BCS Bowl Games Travel Guide
Pasadena (Rose Bowl)
Rose Bowl Stadium
Wisconsin vs. Stanford
Suburban Pasadena can seem far more than 10 miles from Los Angeles' hipper neighborhoods. And the late 1800s Mission and Revival architecture and pedestrian friendliness of Old Town Pasadena can be more manageable than L.A.'s sprawl, especially if you're traveling with your family. First played in 1902, the Rose Bowl is the oldest and arguably most prestigious BCS bowl game; the tradition of New Year's Day football games started here.
If Old Town's establishments start looking too pristine in the California sun, duck into Freddie's 35er, a sports bar that's decidedly on the dive side of the spectrum (open since 1963, its nickname is the "dirty diver"). Despite this, it's one of the few sports bars that is regularly open early enough to catch all the games playing in Eastern time zones. Don't expect to stick to your diet; the bar boasts that all foods on the menu are fried (except the free popcorn).
Gus's BBQ in South Pasadena has been around since 1946, serving up beer-braised brisket, ribs, pulled pork, brick chicken, smoked sausage and countless sides. Party packs that will feed your entire alumni group are available, and all come with cast-iron cornbread.
Rose Bowl Stadium is home turf for UCLA, so leave that USC shirt at home. Sadly, there are no outposts of Wingstop, which has Bruin alum Troy Aikman as its spokesperson, in Pasadena, but there are several in nearby L.A. communities.
Off the grid
A few days before the Tournament of Roses parade, the float barns where the topiary-style creations are made are open to the public. Some even offer last-minute volunteer opportunities; check the Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau website for information.
Miami (Orange Bowl, BCS National Championship)
Jan. 1 for Orange Bowl, Jan. 7 for BCS Championship
Sun Life Stadium
Florida State vs. Northern Illinois, Orange Bowl; Alabama vs. Notre Dame, BCS Championship
Miami is always up for a party, and the dual BCS bowl games that kick off the New Year are no exception. While the stadium itself is in a nondescript area of Dade County known as Miami Gardens, bowl-goers can stay and play anywhere in the city. While everyone knows about South Beach and Coconut Grove, Brickell, Wynwood and Little Haiti are other options, as is nearby Fort Lauderdale (which has become more stylish, less Spring Break in recent years). Miami is notoriously hard for pedestrians, so make a car rental your first priority. It's up to you whether it's a convertible.
The Clevelander Hotel in the South Beach neighborhood has been around since 1938, but the vibe at this Art Deco landmark now is decidedly 21st-century; tourists crowd its clubs at all hours, ponying up $15 for a mojito. (Consider yourself warned: SoBe can be a budget buster.)
Wear your swimsuit to Game On, the hotel's dedicated sports bar, which has 20 TVs and a pool where you can take a dip, should the action get too heated.
Miami is justifiably known for its Cuban food – and nothing beats an authentic Cuban sandwich, served on flaky bread and toasted with butter before it's pressed. Take a detour to Calle Ocho in Little Havana and pick up a few to go at Versailles' takeout window, La Ventanita, where you'll often find Cuban exiles enjoying café con leche and gossip.
Former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula has built a steakhouse empire with outposts throughout the South, East and Midwest. Visit the original, a salute to the 1972 Fins, at Shula's Hotel and Golf Club. Bonus: It's close to Sun Life Stadium.
Off the grid
Chances are, if you've spent the money to head down to Miami in January, you're going to hit the beach. But which one? Get away from the city's go-go attitude at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne, which offers historic trails and a lighthouse. Or jump into the scene with both feet at South Beach, where Ocean Drive is still the spot to show off the results of your winter workouts. If the revealing swimsuits aren't skimpy enough, head to Haulover Beach, one of the country's few public nude beaches.
New Orleans (Sugar Bowl)
Florida vs. Louisville
New Orleans is tailor-made for football fans, with an ever-growing number of bars and restaurants in the once-barren area surrounding the Superdome (including Borgne, a highly rated John Besh restaurant in the Hyatt Regency) and a welcoming atmosphere sure to please any tourist. The Loyola streetcar line, set to run from Canal Street on the edge of the French Quarter to the Dome, might not be open in time for the Sugar Bowl, although it is on track for the Super Bowl a month later. However, the city's Central Business District is compact enough that you can get around easily by foot or cab (too many Abitas and you shouldn't be driving anyway).
Steps from the Superdome, the New Orleans Hyatt Regency was heavily damaged during Hurricane Katrina and its reopening in late 2011 represented another milestone in the city's recovery. Named for the first American for-profit movie theater, built in New Orleans in 1896 (this city loves its history), Vitascope Hall is meant to be a sophisticated sports bar, where you nibble sushi and drink craft cocktails while watching the game on one of 42 flat screens. Or download the bar's app, which allows you to select music choices on the DJ's sound system.
It isn't game day in the Crescent City without a pot of gumbo on the stove. Buy your own at Mother's, where a gallon of file gumbo goes for $50 (the seafood gumbo is also sublime, but you'll pay more). Other Cajun/Creole choices include po'boys, jambalaya, red beans and fried chicken.
Who Dat? The city's love for the Saints has only deepened in the post-Katrina era. While QB Drew Brees is a local investor in sandwich franchise Jimmy John's, most of the locations are in the 'burbs. But black-and-gold legend Archie Manning (yep, dad to Peyton and Eli) has some of his family's memorabilia on view at Manning's, a restaurant serving Southern/Creole comfort food in the Harrah's Casino downtown. Groups can reserve the private End Zone recliner section, which features a mega TV and stadium-style seating.
Off the grid
Take a break and explore the music that made New Orleans famous on one of John McCusker's jazz walking tours. McCusker, a local author (he wrote the book on Kid Ory) and former news photographer for the Times-Picayune, is so well known as a jazz authority that a version of his tour showed up on the HBO series "Treme." Email firstname.lastname@example.org for schedule and availability.
Glendale/Phoenix (Fiesta Bowl)
University of Phoenix Stadium
Kansas State vs. Oregon
On the west side of Phoenix, Glendale doesn't have the name recognition of crosstown sports hubs like Scottsdale and Tempe. But there's a lot to like in the family-oriented suburb, which has a historic downtown full of mom-and-pop stores and restaurants housed in converted bungalows. Plus the view from Thunderbird Conservation Park, where ESPN took its beauty shots of the stadium last month, equals anything you'd find elsewhere in the Valley of the Sun.
Not to be confused with the bar that bears the same name at Apache Greyhound Park, Max's Sports Bar and Restaurant in downtown Glendale wins points for a bank of large-screen HD TVs, which the bartenders will tune to your game of choice, as well as a monster collection of football helmets. Daily lunch and dinner specials of the homey sort -- think Salisbury steak or meatloaf sandwiches -- elevate the food choices beyond the typical wings 'n' things.
The chicken tacos at Pedro's Mexican regularly win awards from city magazines, plus the downtown Glendale establishment is locally owned (a bonus in chain-rife Phoenix). Everything on the menu, from tamales to fry breads, is available for takeout.
Although the Cardinals and ASU call it home, the Phoenix area tends to get more excited about the basketball court than the gridiron. Former Suns player and current assistant coach Dan Majerle has four Majerle's Sports Grills; the downtown Phoenix location is closest to Glendale.
Off the grid
Have your own Willy Wonka experience with a free tour through the Cerreta's Candy Co. factory. From chocolates shaped like cacti and sheriff's stars to Western honey peanut brittle and Camelback pecan caramel clusters, Cerreta has been making candy with an Arizona twist for 40 years. Ride your sugar rush all the way to the game.