If I were ranking stadiums alone, this would be close to bottom. Yet, if I were simply ranking cities, it would be nearer the top. Thus, it gets dragged down somewhat. Candlestick Park is one of the dumpiest places in America to watch football at any level. But the 49ers are building a sparkling new facility called Levi’s Stadium, which will be in nearby Santa Clara (it opens in 2014 and will host Super Bowl L a couple of years later). Before then, do it all – Alcatraz, the Golden Gate, Fisherman’s Wharf. Oenophiles, wine country is an hour north, as is the Charles Schulz Museum, in Santa Rosa.
If you love ‘Merica (as my sweet Southern friend Jackie likes to call it), you’ve got to spend time in our nation’s capital. Sequestration put a halt on public tours of the White House, but call your Senator’s or Congressman’s office to inquire about the status of this must-do experience. Foreign residents must book through their country’s embassy in Washington, D.C. Otherwise, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied in Washington. The Redskins play at a stadium about a 30-minute drive east of the capital, in Maryland. Dining tip: authentic, delectable French cuisine is right across the Potomac, in Arlington, Virginia, at La Côte D’Or.
The more time I spend here, the more I like it. When you land at the airport, you’ll drive northeast into the city, passing Philly’s major sports arenas on your left, all huddled together conveniently by city planners. Fifteen minutes, you’re there. You can spend a great long weekend enjoying all the Revolutionary War-era history this city has to offer. On your way out of town, head to the game, then pop over to the airport for your flight home. Bonus: Love opera and movies as much as football? Dine at the Victor Café, in South Philly, where the wait staff is composed of trained singers who serenade customers every few minutes (the place also doubled as Adrian’s restaurant in “Rocky Balboa”).
The Cardinals may not always field the greatest teams, but they can boast one of the most unique venues in sports (an indoor stadium with a retractable grass field that grows outside and slides in for games). The Valley of the Sun is vast, but easy to navigate in the highway 101 system that loops you clockwise from Phoenix to Glendale and up and around to Scottsdale, whose “Old Town” is as close to the Wild, Wild West as you’re going to get without heading into the desert. Speaking of which, you should head out north and explore the Painted Desert and petroglyphs of Sedona/Flagstaff while you’re there (make it an all-day trip though).
Admittedly, I’m a little biased here. I’m a native, and I work for the Patriots, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather live in the United States than right here. Though not the top arena in pro football, Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. is nonetheless a scenic place to watch a game, particularly when there’s fall foliage to admire. It’s augmented by Patriot Place, a mostly outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment complex built following the team’s Super Bowl-winning runs in the last decade. Located conveniently between Providence, Rhode Island (about 30 minutes away by car) and Boston (40-45 minutes’ drive, depending on traffic), Foxborough is ideally situated for you to explore the rich tapestry of this most historic of American regions. A diehard fan’s best bet: book a room at the Renaissance Hotel Patriot Place, which overlooks Gillette.
What’s more American than country music? You can get around downtown Nashville very easily by foot or rental car. And just this once, go to an authentic Honky-Tonk and give line dancing a try. Go for a riverboat cruise on the General Jackson Showboat for another truly Southern experience. On game day, the Titans’ stadium is right across the Cumberland River from downtown. The place to eat: Monell’s. You’ll feel like you’re in someone’s home kitchen.
Like other “big” cities on this list, you can walk Denver very easily. The Rocky Mountains are the place to be, though, whether you ski or not. They also provide the most breathtaking stadium backdrop in the NFL. The Broncos’ new home is a modern upgrade to the old, loud Mile High Stadium. I’ve seen games in both the old and new Mile Highs, and even though both are/were outdoor venues, Denver fans are perhaps the loudest in the league. Great atmosphere for a game. Believe it or not: Best burger I’ve ever had was at the Paramount Café, right downtown.
MetLife Stadium, home to both of Gotham’s NFL squads, is immense and impersonal, with graphite grey seats and digital signage that can be customized in blue for the Giants or green for the Jets, depending on who’s playing that day. The stadium is also in New Jersey, just 20 minutes (without traffic) from Manhattan, but it’s very clean and modern, with not a bad seat in the house. The draw, of course, is the Big Apple itself and all there is to do in the City that Never Sleeps. Affordable tip: book a room in Jersey City, near the Newport area, on the west bank of the Hudson (hint: certain NFL visiting teams often stay there). Here, you’ll have proximity to the stadium, the Holland Tunnel, and the PATH train that zips you under the river and into New York City in mere minutes. What’s more, Jersey City offers some of the most breathtaking skyline views of Manhattan, and the ferries for the Statue of Liberty depart regularly from Liberty State Park.
Yes, London. As in London, England. The NFL has made it a recent tradition to play regular season games at Wembley Stadium (the Patriots have played there twice so far, in 2009 and ’12). The NFL has a huge and growing fan base (predominantly Patriots supporters). Wembley sits on the outskirts of London, roughly a half-hour drive to the northwest of the city center. You might prefer to take public transit, though, which will get you there in about 45 minutes. Can’t say enough good things about the venue itself, either. Wembley is a phenomenal facility for football (ours) or football (the world’s… our soccer). And what could be better than spending an autumn weekend in Europe AND watching an NFL game in person at the same time?
One of my favorite American cities. The location, the comfy/artsy vibe, and the easy-to-navigate streets make this a very friendly city on foot (beware the hills, however… this place is steeper in parts than San Francisco). In addition, the Seahawks’ home field is one of the league’s best, both in terms of design and backdrop. The city skyline towers over the open end zone seating, giving fans a spectacular view during the game. Another bonus for media covering games: stadium staffers serve your made-to-order latte right at your assigned seat in the press box.
I probably should have included Hawaii on this list, because that’s where the Pro Bowl is played, but I’ve never been. Plus, it would probably be unfair to all the other towns on this list. Meanwhile, the Patriots are scheduled to play in Kansas City, Minnesota, and Green Bay in 2014. If I can somehow convince the league to put St. Louis on our preseason slate, I’ll have knocked out my last four NFL stops in one fell swoop. Once I finally do make it to any of these remaining destinations, I’ll update this list. I can’t wait! And coming soon: What it’s like to travel with an NFL team.
(Many thanks to Brian Lowe, my friend, colleague, and roommate on NFL road trips, for debating and helping me arrange this list.)