March Madness must list: Where to eat, drink and have fun in NCAA host cities
Here is the premise of March Madness: From 68 National Collegiate Athletic Assn. teams, there will be one winner. If you’re attending the tournament, which starts Tuesday (here’s the schedule), your travels will take you to cities across the country. Here are some things to know, places to eat and drink and places you need to see or experience before going home.
What to know: Between theme parks and sports stadiums, Anaheim always has something going on, but the Western Regional NCAA playoffs add even more to this entertainment city.
The game venue: Honda Center, 2695 E. Katella Ave.
Don’t miss: Disneyland? That’s the elephant in the room, but there are other thrills, including Flightdeck, 1650 S. Sinclair St. At Flightdeck, guests can experience simulators for a commercial plane or for a fighter jet.
Best bites: Less than two miles from Honda Center, the menu at Golden Road Brewing, 2210 E Orangewood Ave., is as diverse as burgers with tater tots, fried avocado tacos and vegan options. If you need some participatory sports action, step up to play cornhole and table tennis.
Hoist a glass: Brewheim, 1931 E. Wright Circle, is a new Anaheim brewery. It’s also pet-friendly so your dog is welcome.
What to know: Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, is a mix of Southern history, modern culture and academic perspectives plus lots of outdoor activities in nature on the outskirts of town.
The game venue: Colonial Life Arena, 801 Lincoln St.
Don’t miss: Get ready for cuties at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, 500 Wildlife Parkway, where you can watch a baby giraffe, baby gorillas and lion cubs. Visitors also ride a zipline and feed an elephant.
Best bites: The bold might venture to Bone-In Barbeque, 2180 Boyce St., an artisanal restaurant in a former morgue. It serves eclectic Southern cuisine.
Hoist a glass: Aviation pioneers Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Doolittle spent time in the historic Curtiss-Wright airplane hangar that’s now the Hunter-Gatherer Production Brewery, 1402 Jim Hamilton Blvd. Visitors toast with pale ales, stouts, IPAs, ESBs and a brew called Ye Old Bastarde.
What to know: Ohio’s state capital is home to Ohio State University, with an enrollment of nearly 45,000 — and that’s just undergrads. The revitalization of the city’s colorful neighborhoods contributes to the sense of optimism among many residents so perhaps they’ll carry that over to the NCAA teams they’re cheering for.
The game venue: Nationwide Arena, 200 W. Nationwide Blvd.
Don’t miss: The 50,000-square-foot National Veterans Memorial and Museum, 300 W. Broad St. opened in October and honors veterans from all branches of service from the past to the present.
Best bites: Walk from Nationwide Arena to North Market, 59 Spruce St., to choose among Tibetan, Indian, Bavarian, Italian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Belgian, and Polish cuisines, or simply fish, sandwiches, quiche, salads, ice cream and macarons too.
Hoist a glass: In the up-and-coming neighborhood of Franklinton, the Land-Grant Brewing Co., 424 W. Town St., features a craft brewery, taproom and beer garden popular with locals. For a “jolt of hops,” try the Stiff-Arm IPA.
What to know: Dayton has always been a leader in invention and innovation. The Wright brothers developed the airplane here, and the city claims the self-starting ignition for cars, which ended old-fashioned hand-cranking of engines (and the broken arms that came with it). Especially meaningful for March Madness celebrants: Dayton’s claim to the invention locally of the ice-cube tray and pop-top can.
The game venue: University of Dayton Arena, 300 College Park
Don’t miss: You’ll find lots of aviation sites in Dayton — the Wright Brothers National Museum, the Armstrong Air & Space Museum, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and more — but you’ll also get to play, laugh and goof off at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, 2600 DeWeese Parkway, where being a kid isn’t just about age.
Grab a bite: Two miles from the University of Dayton Arena lies the historic Oregon Historic District with an international selection of Mediterranean, Italian, Peruvian and Thai fare, but a favorite is the Dublin Pub, 300 Wayne Ave., with Irish eats and live music.
Hoist a glass: University town that it is, Dayton has an Ale Trail of 19 breweries, but three — Warped Wing Brewing, 26 Wyandot St., Carillon Brewing,1000 Carillon Blvd., and Dayton Beer, 41 Madison St. — are within two miles of the arena.
Des Moines, Iowa
What to know: The Iowa state capital is a sports town and home to the Drake Relays, a well-known annual track meet. But it’s the Drake University women’s basketball team that recently shone when, earlier this month, it won the Missouri Valley Conference championship for the third consecutive season.
The game venue: The Wells Fargo Arena, 233 Center St.
Don’t miss: The late 19th century Iowa State Capitol, 1007 E. Grand Ave. It’s topped with a 23-karat golden dome but also boasts four other domes and has plenty of Renaissance-style arches, pediments, porticoes, cornices and columns. Take a tour.
Best bites: Check out Jethro’s BBQ ’n Bacon Bacon, 1480 22nd St., West Des Moines, for, well, you can guess the menu. Lots of smoked meats too.
Hoist a glass: With a choice of 262 beers on tap and boasting the “world’s largest selection of American craft beers,” El Bait Shop, 200 S.W. 2nd St., is likely to offer a winner to every beer-drinker.
What to know: Mark Twain wrote “Huckleberry Finn” here, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” lived the last 23 years of her life in town. Both enhanced Hartford’s reputation as a center for influential novelists. Don’t let the headiness of history keep you from enjoying its character, though. “Even as one of the oldest metro areas in America, Hartford … has a lot to offer, both old and new,” U.S. News writes in its “best places to live” list.
The game venue: XL Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza.
Don’t miss: The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 600 Main St., opened in 1844. It bills itself as America’s oldest public art museum, so it has had plenty of time to assemble 50,000 pieces of European and American fine art and decorative arts as well as contemporary art, textiles and costumes.
Best bites: Within a block of the downtown XL Center, sports fans may enjoy Indian, Caribbean, Japanese and Korean grab-n-go fare, but for sit-down casual, head to City Steam Brewery, 942 Main St.
Hoist a glass: Vaughan’s Irish Public House, 59 Pratt St., not only features Guinness and corned beef, but the pub’s welcoming old-world style also comes from its woodwork and furniture brought from Ireland.
What to know: Jacksonville is known for beaches, ocean and wetlands. It boasts 1,100 miles of navigable waterways plus many parks, trails, nature preserves, and animal attractions. The quiet is a nice break from the excitement of the basketball match-ups.
The game venue: Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, 300 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.
Don’t miss: Kingsley Plantation, Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, 11676 Palmetto Ave. It gives visitors a chance to experience nature in this wooded wetland and learn the cultural history of a plantation.
Best bites: Hoptinger Bier Garden and Sausage House, 1037 Park St., has its Garten Rooftop Bar at its Five Points location and serves burgers, brats, bites and bierrocks plus a large selection of drinks, including beer cocktails.
Hoist a glass: Just two blocks from the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Intuition Ale Works, 929 E. Bay St., boasts that it has the largest taproom in Jacksonville.
Kansas City, Mo.
What to know: Don’t betray yourself as an outsider. There are two Kansas Cities — one is in Kansas and the other in Missouri. The Sprint Center is in the heart of downtown Kansas City, Mo., although fandom lives and cheers on both sides of the state line. The center is neighbors with the College Basketball Experience, 1401 Grand Blvd., an immersive, interactive experience.
The game venue: Sprint Center, 1407 Grand Blvd.
Don’t miss: The Country Club Plaza, in the area around Broadway and Nichols Road, is said to be the country’s first master-planned shopping center. The stunning Spanish-Moorish architecture, designed to re-create the charisma of a Spanish marketplace, makes it worth a trip.
Best bites: Barbecue. Many arguments ensue when you ask a local about where the best is. If you’re on the Plaza, there is a Jack Stack Barbecue, 4747 Wyandotte, that serves good ’cue, but purists will say that the best stuff is found only at joints such as the legendary Arthur Bryant’s, 1727 Brooklyn Ave. (the original spot), which is a good starting point for a discussion/fistfight.
Hoist a glass: Less than two miles from the Sprint Center and the Midwest Regional playoffs, Boulevard Brewing Co., 2501 Southwest Blvd, also offers brewery tours and quirky events such as beer-hall bingo.
What to know: Although the Southern Regional March Madness rounds mean a lot, you really know you’re in a sports town when you see the world’s largest baseball bat: a 12-story-tall replica of the one Babe Ruth used in the 1920s. It’s outside the Louisville Slugger baseball-bat factory (and now museum), 800 W. Main St.
The game venue: KFC Yum! Center, 1 Arena Plaza
Don’t miss: See more sports themes with the Muhammad Ali Center, 144 N. 6th St., designed to be “a journey into the heart of a champion” and to “inspire young adults and adults to pursue greatness in their own lives, communities and countries.”
Best bites: Whiskey Dry, 412 S. Fourth St., the burger-and-whiskey-bar restaurant owned by Edward Lee, a James-Beard-nominated chef, and designed with a diner theme. Adults can order a bourbon boozy milkshake with chocolate, banana, cocoa nibs, marshmallow and whipped cream.
Hoist a glass: In the Whiskey Row neighborhood, sports aficionados can wander into the Troll Pub Under the Bridge, 150 W. Washington St., with its used-brick walls, hickory bar, and curly myrtle-wood bar top. The astute might find the hidden room behind a bookcase. Tap brews include Dogfish Head American Beauty and Country Boy Shotgun Wedding (with bourbon-soaked vanilla beans).
What to know: Minneapolis, one-half of the Twin Cities, remains connected with St. Paul, its immediate neighbor and the Minnesota state capital. Unburdened by state government offices, Minneapolis focuses on other strengths: lakes, parks, culture and art. The 55-mile Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway walking-and-biking path circles within the city limits with nine miles following the Mississippi River.
The game venue: The Final Four teams will duke it out April 6 and 8 in U.S. Bank Stadium, 401 Chicago Ave.
Don’t miss: The Mill City Museum, 704 South 2nd St., explains Minneapolis, including why the town was built on the Mississippi River and the significance of milling and flour, and offers bits of fun trivia.
Best bites: The dual Popul Vuh Centro, 1414 Quincy St. N.E., has refined Mexican cuisine and artisan cocktails using tequila and mescal on the Popul Vuh side, and on the Centro side, offering tacos and other small bites.
Hoist a glass: About six blocks from U.S. Bank Stadium, Finnegan’s, 817 S. 5th Ave., has been brewing beer for nearly two decades but opened this taproom and brewer’s den last year. Finnegan’s donates 100% of its profits to charity.
Salt Lake City
What to know: Tucked between the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Salt Lake, Salt Lake City focuses on outdoor activities such as skiing and hiking, but locals are happy to cheer for indoor sports too.
The game venue: Vivint Smart Home Arena, 301 S. Temple
Don’t miss: Check out the Natural History Museum of Utah, 301 Wakara Way, with its cool dinosaur exhibit, including the “Father Cat that stalked the ancient West,” but, guess what? It wasn’t a cat; cats just took the blame for this killer.
Best bites: Take the TRAX train for a five-minute ride to Red Iguana, 736 West North Temple, whose Mexican food is said to stand up to any Southern-Californian south-of-the-border fare.
Hoist a glass: Walk from Vivint Smart Home Arena to Squatters, 147 W. Broadway, for a warm, comfortable atmosphere and award-winning brews.
What to know: In Silicon Valley, people work hard but play hard too, whether it’s at a gym, mountain biking or cheering teams during March Madness.
The game venue: SAP Center, 525 W. Santa Clara St.
Don’t miss: You think your remodel project was long: Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, spent 26 years continually expanding her sprawling 160-room Winchester Mystery House, 525 S. Winchester Blvd. The work ended when she died. Speculation abounds that her renovation projects helped her try to excise demons who were victims of those Winchesters guns.
Best bites: Falafel’s Drive-in, 2301 Stevens Creek Blvd., is a San Jose icon with a 50-year history. It’s known for Middle-Eastern dishes, banana shakes and clientele from all walks of Silicon Valley life.
Hoist a glass: If you’re up for some intensity, check out MiniBoss, 52 E. Santa Clara St., a new arcade bar that features cocktails, beer, pinball machines and video games.
What to know: With the Woody Guthrie Center, 102 E Mathew B. Brady St., and Cain’s Ballroom, 423 N Main St., Tulsa is a music town. Some also call it the Birthplace of Route 66 because locals first pushed for the development of the famous road linking Chicago and Los Angeles (and passing through Tulsa).
The game venue: BOK Center, 200 S. Denver Ave. W.
Don’t miss: A Gathering Place, 2650 S. John Williams Way E., Tulsa’s 66-acre family-focused riverfront park that opened in October with nearly a dozen areas full of playgrounds, suspension bridges, fountains and picnic areas.
Best bites: Elgin Park, 325 E. Mathew B. Brady St., less than a mile from the BOK Center, features pizza, wings, burgers, meatballs, cheese sticks, fries, and, oh yes, salads.
Hoist a glass: For beverages and music, head to the Colony, 2809 S. Harvard Ave., where live bands perform nightly.
What to know: Of course, the nation’s capital excels in number and variety of museums and historical sites, but in the spring, seek out the great outdoors too, when cherry blossoms, dogwood, jonquils, tulips, forsythia, hyacinth and more burst forth, some in planned gardens, others just hither and yon.
The game venue: Capital One Arena, 601 F St. N.W.
Don’t miss: The National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F streets, N.W., hosts “Champions,” a revolving exhibit of American sports figures from the founding of this country through today. These athletes are honored not for sports but for their impact on the country.
Best bites: Walk two blocks from Capital One Arena to Dirty Habit, 555 8th St. N.W., for an upscale meal in the downtown Penn Quarter. You may very well find pork katsu sando, burrata with beets, or Nutella beignets.
Hoist a glass: Head to Penn Social, 301 801 E St. N.W. for three bars, two stages, 30-plus kinds of beer and more than 20 games from Hoops FX to Bubble Hockey to Foosball to old-fashioned board games such as Sorry.
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