-room sister property, The Source Hotel. There’s a brewery in the lobby (of course), which is New Belgium’s first Denver small-batch operation. Up on the rooftop there’s a restaurant/bar, The Woods, along with a year-round pool terrace blessed with vistas of the Denver skyline and Rocky Mountains (from $249/night).
New York – The Giants and The Jets, MetLife Stadium
Best bets inside the stadium: Is the NY Jets Fan Hall of Fame equal parts narcissistic and masochistic? Of course it is. But when it was unveiled last season, it was all the rage in a stadium that doesn’t always boast new features (or house winning teams, for that matter). The Jets mobile app might be more utilitarian as it talks with Uber and coughs up maps on demand. Eateries of note include Fat Rooster, Barbecue Shack, Global Pie, Taco Roqueros, Sushi Station and Grater Mac Shop.
What to do off the field: Pizza — every carbon-based organism from humans to subway rats loves the dang stuff, and finally a museum has opened to rightfully honor it. Trek over to Williamsburg’s William Vale hotel for the no-joke Museum of Pizza, a pop-up open through Nov. 18. Inside, enjoy one slice along with immersive installations. The place is (100 percent, completely by design) Instagrammable. Still hungry? Brave Candytopia, another Instagram-friendly “museum” welcoming sugar-seeking, photo-taking visitors from its perch across from Penn Station until Nov. 15. It made of a series of interactive displays in over 12 environments, from flying unicorn pigs to a marshmallow tsunami. When the 2,000-pound gorilla in the room is actually a 2,000-pound gorilla in the room, you might be taking in “King Kong” at the Broadway Theatre, a brand-new musical scored by Marius de Vries (“La La Land”) and Eddie Perfect (“Beetlejuice The Musical”). Or relive the Richard Gere/Julia Roberts magic of the ’90s with Broadway’s new adaptation of “Pretty Woman.” It’s playing at the Nederlander Theatre and slated to run through June of next year. The latest look at a New York arts icon, the Whitney’s “Andy Warhol — from A to B and Back Again” exhibit runs from Nov. 12 through March 2019. Dive into Warhol’s entire career, from his illustrating and painting days to his dalliances in film.
Where to stay: Just what the Big Apple needs, another hotel. But wait, there’s something different about this one. Dutch lodger CitizenM’s NYC hotel on the Bowery is both trendy won’t break the bank (from $174/night). Besides a pioneering modular design, colorful decor and cheeky toiletries, it also hosts the Museum of Street Art honoring Long Island City’s late great, graffiti grotto, 5 Pointz, with commissioned portraits and collages from 20 of its alumni lining a long staircase.
Cleveland – The Browns, FirstEnergy Stadium
Best bets inside the stadium: Remember the rally possum? The “factory of sadness,” as one angry fan named the the arena because of the team’s lackluster record, became a factory of happiness after a fan captured and released a runaway marsupial, which found his way into the stands on the very day the Browns snapped their 19-game winless streak.
What to do off the field: Is there a meme of that moment you realize you’re trapped in Cleveland? If so, it should be filled with unexpected grins and heart-eye emojis. Its Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has a new exhibit this year celebrating music and pinball’s eternal consummation called “Part of the Machine.” Playable games featuring KISS, Guns N’ Roses, Alice Cooper, Dolly Parton, The Who and Elton John will showcase the pairing. And sure, there’s a little cooked-in irony that the other hall of fame — the Pro Football one in nearby Canton — resides just an hour south of a city whose team recently went 635 days without a W. But things are looking up, so celebrate when the campus opens its $600 million Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village next year. It’ll have food, shopping and a virtual reality amusement park lauding the 100th season of the NFL. Just don’t forget your Cleveland Brewery Passport, allowing you to explore 30 some-odd hops houses within 25 miles of downtown.
Where to stay: The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland is still batting her eyelashes after a “multi-million dollar redefinition” that updated the downtown digs’ rooms and suites, club lounge, fitness center and lobby (from $303/night). There’s also a new restaurant/lounge, TURN Bar + Kitchen, that’s “a nod to the spirit and legacy of Cleveland’s steel-working industry.” That translates to healthy stuff in the morning, signature dishes during the day and heavy booze at night once a steam whistle sounds.
Washington, D.C. – The RedSkins, FedExField
Best bets inside the stadium: While the team name continues to be spark debate, the stadium frills are hard to contest. There’s a new fan pavilion space with breakfast sandwiches, a bloody Mary bar, a couple dozen TVs and unobstructed field views. Concession-wise, you’ll also find awesomeness in the form of West Coast nachos, mini meatball bombers and local craft brews from Devils Backbone and such.
What to do off the field: Where the deuce is Landover, Md., anyway? You’re not going to be here long enough to find out. When the fourth-quarter game clock hits 00:00, commandeer whatever vehicle you can and head to DC, just a half-hour drive west. Yes, we’re swamp-bound, baby. The most exciting new development (and largest in the city) is The Wharf, a $2.5 billion, 24-acre mixed-use project (music, shopping, hotels, restaurants) along the waterfront. Phase 1 debuted a year ago. The buzziest new addition to the mile-long district is Nicholas Stefanelli’s just-opened Italian spot, Officina. It’s a cafe, Italian market, second-floor eatery, private event space and rooftop bar, all bundled into one.
Where to stay: DC’s new 209-room Eaton Hotel boasts “progressive” amenities: its own radio station; a movie theater; a “radical” library; Himalayan salt lamps; yoga classes and other wellness-oriented flourishes. (Its founder, Kat Lo, is the daughter of a real estate billionaire, so she knows the good life.) The sleek boutique aesthetic, Bluetooth vinyl record players and killer in-room WiFi are high notes (from $245/night).
Best bets inside the stadium: This season adds two new restaurants — Antoine’s Famous Po’ Boys and Original Ninfa’s on Navigation — serving up sandwiches and Mexican snackage, respectively. Stadium suites have been renovated with fresh paint and LED recessed lighting. NRG has teamed up with Waze to allow you to get parking directions and other real-time traffic-related info through the Texans app. And the Chevron Kids Corner has been expanded, as have NRG’s retail options (they’ll even deliver apparel to your seat).
What to do off the field: The Astros may have choked in their World Series pursuit this year, but H-town can’t be bummed out. There’s just too much new going on. The mega-huge, multiple block-spanning artist enclave known as Sawyer Yards continues to balloon. Already home to a gazillion local artists and studios, restaurants, public galleries, performance spaces and breweries, the 40-plus acre development will soon add a Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company outpost, a local cider maker and a barbecue spot to its ever-growing collective of creativity and fun. If you find yourself in an artsy mood, head over to Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts. Opened in 2017, the 50,000-square-foot space displays works of all disciplines and media. Also: There’s been a bug going around and it’s not the flu — it’s food hall-itis and Houston is far from immune. Three — Finn Hall, Bravery Hall and Lyric Market — are opening up this year alone, while Understory and Railway Heights will join them in 2019, with Airline Farmers Market not far behind in 2020.
Where to stay: In March, the Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston opened as one of the city’s newest luxe lodges. The 10-acre development has a 38-story tower with 250 rooms and suites (from $429/night). Gear heads, you’re in luck. Other perks include a two-story Rolls-Royce showroom and an on-site Bentley and Bugatti Post Oak Motors dealership. So bring your PayPal password.
Los Angeles – The Rams, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and The Chargers, StubHub Center
Best bets inside the stadium: The subway-accessible Coliseum is fancy University of Southern California turf: surrounded by rose gardens and the California Science Center (where the Space Shuttle Endeavor is double parked). The Rams will enjoy it until they get their own Inglewood-based Hollywood Park stadium in 2020, which they’ll share with their AFC stepbrothers, the Chargers. Speaking of the Chargers, their current temporary home, the open-air StubHub Center in (ugh) Carson, uses distributed antenna system (DAS) satellites instead of Wi-Fi to keep you connected. Perfect for Instagramming that perfect shot of the game.
What to do off the field: As with the city’s many stars and starlets, nothing is allowed to stay old in LA. LA Cycle now offers three-hour taco bike tours that’ll take you to all the hidden tortilla stuffers in town. For $100, it’s all you can eat — so eat all the tacos. Over at the top of the US Bank Tower, the OUE Skyspacenow offers sunset yoga classes every Tuesday, now through March. It’s $25 for an hour-long session including a ride down the observation deck’s famous all-glass Skyslide as a kicker. (It’s a mere 1,000 feet up in the air.) And if you thought it couldn’t get any more LA than that, the city’s first cryptocurrency club, MORE Hollywood, just opened in the elite (and subterranean) nightlife super space Argyle Hollywood. Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg and a zillion other A-listers have graced the 8,900-square-foot Argyle with their presence over the years. It’s a private kind of an affair that requires its members to hold MORE coin to buy exclusive goods and services inside the celeb-infested club. Migos even dropped by its new suite, presumably to make it crypto-rain, when MORE launched on Oct. 14.
Where to stay: We know you’re a football fan, but perchance you’ve heard of this cat who plays basketball named LeBron? Now an LA Laker, LEVEL Furnished Living DTLA is offering short-term rental packages “fit for the King.” The good news, this means luxury suite living, Lakers tickets, team apparel and much more. The bad news is the three-night price tag ranges from $1,500 to $230,023 (the latter includes private jet access). If you want to enjoy fully furnished apartment living at a palatable price, LEVEL offers one-bedroom suites from $284/night.
Miami – The Dolphins, Hard Rock Stadium
Best bets inside the stadium: Wynwood? The funky, mural-filled nabe is more like Losewood when you consider the aesthetic competition from the Dolphins’ HQ. Hard Rock Stadium sports an enviable street art extravaganza thanks to a partnership with Goldman Global Arts. You’ll find 19 murals and 17 fine art pieces by 18 folks hailing from 10 different countries. (And you thought football stats were hard.) Cultural initiative aside, the venue still caters to the preppy and visored; it will also host the Miami Open tennis tourney next spring.
What to do off the field: Forget hurricanes: The Magic City has been flooded by food halls of late. At least 10 opened in the past year or so, including a same-named spin-off of New Orleans’ St. Roch Market in the Design District, La Centrale and Casa Tua Cucina in Brickell and health food-happy Jackson Hall in the city’s Jackson Health District. Set to open up next month is Lincoln Eatery, designed by Arquitectonica. It’ll sport 16 casual and artisanal concepts designed for higher-minded fast-foodies. What’s more, a bit farther afield, celebrated chef Pablo Salas has a chic new Mexican eatery in Fort Lauderdale called Lona Cocina y Tequileria.
Where to stay: Two exciting lodging ops are on Miami’s menu. The first is European hostel chain Generator’s inaugural foray into America. A hostel on Collins Avenue, you say? Indeed. They shape-shifted a former condo into 101 affordable and surprisingly awesome rooms (300 beds total) from $25/night for shared accommodations $95/night for private. Then, in December, the JW Turnberry Isle Resort (on 300 acres between Miami and Fort Lauderdale and just 10 minutes from Hard Rock Stadium) is reborn with a new 16-story, 325-room Orchid Tower, doubling its capacity to 685 rooms (from $229/night).
Atlanta – The Falcons, Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Best bets inside the stadium: The mutant metallic pinwheel (ooh and aah as it retracts that roof) that is MBS, now just over a year old, has just teamed up with local brewer Wild Heaven Beer to sell — gasp! — $5 12-oz. pale ales. That’s a major bargain in arena dollars. Drink up heavily, my friends, before they realize what a horrible mistake they’ve made. Oh, did we mention Atlanta is hosting the Super Bowl in February?
What to do off the field: Holy moley! ATL anxiously awaits the opening of the Robert De Niro-involved, just-groundbroken Phipps Plaza redevelopment (expect a Nobu, Restaurant Atlanta and a 90,000-square-foot Life Time athletic facility in the next few years). In the meantime, they’re just chillin’ with something boozy and Polynesian at the new Tiki Iniki, now open in the former Illegal Foods space. It’s Hotlanta’s take on Todd Rundgren’s Hawaiian resto of the same name (yes, he of “I Saw the Light” fame). Next year, look for Zoo Atlanta’s Grand New View construction to wrap up. Its Cyclorama building will be transformed into Savanna Hall, where African pachyderm and other critters from the continent will have new habitats to explore.
Where to stay: The 94-year-old Hotel Clermont was once a glitzy den of iniquity, home to a Playboy Club in the middle of the last century. Then it turned into a punk rock drug lair with a basement strip club featuring geriatric dancers. After that, it almost fell into complete disrepair (around the still-birthday-suited geriatrics) and was nearly razed. Luckily, it was bought and renovated over a decade’s time and reborn this year by Oliver Hospitality as a 94-room boutique hotel that doesn’t shy away from its sketchy past (from $219/night). There’s even a “Shining”-inspired Here’s Johnny Experience where you sleep in room 237 with only a comped glass of bourbon to take the edge off. Outkast quotes adorning various spots throughout the building? Check. An American-French brasserie, Tiny Lou’s, and a rooftop bar? Double check.
New Orleans – The Saints, Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Best bets inside the stadium: The Superdome is probably the most heroic of this bunch, being that it housed thousands of NOLA residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina back in ’05. In September, it less heroically hosted Taylor Swift, who broke the venue’s all-time attendance record for a female performer (53,172 total Swifties). Ed Sheeran takes the stage — in between games, of course — this Halloween.
What to do off the field: This year, the Big Easy turns 300. To celebrate the big three-oh-oh, the New Orleans Museum of Art is presenting the Orleans Collection, a show-and-tell courtesy of the city’s namesake, Philippe II Duke of Orléans. Meanwhile, seven not-for-profit museums in the French Quarter have teamed up to create the French Quarter Museum Association, an effort to shine a brighter light on the city’s history museums. Members include the Historic New Orleans Collection, Hermann-Grima + Gallier Historic Houses, the Beauregard-Keyes Historic House and Garden Museum, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, the Louisiana State Museum, the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the US Mint and the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center. Their first order of business was to open a much-needed visitor centerat 533 Royal St. as a central hub. Finally, for some sustenance amid all the culture, the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB) opened in its new location at 1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. in the renovated Dryades Market.
Where to stay: The Loews New Orleans Hotel just welcomed in Poydras & Peters, an American brasserie helmed by town native Thomas Hines. Picture a blend of good ol’ Yankee fare with Italian and Vietnamese flair. Better yet, stay here and eat it (from $102/night).
The NY Post, Previously Published