Where to eat, stay and have fun in Pac-12 land

Before UCLA and USC leave the Pac-12 in 2024, fans have a chance to hit the road and check out the conference’s best outposts.

Our panel of four college sports writers have traversed Pac-12 country for years, arriving early and leaving late. They explored the Arizona desert, mountains of Utah and Colorado and vast landscape along the Pacific coast.

We’ve ranked every Pac-12 city and shared hidden gems that help convert them from quick game-day getaways to ultimate road trip weekends.

We omitted the Los Angeles schools from our rankings because it’s too difficult to evaluate the place we live as a road trip. However, we included L.A. recommendations in our guide in case you’re hosting out of town visitors or planning a visit.

Will Pacific Northwest gem Seattle rank No. 1 or will the elite mountain town of Boulder, Colo., take the top spot? And how much will one sports writer’s love of a Washington winery skew our rankings?

Scroll down to find out or follow our Ultimate Pac-12 Tour Guide in map form.

Meet the Pac-12 tour guides:

Ben Bolch

UCLA bear Ben Bolch.

UCLA beat writer Ben Bolch.

(Ricardo DeAratanhan / Los Angeles Times)

Ben Bolch has traveled regularly in the Pac-12 footprint since it was the Pac-10, starting in 2005 as an understudy on the UCLA football beat to late, great Times sportswriter Lonnie White. Bolch later became the first writer on record to covet trips to Spokane while serving a three-season sentence — er, stint — on USC basketball. Covering UCLA football and basketball as the full-time beat writer since 2016 has allowed him to further cultivate his appreciation of every wine region near a Pac-12 school. If you find one within a day’s drive of Tucson, please let him know.

J. Brady McCollough

Brady McCollough was born in Texas, grew up in Louisiana, finished high school in Buffalo, N.Y., went to college at Michigan and has worked as a sports reporter in Kansas City, Pittsburgh and now Los Angeles. In short, he’s a ramblin’ man. Leaning fully into his nomadic reputation, he recently visited his 50th state — Alaska — before turning 40. So, while only spending one season enjoying the Pac-12 travel circuit as the Times’ USC beat writer in 2018-19, he prides himself on knowing how to maximize any destination’s potential.

Ryan Kartje

USC beat writer Ryan Kartje.

USC beat writer Ryan Kartje.

(Los Angeles Times)

Ryan Kartje grew up in the heart of Big Ten country, but has called the Pac-12 home since 2012, when he moved to Los Angeles to cover UCLA for the Orange County Register. He has done his best to hit every brewery in the Pac-12 footprint since, but only just recently got back on the road as USC beat writer for The Times. A disciple of tasting menus and street carts alike, food may be the only thing he loves more than football.

Thuc Nhi Nguyen

College reporter Thuc Nhi Nguyen.

College reporter Thuc Nhi Nguyen.

(Mark Boster / For The Times)

Thuc Nhi Nguyen is born and raised in the Pac-12. A Seattle native, she traveled the Pac-12 as a student reporter at Washington, the UCLA beat reporter for the Southern California News Group and now as a college reporter for The Times. The best place to eat in the conference is her mom’s kitchen, but there are plenty of great second-place options in this list too.

Ben’s Pac-12 cities ranked in order of preference

Students share a common area at the University of Colorado.

Students share a common area at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo.

(Ed Andrieski / Associated Press)

  1. Boulder, Colo. (Colorado)
  2. Pullman, Wash. (Washington State)*
  3. Seattle (Washington)
  4. Eugene, Ore. (Oregon)
  5. Berkeley (California)
  6. Palo Alto (Stanford)
  7. Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State)
  8. Tempe, Ariz. (Arizona State)
  9. Salt Lake City (Utah)
  10. Tucson (Arizona)

Full disclosure: No. 2 on this list is not a typo. As he explains below in our guide, Ben loves a winery relatively close to Pullman and it prompted him to award Washington State a surprisingly high ranking.

Brady’s Pac-12 cities ranked

Blue skies begin to appear over downtown Seattle and Elliott Bay.

Blue skies begin to appear over downtown Seattle and Elliott Bay as seen from the roof of the Space Needle in Seattle.

(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

  1. Seattle (Washington)
  2. Boulder, Colo. (Colorado)
  3. Salt Lake City (Utah)
  4. Eugene, Ore. (Oregon)
  5. Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State
  6. Berkeley (California)
  7. Tempe, Ariz. (Arizona State)
  8. Tucson (Arizona)
  9. Palo Alto (Stanford)
  10. Pullman, Wash. (Washington State)*

Full disclosure: Brady has not visited Pullman yet, but he was not swayed by Ben’s love of a winery near Pullman.

Ryan’s Pac-12 cities ranked

  1. Seattle (Washington)
  2. Boulder, Colo. (Colorado)
  3. Berkeley (California)
  4. Palo Alto (Stanford)
  5. Eugene, Ore. (Oregon)
  6. Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State)
  7. Salt Lake City (Utah)
  8. Tempe, Ariz. (Arizona State)
  9. Pullman, Wash. (Washington State)
  10. Tucson (Arizona)

Thuc Nhi’s Pac-12 cities ranked

A pedestrian walks on the campus at Stanford University.

A pedestrian walks on the campus at Stanford University in Stanford.

(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

  1. Seattle (Washington)
  2. Boulder, Colo. (Colorado
  3. Palo Alto (Stanford)
  4. Berkeley (California)
  5. Salt Lake City (Utah)
  6. Eugene, Ore. (Oregon)
  7. Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State)
  8. Pullman, Wash. (Washington State)
  9. Tempe, Ariz. (Arizona State)
  10. Tucson (Arizona)

The final tally …

  1. Seattle (Washington)
  2. Boulder, Colo. (Colorado)
  3. Berkeley (California)
  4. Eugene, Ore. (Oregon)
  5. Palo Alto (Stanford)
  6. Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State)
  7. Salt Lake City (Utah)
  8. Pullman, Wash. (Washington State)
  9. Tempe, Ariz. (Arizona State)
  10. Tucson (Arizona)

Arizona

Fans cheer on the Arizona football team with a Arizona flag.

Fans cheer on the Arizona football team with a Arizona flag against South Carolina State during the opening kickoff at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.

(Wily Low / Associated Press)

Ease of getting there:

Getting harder. Nonstop flights into Tucson are becoming increasingly rare, meaning you’ll either have to connect elsewhere or fly the handful of airlines that still offer this route. —Ben Bolch

Where to stay:

JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa. Assuming you can get a decent rate, this is worth the somewhat lengthy drive into town given the plush rooms and sprawling grounds nestled comfortably into picturesque hillsides. Just keep an eye out for snakes and scorpions while walking outdoors. —Ben Bolch

Stadium skinny:

Arizona's opening kick off to Washington State at Arizona Stadium.

Arizona’s opening kick off to Washington State at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.

(Wily Low / Associated Press)

It’s probably going to be a “Pac-12 After Dark” affair given the Pac-12’s penchant for scheduling night games at Arizona Stadium to beat the desert heat, meaning almost anything can happen (except, in recent seasons, a Wildcats win). —Ben Bolch

Best eats:

You’ll likely be in for a night game in the desert, which means you’ll have time for pre-game brunch. Prep & Pastry, which has two locations in Tucson has all the standards and a rotating selection of fresh baked goods every day. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

Many restaurants have staked the claim that they invented the chimichanga, each with a similar story of accidentally dropping a burrito in the fryer. But El Charro Cafe may have the most compelling case. It’s the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant, having opened in Tucson in 1922. The restaurant has been operated by the same family ever since, and they’re still serving a wide assortment of chimichangas. —Ryan Kartje

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Best side trip:

Pima Air & Space Museum. Aviation buffs will love the fleet of nearly 400 aircraft “preserved” in the desert heat, including a modified Boeing 707 that came to be known as “Freedom One” after transporting the American hostages held in Iran back home in 1981. —Ben Bolch

Arizona State

Pedestrians cross over University Avenue on the campus of Arizona State University.

Pedestrians cross over University Avenue on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.

(Matt York / Associated Press)

Ease of getting there:

  • Easy peasy. It’s just a short Uber ride from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. —Ben Bolch
  • A straight shot east of L.A. on the 10, Tempe is one of the most convenient places for Southern California college football fans to explore the Pac-12 by plane or road trip. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen
  • There’s no smoother trip in the conference. No need to rent a car considering how close the airport is to campus and how easy it is to get a rideshare in town. —Ryan Kartje

Where to stay:

Westin Tempe. Aside from the oddity of this hotel being out of shampoo during a recent stay (yes, really), it’s a gleaming star of the Marriott chain. Rooms are modern and spacious (upgrades can include two-bathroom suites) and you’re within easy walking distance of Sun Devil Stadium. Just make sure to bring extra shampoo. —Ben Bolch

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Stadium skinny:

Sun Devil Stadium starts to fill up with fans.

Sun Devil Stadium starts to fill up with fans prior to a game in Tempe, Ariz.

(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

  • It’s probably going to be unbearably hot (you are in the desert, after all), but the throng of Arizona State students that’s a constant makes for a lively scene bordering on boisterous if the Sun Devils are winning. —Ben Bolch
  • Carved out of the desert hills, Sun Devil Stadium certainly captures the essence of Arizona. But as a college football stadium, there’s not much extraordinary about it. (Unless you count the fox that ran onto the field during last season’s Arizona State-USC game.) —Ryan Kartje

Best eats:

Cibo puts the “home” in homemade Italian. The downtown Phoenix restaurant serves diners in a restored bungalow you can enjoy a home-cooked meal in a living room without any dishes. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

Hoping to really channel your college years? There are few places better for that in the Pac-12 than Mill Avenue, the nucleus of Tempe’s college nightlife, where loud music is blasting and cheap well drinks are flowing. —Ryan Kartje

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Best side trip:

The Grand Canyon National Park is covered in the morning sunlight.

The Grand Canyon National Park is covered in the morning sunlight as seen from a helicopter near Tusayan, Ariz.

(Julie Jacobson / Associated Press)

Grand Canyon National Park is a four-hour drive from Tempe. We recommend spending a night in Flagstaff as part of the adventure. —J. Brady McCollough

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

California

Students make their way through the Sather Gate near Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley, campus.

Students make their way through the Sather Gate near Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley, campus.

(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

Ease of getting there:

  • A snap of the fingers. The Oakland and San Francisco airports are both short drives away, or if you want to road-trip it you can be there in six hours from Los Angeles. —Ben Bolch
  • Easy peasy. A flight into Oakland puts you in the best position to drive to Berkeley, but the trip from San Francisco isn’t far either. Just note the westbound toll over the Bay Bridge. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen
  • Thuc Nhi should have an entire section of this guide about avoiding tolls! —J. Brady McCollough
  • San Francisco is a nightmare for parking, and Berkeley isn’t much better. So if you’re willing to brave public transportation, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) picks up SFO and has a stop in downtown Berkeley, less than a mile from the football stadium. That trip will take an hour, which could actually be faster than renting a car and sitting in traffic. —Ryan Kartje

Where to stay:

Graduate Berkeley. Formerly known as the Durant, this boutique hotel a block from campus is hopping on game days. And as the name implies, expect to find a poster of Dustin Hoffman from “The Graduate” in your room. —Ben Bolch

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Stadium skinny:

Empty seats are viewed at California Memorial Stadium.

Empty seats are viewed at California Memorial Stadium during the first half between California and Oregon in Berkeley on Dec. 5, 2020.

(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

  • A Memorial Stadium modernization completed in 2012 couldn’t enhance the product on the field. The Golden Bears have logged just four winning seasons—none with more than eight victories—since 2010, meaning that those who watch games for free on the hill overlooking the eastern side of the stadium are paying market value. —Ben Bolch
  • Forget your game day workout in Berkeley because the long walk up the hill to Cal’s Memorial Stadium will take care of your exercise needs. Brace yourself for the cannon that fires after each Cal score. Fortunately as someone who is easily startled, the cannon’s use has been a rare occurrence during Justin Wilcox’s offensively challenged tenure. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen
  • All shots at Cal aside, full respect to any football stadium that actually sits right in the middle of its campus. —Ryan Kartje

Best eats:

Zachary’s Chicago Pizza (the College Avenue location). This stuff is legit, with enough gooey goodness to fill you up after a slice or two. That means you can get your stuffed pizza fix without the four-hour flight needed for a trip to Gino’s East or Giordano’s in Chicago. —Ben Bolch

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

To visit one of the oldest bars in California, go to Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon at Jack London Square in Oakland. —J. Brady McCollough

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Best side trip:

Yosemite Falls seen without people.

Yosemite Falls seen without people.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Forests, mountains and the occasional bear, oh my. Yosemite National Park is three hours east of Berkeley and perfect for a scenic lunch spot or an outdoorsy weekend. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Colorado

Clouds roll over Folsom Field in the second half between USC and Colorado.

Clouds roll over Folsom Field in the second half between USC and Colorado on Oct. 2, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Ease of getting there:

  • Fairly painless. Denver International Airport is about 45 minutes from Folsom Field, and the mountainous landscape becomes increasingly gorgeous on the drive as you near Boulder. —Ben Bolch
  • Finding nonstop flights to Denver is a cinch, but plan for a decision about toll roads on your drive from the airport to Boulder. The toll road path takes about 45 minutes, shaving about 10-20 minutes off the time from other routes. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen
  • Hope you’re not in a hurry upon landing in Denver. Not only is the airport confusing, it’s smack dab in the middle of nowhere, making a rental car basically a must if you don’t plan to pay exorbitant rideshare costs. Just getting to the rental car counters requires a particularly lengthy shuttle ride. —Ryan Kartje

Where to stay:

Hotel Clio, Cherry Creek. Sure, there are much closer (and cheaper) hotel options, including the Renaissance Boulder Flatiron in Broomfield, just a short drive from Boulder, but anyone who enjoys high-end dining and shopping won’t want to miss Cherry Creek’s plentiful boutiques and restaurants. —Ben Bolch

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Stadium skinny:

Handlers guide Colorado mascot Ralphie VI on ceremonial run.

Handlers guide Colorado mascot Ralphie VI on ceremonial run in the first half of a game at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

  • Watching a buffalo stampede across the field before the game is great fun. Unfortunately for the locals, the Buffaloes in uniform haven’t been consistently good since Gary Barnett departed in 2005, meaning there’s rarely any threat to nearby noise ordinances. —Ben Bolch
  • Ralphie rules at Folsom Field, but don’t sleep on the animated video featuring “South Park” star Cartman used to introduce everyone’s favorite college mascot. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen
  • Folsom Field is low-key one of college football’s best places to watch a game. It’s charming, intimate and has the Flatirons as a backdrop. Also, Colorado’s colors are top notch if you’re into good uniforms. —J. Brady McCollough
  • OK, I’m not one to get swept away by tradition … but Ralphie’s pregame run is objectively one of the coolest traditions in college football. Throw in the mountain backdrop and the excellent local beers on tap at the stadium beer garden, and you’ve got maybe the most underrated gameday experience in the conference … even if the team hasn’t lived up to that same standard in a while. —Ryan Kartje

Best eats:

Barolo Grill, Denver. How does chilled jumbo lump crab with citrus crema followed by house-made spaghetti with wild boar ragu followed by Barolo-braised duck sound? Those are just a few of the seasonal items on the tantalizing four-course tasting menu. At $89 per person (with optional $55 wine pairing), it may not be something you can put on an expense account, but it’s worth the splurge. —Ben Bolch

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

If you love to get caught up in the student flavor, you have to check out the underground Sundown Saloon off the Pearl Street Mall. —J. Brady McCollough

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Best side trip:

The sun breaks through the clouds to highlight the summit of Pikes Peak.

The sun breaks through the clouds to highlight the summit of Pikes Peak as seen from the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colo.

(Ed Andrieski / Associated Press)

There are 25 peaks of 14,000 feet or higher in the Rocky Mountains, and one of them is a short drive away. It takes a full day to summit Pikes Peak by foot, but only an hour or two in your car. The stunning view is well worth the drive. Take it slow on the winding road to the top – limited guardrails! – and give yourself enough time to grab a donut at the new Visitor’s Center at the summit. —Ryan Kartje

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Oregon

The University of Oregon football team runs out of the tunnel.

The University of Oregon football team runs out of the tunnel before the start of a gam in Eugene, Ore.

(Ryan Kang / Associated Press)

Ease of getting there:

  • Breezy. There are direct flights from Los Angeles International Airport into Eugene, or you can fly into Portland and make the two-hour drive down Interstate 5 (and yes, Bill Walton, you will find there really are truck stops in the Pac-12 footprint). —Ben Bolch
  • The two-hour drive to/from Portland feels like a lifetime after a flight or a long football game, so do yourself a favor and fly into the Eugene airport. It also saves you from the awkward moment at the gas station when you realize that drivers don’t pump their own gas in Oregon and you just moonwalk back into your seat. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

Where to stay:

Valley River Inn. As the name implies, the hotel is situated along a river (the Willamette) and features a rustic lobby with an inviting fireplace. Even though the place has a dated feel, its warmth and cozy lobby bar (SweetWaters on the River) make it such a coveted spot that both the UCLA and USC basketball teams used to stay here simultaneously under previous coaches. (Highlights included Kevin O’Neill buying rounds of drinks at the lobby bar and the famously rigid Ben Howland loosening up with reporters during off-the-record fireside chats.) —Ben Bolch

Stadium skinny:

The Oregon Marching Band displays a giant United States Flag on the field at Autzen Stadium.

The Oregon Marching Band displays a giant United States Flag on the field at Autzen Stadium before a game.

(Chris Pietsch / Associated Press)

  • You might find irony in the P.A. announcer’s pregame assertion that “It never rains in Autzen Stadium” (this is dreary Oregon, right?), but the message remains that a fun time is usually in store amid the constant din. It helps that the Ducks have been a Pac-12 title contender most years since Mike Bellotti was coach. —Ben Bolch
  • There are few scenes more beautiful in Pac-12 football than the view from atop Autzen Stadium while the leaves are changing colors in the fall. —Ryan Kartje
  • My senior year at Michigan, the Wolverines traveled to Autzen with a top-five ranking and national championship aspirations. That ended in ruin, as most trips to Eugene have this millennium. I wrote then, “Autzen Stadium is where great teams go to die. R.I.P. Michigan 2003.” I was blown away by the noise that 60,000 fans could make and still am. A Ducks fan approached me about using the line on a T-shirt, but I don’t think it ever happened sadly. —J. Brady McCollough

Best eats:

Rogue is one of the best breweries in the state, and they have a location in Eugene that’s a must visit for beer drinkers. —J. Brady McCollough

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

Runners should check out Pre’s trail, named for the legendary Oregon distance runner Steve Prefontaine. Fans of Pre can also still visit Pre’s rock, the site of the tragic car accident that prematurely ended his life. —J. Brady McCollough

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Best side trip:

The vineyards at Cathedral Ridge Winery in Hood River, Ore.

The vineyards at Cathedral Ridge Winery in Hood River, Ore., in the Columbia River Gorge.

(Sally Carpenter Hale / Associated Press)

The Hood River Fruit Loop. About an hour east of Portland lies one of the gems of the Pacific Northwest. The Fruit Loop is a 35-mile scenic drive through the splendor of the Hood River Valley, filled with fruit stands, wineries, breweries and fields of beautiful flowers. Set aside a day to casually wander and be sure to take plenty of pictures of Mt. Hood, which towers triumphantly over the scenery. When you’re finished wandering, stop by Pfriem Family Brewers for a fruit-forward pint to finish your journey. —Ryan Kartje

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Oregon State

Students on the campus of Oregon State University.

Students on the campus of Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore.

(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Ease of getting there:

Fairly easy. Fly into nearby Eugene (just don’t tell anyone you’re there to see a Beavers game) or make the 90-minute drive from Portland. —Ben Bolch

Where to stay:

If you’re going for game-time convenience, pick the Hilton Garden Inn. It’s so close to Reser Stadium that your bed might as well be in the stands. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Stadium skinny:

Reser Stadium is shown.

Reser Stadium is shown during the second half between Oregon State and Weber State in Corvallis, Ore.

(Don Ryan / Associated Press)

  • Hard to say. In six years as the UCLA beat writer, the Bruins haven’t played in Reser Stadium thanks to the vagaries of the Pac-12 schedule. The renovations look nice, though. —Ben Bolch
  • Reser has some real charm, and that shouldn’t be lost with the renovation, due to be completed in time for the 2023 season. The overhangs on each side should also make it a pretty loud environment for the program’s continued resurgence under Jonathan Smith. —J. Brady McCollough

Best eats:

The Angry Beaver Grill is one of the best campus sports bars in the Pac-12, decorated wall to wall with Oregon State memorabilia. Don’t miss it. —J. Brady McCollough

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

Given that the livelier Eugene is about 45 minutes away, don’t feel obligated to stay in Corvallis. But those who prefer a slower pace will appreciate the small-town charm that can be found here. —Ben Bolch

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Best side trip:

Haystack Rock is seen in the distance from a balcony of The Ocean Lodge.

Haystack Rock is seen in the distance from a balcony of The Ocean Lodge, in Cannon Beach, Ore.

(Gillian Flaccus / Associated Press)

The Oregon coastline is worth a visit. —J. Brady McCollough

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Stanford

Hoover Tower is shown at rear on the campus at Stanford University.

Hoover Tower is shown at rear on the campus at Stanford University in Stanford.

(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Ease of getting there:

Depends. San Jose International Airport is only minutes away and super convenient unless you’re a devotee of United Airlines. In that case, you’ll have to fly into San Francisco International Airport and make the roughly 45-minute (depending on traffic) drive down Highway 101. —Ben Bolch

No sweat with airport options in San Francisco and San Jose. And if you’re in for the road trip, consider the scenic route up Route 1 for ocean views and hikes in Big Sur and the Redwoods. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

Where to stay:

The Nest Hotel. The closer you can get to Stanford’s campus, the better, and this modern boutique hotel, which is just three miles away from the stadium, won’t break the bank. The hotel wine bar sometimes even offers complimentary tastings. —Ryan Kartje

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Stadium skinny:

Stanford Stadium view during the third quarter of a game between Stanford and Northwestern.

Stanford Stadium view during the third quarter of a game between Stanford and Northwestern in Stanford on Aug. 31, 2019.

(Josie Lepe / Associated Press)

  • Don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking around and wondering if this really is major college football. High school games often draw bigger crowds and generate more buzz than the Cardinal, even after an impressive stadium renovation wasted on the Pac-12’s most apathetic fan base. —Ben Bolch
  • Self-proclaimed “Nerd Nation” takes their studies a bit too far because the notoriously small crowds at a Stanford rarely gets above a library-approved whisper. But Stanford Stadium is located on one of the most beautiful campuses in the country so take the scenic route when you’re heading to the game. It’s worth the views. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen
  • The Stanford band, which professes “to bring funk to the funkless”, is an experience to behold in all its chaotic glory. —Ryan Kartje

Best eats:

Amber India. Yes, this requires a short drive to San Jose (or San Francisco, if you are so inclined to visit that location), but you’ll thank yourself the moment you take that first bite into a flaky, succulent vegetable samosa. This upscale Indian joint combines a soothing ambience with fresh, tasty dishes. The Tandoori Kebab Sampler is a divine melding of flavors. —Ben Bolch

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

Architecture buffs won’t want to miss Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hanna House, designed in the 1930s for a Stanford professor and now open to the public. —Ben Bolch

Best side trip:

Fort Ord Dunes State Park in Sand City near Monterey.

Fort Ord Dunes State Park in Sand City near Monterey.

(Brian Baer / Associated Press)

About 90 minutes south of Palo Alto, Monterey has a form of sea creature roulette while whale watching. There are humpbacks, orcas, dolphins, seals and otters in the bay and each trip on the boat brings a different group of animals. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

UCLA

A lone jogger runs past Royce Hall on a nearly empty UCLA campus.

A lone jogger runs past Royce Hall on a nearly empty UCLA campus in Los Angeles.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Ease of getting there:

  • A bit of a pain. Burbank Airport is quite close to the Rose Bowl, but routing constraints could make this a difficult option depending on where you live and your airline of choice. If you fly into Los Angeles International Airport, you’re probably an hour away, maybe two, depending on traffic. —Ben Bolch
  • Splitting your trip between campus in Westwood and the stadium in Pasadena is not recommended, if you’re coming from out of town. Unless you plan to spend half of your stay in the car. You’ll be happier if you focus your trip on one or the other. —Ryan Kartje

Where to stay:

The Langham. This upscale hotel in Pasadena exudes old-world charm and used to house UCLA’s football team on nights before games until the Luskin Center was erected on campus. —Ben Bolch

Stadium skinny:

Rose Bowl before a game between UCLA and Fresno State.

Rose Bowl before a game between UCLA and Fresno State on Sept. 18, 2021.

(Thuc Nhi Nguyen / Los Angeles Times)

  • The joke is that those tarps covering the top of one end zone might need extending unless UCLA can build some buzz under Chip Kelly. A historic stadium with breathtaking views of the San Gabriel Mountains has been home to record-low crowds in recent seasons, but there’s always the Rose Bowl game! —Ben Bolch
  • There’s nothing quite like that view of the San Gabriels at sunset, but the stadium has definitely lost some of its luster in recent years. On the bright side, the lackluster attendance makes exiting the stadium slightly less nightmarish than normal! —Ryan Kartje
  • The Rose Bowl is one of the icons of college football for a reason but be mindful of which side you’re sitting on. If you’re on the east side during a day game, bring extra sunscreen because you’re directly in the line of sun fire. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

Best eats:

Amigo’s Restaurant and Cantina. Skip the smoke-choked tailgate and head to this homestyle Mexican eatery on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena for cheese-smothered enchiladas and strong, flavorful margaritas. —Ben Bolch

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

Near Pasadena in La Canada Flintridge is Descanso Gardens, a beautiful, enchanting botanical garden that’s worth a visit if staying near the stadium. —J. Brady McCollough

Best side trip:

Air Force One 27000 on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Air Force One 27000, a Boeing 707 in service beginning in 1972, flew seven U.S. presidents – Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush, on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The historical archives at this Simi Valley museum take a backseat to the Air Force One housed inside three-story windows. You can board and tour the Boeing 707 that served seven U.S. presidents, including Richard M. Nixon on his somber flight home to Southern California after his 1974 resignation. —Ben Bolch

USC

Tommy Trojan stands guard over a USC campus.

Tommy Trojan stands guard over a quiet USC campus near downtown Los Angeles.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Ease of getting there:

On a clear day you’ll be able to spot the Coliseum out the right side of the plane on final approach into Los Angeles International Airport, meaning you’ll also know the basics of how to get there. —Ben Bolch

Where to stay:

JW Marriott L.A. Live. This downtown hotel that’s just a few miles from the USC campus also resides across the street from Crypto.com Arena, allowing you to catch a Lakers or Kings game if your schedule permits. It’s also surrounded by restaurants and features a fun lobby bar populated by sportswriters after deadline. —Ben Bolch

Stadium skinny:

USC football players enter the field before a game against BYU at the Coliseum.

USC football players enter the field before a game against BYU at the Coliseum.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

  • When the Trojans are good, the renovated Coliseum can feel like a cross between a football game and a frat party. When the Trojans are bad, it can feel like an emcee performing at an empty bar. —Ben Bolch
  • Lincoln Riley’s hire will hopefully re-energize the Trojan fan base enough to fill up the Coliseum again so the crowd noise can at least drown out the never-ending loop of the USC fight song that is guaranteed to get stuck in your head after attending a game. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen
  • $315 million worth of renovations certainly helped freshen up an aging stadium that had seen better days, but the atmosphere could still use some work. Tailgating is still hamstrung. Parking is still frustrating. These are problems fans will probably be quick to forget once the team starts winning again. —Ryan Kartje
  • When are they putting Reggie Bush’s No. 5 back with the other Heisman-winning jerseys in the end zone? —J. Brady McCollough

Best eats:

Bestia is a can’t-miss dinner in downtown L.A., where you must get the Peruvian scallop crudo which changes ingredients depending on the season. —Ryan Kartje

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

Skip the overpriced parking hawked by opportunistic neighbors ($50 for a spot in some random dude’s driveway? Are you kidding?) and take the Metro’s Expo Line, making the short walk from the Expo Park/USC or Expo/Vermont stations. —Ben Bolch

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Best side trip:

Neptune's Net is located in Malibu.

Neptune’s Net is located in Malibu.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Still hungry? Keep driving up the PCH to Ventura County and have some fried fish platters at Neptune’s Net. —J. Brady McCollough

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Utah

An aerial view shows the campus at the University of Utah.

An aerial view shows the campus at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

Ease of getting there:

  • Super convenient. You can get into a cab at Salt Lake International Airport and be inside a hotel lobby downtown in 15 minutes. (In fact, depending on your airline, your walk from the gate to baggage claim inside the recently renovated airport might be longer.) —Ben Bolch
  • A breeze, especially if you’re collecting Delta miles. Salt Lake City is the largest Delta hub west of the Mississippi. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

Where to stay:

Marriott City Center. We preferred this hotel’s warm charm prior to a recent renovation that resulted in sterile rooms, but it’s still the best downtown spot, within walking distance of a slew of restaurants and just a short Uber ride from Rice-Eccles Stadium. —Ben Bolch

Stadium skinny:

Fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium wait for the start of a game.

Fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium wait for the start of a game between Weber State and Utah in Salt Lake City.

(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

  • What might be the most devoted fans in the Pac-12 can get boisterous, making you feel like you’re watching a game somewhere twice the size of this 51,444-seat stadium. Remember to dress warmly unless it’s September. —Ben Bolch
  • Rice-Eccles Stadium now rivals Oregon’s Autzen as the toughest place to win a road game in the conference. —J. Brady McCollough

Best eats:

Red Iguana is a Salt Lake City mainstay. Its Mexican food is so popular that it had to expand to a second location. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

Staying at the Marriott City Center comes with the bonus of an adjacent outdoor ice-skating rink that’s open in winter months and perfect for people-watching if you don’t want to lace up some skates. —Ben Bolch

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Best side trip:

Zion National Park near Springdale, Utah.

Zion National Park near Springdale, Utah.

(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

It’s an ambitious side trip if you’re already in Salt Lake City, but if you can plan a stop on the way at Zion National Park, it would be well worth your time. The Narrows and Angel’s Landing are two of the most thrilling hikes America has to offer. —Ryan Kartje

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Washington

Students walk between classes on the University of Washington campus in Seattle.

Students walk between classes on the University of Washington campus in Seattle.

(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Ease of getting there:

  • Straightforward stuff. It’s less than a half hour from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Husky Stadium via Interstate 5 and Montlake Boulevard. —Ben Bolch
  • The toughest thing about traveling through Seattle is the security lines at SeaTac airport, which can move slowly and get monstrously long. But once you land, public transportation is a great way to get around Seattle. The light rail will take you from the airport to the UW campus. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen
  • Do yourself a favor and make sure to look out the window as you approach Seattle and find the glorious Mount Rainier peak amid the cloud cover. —J. Brady McCollough

Where to stay:

The Ace Hotel chain excels at hipster vibes and where better to partake in that than Seattle? Also, the price shouldn’t be too astronomic for the value. —J. Brady McCollough

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Stadium skinny:

Washington plays Stanford at Husky Stadium.

Washington plays Stanford at Husky Stadium in Seattle. Boats are moored in Lake Washington just outside the stadium.

(Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

  • With its panoramic views of Union Bay and the adjacent campus, Husky Stadium is probably the only Pac-12 venue that can challenge the Rose Bowl for consideration as the conference’s most scenic. As a bonus, massive overhangs shield fans from wet weather that is likely to blanket the area tighter than a Don James defense. —Ben Bolch
  • As picturesque as it gets, Husky Stadium is one of the premier venues in the country, let alone the conference. Follow the Pacific Northwest tradition of dressing in layers because while the stadium’s position on the edge of Lake Washington provides idyllic views, it can quickly feel like you’re watching a game in a wind tunnel. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen
  • Boatgating! The wind can get frigid through there. —Ryan Kartje
  • Husky Stadium is high on my list of venues I need to check off my list. —J. Brady McCollough

Best eats:

Pike Place Market is a tourist trap, but a stop at Piroshky Piroshky makes the crowds worth it. Grab one of the sweet or savory offerings from the famed Russian bakery and watch the fish fly. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

Hear me out: Cream cheese on a hot dog. The Seattle dog, which is traditionally served with cream cheese and sauteed onions, is an underrated food staple of the city. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Best side trip:

An orca whale breaches in view of Mount Baker in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash.

An orca whale breaches in view of Mount Baker, some 60 miles distant, in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash.

(Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

The San Juan Islands are a three-hour drive away, but well worth it if you’re at all interested in whale watching. There’s no place better in the world to see Orcas in the wild. Resident orcas live in the area year-round; though, it’s best to see them between March and October. —Ryan Kartje

Washington State

A sign etched into a harvested wheat field welcoming students back to Washington State University is shown.

A sign etched into a harvested wheat field welcoming students back to Washington State University is shown near Pullman, Wash.

(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Ease of getting there:

  • Depends on your level of daredeviltry. The Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport is a short drive from Washington State’s campus, but you’ll need to connect in Seattle and be comfortable flying in a prop plane that seats fewer people than your local Starbucks. A more highly recommended route is flying through Spokane (though this also may require a connection) so that you can stay on a jet and enjoy the comforts of Spokane, a 90-minute drive from Pullman. Just beware of the dreaded speed trap in Colfax, not to mention blinding walls of fog and snow drifts on U.S. Route 195 during winter. —Ben Bolch
  • Get ready for an adventure. You can land in Spokane (Alaska and Delta have one direct flight from LAX to Spokane a day, otherwise you’re connecting) and drive 90 minutes south through thick foggy curtains that come down during the winter. Or you can connect to Pullman by getting on a plane with about 50 seats. Some teams even fly into Lewiston, which is 45 minutes away from Pullman across the Idaho border. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen
  • No trip in the Pac-12 inspires more travel-related panic. Speaking from experience, the winding hills between Pullman and Spokane are NOT meant to be driven in a blinding snowstorm. —Ryan Kartje

Where to stay:

Courtyard by Marriott Pullman. Before this hotel recently sprouted roughly a half-mile from Martin Stadium, many traveling beat writers schlepped from Spokane or slummed it at the Best Western Plus University Inn in Moscow, Idaho (the only hotel where I’ve ever scratched my face by turning my head on a pillow). This Courtyard comes with everything that makes it the industry standard: lobby bistro and comfortable if somewhat utilitarian rooms. But the fact that you can walk to Martin Stadium in 15 minutes makes it a winner. —Ben Bolch

Stadium skinny:

Light snow falls at Martin Stadium.

Light snow falls at Martin Stadium during the first half between Washington State and Arizona in Pullman, Wash.

(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Martin Stadium can be sneaky loud for a 32,952-seat stadium nestled in a city of 33,598 (where do the other 646 people go on game nights?), but it’s never going to be confused with Michigan Stadium or Beaver Stadium as far as college football meccas go. —Ben Bolch

Best eats:

For a sweet treat, stop by Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe, where students scoop old-fashioned ice cream and sell canned cheese within walking distance to Martin Stadium. —Thuc Nhi Nguyen

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Local intel:

When in Spokane, take an hour or so to walk along its Riverfront Park on your way to Spokane Falls, a refreshing slice of nature that runs right through the heart of the city. On your way back are plenty of nearby options for a glass of red, if that’s more your speed. —Ryan Kartje

For more recommendations, check out our aggregated map of Pac-12 cities recommendations.

Best side trip:

The L'Ecole No. 41 winery is shown.

The L’Ecole No. 41 winery, which is housed in a building that used to be a rural schoolhouse, is shown.

(Nicholas K. Geranios / Associated Press)

Walla Walla wine country. If you ever wanted to know what life on Mars looks like, make the 2¼-hour drive to Walla Walla for some wine tasting. (Just don’t expect to get cellphone reception for most of the trip.) Once you arrive, you’ll enjoy some of the best Syrah in the United States. Recommended tasting stops include Reynvaan, Abeja and L’Ecole No. 41, followed by dinner at Brasserie Four. Call ahead for the reservation policy at each winery. —Ben Bolch

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.