Cross ‘Em Off the List: 11 Best Sports Cities (To Visit)
If you’re traveling to a city for a sporting event, a great game will only get you so far. Watching your team trounce its rival is good for something, but before and after, there has to be a scene that further validates your trip in a way that athletic accomplishment can’t. Where’s the party? If one game falls flat, are there other games going on that can salvage the weekend? If the game doesn’t fall flat, will all hell break loose with revelers after the win? A great sports town shouldn’t just have great teams, but great experiences to offer fans outside the realm of athletics, especially if they’re just in town for a few days. Here are a few of the towns that do it best.
11. St. Louis
While St. Louis doesn’t fit the description of either “college town” or “big city,” it does have perhaps the richest baseball tradition of any city in the US, making Cardinals games one of the best baseball experiences in the country (despite the fact that the stadium is built about 12 feet away from an elevated highway. It may not be the biggest party town, but this is one city that baseball fans treat like Mecca, and the resurgence of downtown St. Louis has helped craft an atmosphere that becomes remarkably party-like even after a regular-season Cards game.
Nashville is in the enviable position of straddling the line between pro sports town and college town. While Vandy hasn’t exactly been a juggernaut in recent years, a night out in this country-music mecca has a very distinct college vibe in everything from the live music to the cheap food to the thousands of kids bombing around the bars will early morning. If college sports aren’t your thing, get over to a Titans game on Sunday. As bizarre as the combination of Nashville and hockey sounds, the scene at a Predators game actually is something to behold. Falls in Nashville are not to be missed as a sports fan.
The entertainment factor of a college town on game day can’t be overestimated. You’ve got thousands upon thousands of passionate fans, geographic isolation (usually) that directs everyone’s attention to the task at hand (drinking and cheering), and a cultural experience that can’t be duplicated not even in the biggest of cities. So naturally, the home of both the Georgia Bulldogs and R.E.M. will get most anyone’s attention. The college music scene in Athens is historically one of the strongest in the country so after the pilgrimage to a Bulldogs game, don’t be in such a hurry to get to Atlanta.
The lowly Expos may be gone, but don’t feel too bad for this town. The Canadians have a history in the NHL that cannot be overestimated, while the city itself has the enviable reputation of being a cleaner, nicer, New Orleans, which could be a pro or con, depending on how much you like the grime of the Big Easy. However, with the French influence in Architecture, music and food, a trip to Montreal offers an experience that you’re probably not going to find at a Tampa Bay Lightening game. Finally, the strip clubs are supposed to be killer as well. So there’s that.
7. Ann Arbor
Half the cities on this list are huge cities boasting historic pro teams. The other half are college towns with no pro teams, but a collegiate atmosphere that makes a trip in an October weekend an electric proposition. Ann Arbor certainly isn’t Boston or Philly, but the killer dining options mesh well with tailgating and recovery from a night well spent. Michigan’s focus at the moment lies squarely on football, as the Fab Five have long since come and gone, but the stadium experience is one for the record books and you’re never too far from Detroit if you want to get shot or stabbed because you’re missing the big city.
6. New Orleans
New Orleans has a vibe that clearly lends itself to celebration nicely, so the recent success of the Saints has proven that this party town is also a pretty sweet sports town, especially given the events here in the recent years. Rarely has America seen a city so invested in its team as a source of hope and happiness. Honestly, even if the Saints were losing, NO would get a name check, but with their recent success, the vibe has gone from party town to sports party town, which may sound semantic, but makes a difference.
5. Milwaukee/Green Bay
There isn’t too much going on in Green Bay beyond the stadium experience, but a few miles away lies Milwaukee, one of the most underrated party towns in America, especially in the summer. Once teeming with European immigrants, this was the house that beer and brats built, so your typical Brewers home game in July turns into a tailgating extravaganza. I am comfortable in making the assumption that when a city has bitter cold weather for much of the year, they tend to make the most of the few summer months they get. And Milwaukee fans make the most out of every game. If you’re planning a trip up there, try to make it concurrent with Summer Fest, the largest outdoor music festival in the US.
Yeah, Wisconsin gets two entries on this list. Despite being geographically disparate, Madison and Austin share a lot of similarities, both being big, progressive college towns with both cultural touch-points as well as die-hard fans. Madison also has the reputation for being on of the most drinkin’-est cities in the US, especially while the Badgers are playing. If you’re visiting though, try to make it before the weather changes and the cold sucks out all your enthusiasm for both beer and sports. It could happen.
While Austin may not have a pro team to its name, the entertainment value o the city, coupled with the strength of the athletic program, make this entry a no-brainier. Austin is in the enviable position of offering the best of both worlds to residents and visitors alike. It’s known for being a progressive, alternative city, while at the same time being a kick-ass college town in the traditional sense, with 6th Street, live music, and an abundance of BBQ, Mexican food, and beer.
Like Boston, there’s almost no way to go wrong on a sports trip to Chicago. The city is fairly compact, so getting around is a breeze, and outside the realm of sports, there are about a million things to do between Millenium Park, Navy Pier, and the museums. Outside of the cultural pursuits, the sports experience in Chicago is an embarrassment of riches, with unique experiences across all four pro sports and histories to match. Heading the list would almost certainly be an afternoon Cubs game in Wrigleyville, which is probably as lose as you can get to a college football experience in a big city in June.
Regardless of where you stand on the rivalry between NY and Boston, or even what you think of Boston fans, there are few greater sports cities in America. All four of their pro teams have a rich history, and, with the exception of the Pats, are very centrally located to downtown. The relatively small size of Boston makes it a sports fan’s paradise when more than one team is playing on the same day, turning your average Sunday into an all-you-can-drink buffet for most of the city. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s an experience worth checking out at least once in this historic city.