There’s irony in the notion that one of America’s biggest industries doesn’t gear up until after Labor Day.
That industry is the National Football League, and it returns in full force this week, louder, brasher, less subtle, and more pervasive and powerful than ever.
From a travel perspective, the NFL has singlehandedly created travel destinations out of places that otherwise would never get a second look. Green Bay has a nice train museum and some wonderful candy stores (and Kroll’s), but its appeal as a destination would be largely limited to paper scientists and lake-trout anglers if the Packers hadn’t settled there in 1919 and never left.
While it’s well past the 11th hour for most football tourists, we nonetheless chose three cities that will be hosting season openers, and created a whirl of restaurants and lodging and events around the big games.
We apologize in advance that there aren’t a lot of bargains to be had, but it’s the NFL. And everybody knows the NFL stands for “Not For Less Than $1,000.”
Patriots-Dolphins: 1 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 7, Sun Life Stadium, Miami.
The football game is probably not going to be a rabid headknocker (though the Patriots and Dolphins have some history), so get your RDA of manic fandom on Friday at Sun Life by watching the international friendly soccer match between Brazil and Colombia. You’ll want to divert at least some of your attention from the corner kicks and dives to the stands; in addition to being crazier and singing way more than the (American) football fans, the Brazil-Colombia fans will be better-looking, too. And that’s always good.
Keep the sports theme going Saturday by heading to Gulfstream Park and catching a few races in the Florida Sire Stakes Program. Two- and three-year-olds will be running for more than $2.5 million in purses, and the Ban-Lon shirts and chip hats will be out in force.
Take a break from sports in the afternoon and check out the African Diaspora Dance And Drum Festival Of Florida in Little Haiti. Dancers and drummers from across the Caribbean, South America and Africa will be strutting their stuff in a non-stop sweatfest of rhythm and color. And the festival is a short jaunt down I-95 from our favorite Cuban restaurant in Miami, the spectacularly glitzy Versailles.
Finally, if you’re looking for a place to stay in the vicinity where you can let your hipster flag fly, the Hotel Urbano is a great choice. This former Hampton Inn (!) has been converted into a breezy, stylish destination filled with great art, great views, and great access to Miami Beach et environs.
Seahawks-Packers, 8:30 p.m. EDT, Thursday, Sept. 4, CenturyLink Field, Seattle.
The marquee matchup of the kickoff weekend pits the defending Super Bowl champs against one of their many arch-rivals in a game with a War and Peace-sized backstory and a ooh-pretty venue that’s also the league’s loudest.
The game’s the thing in Sea-Town, and things get started early with a pregame concert featuring the two-peas-in-a-pod pairing of Pharrell Williams and Soundgarden. (What? You think the creators of “Happy” and “Black Rain” aren’t simpatico?) While it smacks of made-for-TV-sound-bite-ism, the concert nonetheless promises some powerful music, most of it emanating from Kim Thayill, Chris Cornell, and the other co-creators of the Seattle Sound.
Something as elemental as Packers-Seahawks deserves a simple meal, and they don’t get any simpler than a burger and shake at Dick’s Drive-In. Dick’s has been serving burgers their way – no substitutions – for more than 60 years, but their way is a really good way, and the fries are hot and the shakes are deliciously thick, so who’s complaining? Five Seattle-area locations means there’s a Dick’s relatively close by, no matter where you stay.
Speaking of staying, a game this good deserves a historic hotel, and in Seattle that’s the Mayflower Park. Recently restored to its Roaring ‘20s splendor, the Mayflower Park combines old-school elegance and a superior central location with direct access to the Westlake Center, the Monorail and Seattle’s light-rail service.
The game’s on Thursday, leaving at least part of a weekend to see the city. Since this is the Pacific Northwest, an essential part of seeing the city is leaving the city and getting a feel for its incredible surroundings. Hop a ferry to Port Townsend and its Wooden Boat Festival and you see more than 300 boats on display, with a boat-building challenge, cannon firing, seminars on everything from side-steaming to carvel planking, boat races, and lots of exhibitors, food, and beer. Because nothing goes with carvel planking like beer.
Colts-Denver, 8:30 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 7, Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
A reprise of last year’s October thriller, Denver-Indianapolis will always be a marquee game as long the Broncs have Peyton Manning under center (and over center, and pointing at the linebackers and yelling incomprehensible things like “Omaha!”).
Kick off your Denver weekend with the Zac Brown Band at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre. The ZBB may not be the hot quasi-country band du jour, but they put on a high-energy show like no one else, with a sound that owes as much to Crosby, Stills, & Nash as it does to Kenny Chesney.
From there, what’s more redolent of the Old West than an Italian Festival? Okay, lots of things, but the annual Festival Italiano Food & Wine Festival at Belmar Center is a major foodie outing, with wine tastings, chef demos, and a kids’ grape stomp, in addition to herbs, olive oils, pizza, pasta, gelato, sausage, and more.
If the spaghetti-western thing isn’t doing it for you, head west of town to Cherry Hills Golf Club and the BMW Championship. A/k/a the Western Open, the BMW is the country’s second oldest golf tournament and the third of four events in the mostly imaginary FedEx Cup Playoff. The PGA Tour’s top 70 golfers will be going at it for the honor of having their name inscribed on a trophy alongside Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Walter Hagen. Oh, and some cash will likely change hands, too.
Inbetweentimes park your carcass at the Hotel Teatro, the rearranged Denver Tramway Building with a marble-covered lobby, unique rooms, and easy access to the Denver Performing Arts Complex, and grab some high-end pub food – homemade sausages, poutine, oysters, and schnitzel – at Euclid Hall Bar and Kitchen. The food is great, but it’s matched blow-for-blow by the restaurant’s setting in Euclid Hall, an 1883 building that once housed the venerable Soapy Smith’s bar. And is there beer? What do you think?
Remember: If you’re looking for the best fares to these cities, try AirfareWatchdog.com first. We do.