America's Most Sports-Crazed Cities
What makes a city’s sports fans legendary: their sheer numbers, their loyalty, or perhaps even their anguish?
For Linda Beltran, a baseball enthusiast, it’s the sportsmanship. The D.C.-based hotel exec attended Game 3 of the 2011 World Series, wearing an Albert Pujols Cardinal jersey. “While I was heckled by a few drunk Texas Rangers fans, the rest were showing that ‘Texas hospitality,’ going so far as to apologize for their brethren’s behavior.”
That wasn’t the case in Philadelphia, Beltran says, where the infamous fans harassed her more vividly for her jersey choice. Still, you can’t argue with either city’s passion—which is why both Philly and Dallas made the top 10 of sports-crazed cities, according to Travel + Leisure readers.
In this year’s America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers voted on travel-related categories in 35 big cities, such as the best hotels, street food, and reliable wireless coverage. For some travelers, however, playoffs, bowl games, and even stadium tours are the stuff of great vacations. (Full disclosure: a few sports-oriented places weren’t part of the general Travel + Leisure survey, such as Detroit, Indianapolis, and World Series champs St. Louis.)
For each of America’s most sports-crazed cities, we’ve highlighted a landmark, museum, or experience that lets fans tap into the local fervor—whether that’s a lesser-known team, a historic stadium, or a bar owned by a local sports hero. In Chicago, for instance, you can enjoy the city’s legendary pizza while reliving Blackhawks history in one restaurant; in Austin you can rent a bike from a shop owned by Lance Armstrong.
Ironically, though, some of the biggest winners in the sports survey were not the homes of winning teams, implying that “sports-crazed” does not always equal happy fans. Then there’s Boston, which has won seven championships in 11 years but couldn’t clinch the No. 1 title in our survey.
“I’ve actually noticed that Boston fans have become slightly less passionate, perhaps due to their success,” says Beantown native Andrew Schrage, who now edits personal finance site MoneyCrashers in Chicago. “It’s become easier to get tickets to games, and the competitive attitude has dwindled a little bit.”
But in the Windy City? “The frustration has definitely risen, especially with Cubs fans,” he says. “They’re incredibly passionate.”
No. 1 Philadelphia
Heartaches over the years may have only deepened the fans’ commitment. To mingle (or commiserate) with locals—who, alas, don’t rank well in the survey for being athletic themselves—check out a Chickie’s and Pete’s sports bar, and try the famous “crab fries.” Or, make like Rocky, and run up and down the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
No. 2 Boston
With seven championships in 11 years—from the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, and Red Sox—Boston fans have plenty to be proud of. Not that they would gloat—of course not—but Boston locals are also pretty brainy and tech-savvy, according to voters. Sports tourists can explore Fenway (which celebrates its centennial in 2012), or follow in the footsteps of Boston champions by doing a Duck Tour, which every big team has done after bringing home a title since 2000.
No. 3 Chicago
Wrigley attracts plenty of stadium purists—you can take insider tours around the field, dugout, and press box—and it may have helped the city score at the top for its cool local architecture. Another way to experience the sports scene is to chow down: at Michael Jordan’s Steak House, Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, or on the more casual end, Pequod’s Pizza. The latter is covered with Blackhawks memorabilia and is an excellent place to sample the city’s top-ranked pizza.
No. 4 New Orleans
“Who dat?” indeed: the city that won the survey for civic pride, wild weekends, and live music knows how to shower affection upon its beloved Saints. If you’re in town on a game day, head to Champions Square, just outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, for music, local cuisine, and the chance to embrace another great spectator sport: people-watching, another survey category that New Orleans has won yet again.
No. 5 Denver
Fans in the Mile High City may harbor fantasies of being called in from the stands to help Tim Tebow win the game. It wouldn’t be a bad idea: the locals rank as the most athletic in the nation, according to voters. If you’re more comfortable being a beer-sipping spectator, you’re in luck: Denver also ranks first in the survey for microbrews. You can get the best of both at downtown’s Lodo’s Bar & Grill, whose patio overlooks Coors Field.
No. 6 Kansas City, MO
The survey’s champion for affordability has a serious case of basketball fever: every March, Kansas City hosts more college basketball games than anywhere else in the country. It’s also a great destination for fans of sports museums—notably, the interactive College Basketball Experience and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Just don’t miss a chance for tailgating-style cuisine: this year, Kansas City also won the barbecue category.
No. 7 San Juan, P.R.
This is the only city in the survey where the word football usually means soccer, but San Juan sports fans also have passion for boxing and baseball. It has hosted the Caribbean World Series nine times. Voters also gave the city high marks for its hotel options—the Ritz-Carlton’s casino is a popular place to watch games—but you can get year-round baseball magic, as well as margaritas, at Old San Juan’s Lupi’s, owned by former Yankee Eduardo Figueroa.
No. 8 Baltimore
Camden Yards—two blocks from Babe Ruth’s birthplace, and the first of the new traditionalist stadiums—celebrates its 20th anniversary next year, and it’s a must-stop for baseball stadium lovers. For football-related thrills, look for Ravens refueling along Water Street at spots such as the Havana Club and the local Ruth’s Chris.
No. 9 Dallas/Fort Worth
While still heartsick over the Rangers’ World Series loss, Dallas fans do have the NBA champion Mavericks—and a love-hate relationship with the over-the-top Dallas Cowboys Stadium. But you don’t need stadium tickets to hang with fans: at downtown’s Victory Park, you can watch the local teams’ away games on moving TV screens. It may be the best entertainment in town, according to voters, who ranked Big D near the bottom for theater.
No. 10 Providence, RI
Rhode Island sports enthusiasts are often happy to hop a train to support Boston teams. But if you’re staying local, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center—home of the beloved Providence College Friars basketball—is well situated near some of the city’s highly ranked micropubs, such as Trinity Brewhouse and Union Station. Locals also love the AAA baseball Pawtucket Red Sox, whose stadium was home to the longest game in professional baseball history (33 innings).
No. 11 San Diego
No worries about rain delays or chattering your teeth in the stands. The SoCal city yet again wins the weather category, making it easy to comfortably cheer on the Chargers, the Padres, or golf legends at the famed Torrey Pines course. To catch a glimpse of pro surfers—or just the good-looking locals with their own boards—head to Encinitas’ Swami’s Beach.
No. 12 Austin, TX
The Texas capital is one of the few cities in the top 20 lacking a major professional sports team. But it does have the University of Texas Longhorns, which keep the city in a burnt-orange fervor. Locals also earn high marks for being athletic. To get your own exercise, go to Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop—owned by Lance Armstrong—where you can rent a bike for pedaling around Lady Bird Lake. Or, catch dinner at Vince Young Steakhouse, owned by the Philadelphia Eagle who was once a UT quarterback.
No. 13 Nashville
Even if the city is most famous for its live music, residents also love their football and hockey. Both the Titans and the Predators play downtown, easy walking distance from the famed honky-tonks. Hockey players, meanwhile, can be spotted dining at downtown restaurants such as Merchant’s and Whiskey Kitchen. Nashville makes visitors feel welcome: it ranks No. 3 in the survey for being both friendly and a great value.
No. 14 Memphis, TN
The heart of this Tennessee city belongs to its basketball teams: the Grizzlies and the University of Memphis Tigers. Before games, you can see fans in team colors packing the bars and restaurants along Beale Street. That’s also a great spot to experience the city’s highest ranked qualities: music, which ranked No. 10, and the fabulous barbecue, which came in at No. 2.
No. 15 Minneapolis/St. Paul
These Minnesotans have long supported all manner of men’s teams, but the latest sports sensation is the WNBA champs, the Minnesota Lynx. Just don’t leave your empty cups in the stands: the city ranked first for being tidy. While the city also ranked highly for its public parks, the Twin Cities generally did best for indoor pursuits like classical music and theater.
No. 16 San Antonio, TX
The home of the Alamo may not have particularly rowdy fans—or stylish ones, according to voters—but they are devoted to their Spurs. For sports celeb-watching, book a room at the downtown Westin, a favorite of visiting NBA teams. You can spend the hours before game time by checking out the city’s historic sights and its highly ranked flea markets.
No. 17 New York City
It’s not hard to start a fight around the Big Apple between Mets and Yankees fans—perhaps not a big surprise in the city that ranked last for friendliness, No. 3 for bars, and first for noise. But everyone comes together in November for the NYC Marathon. For a posh view near the finish line, book a room at the Mandarin Oriental.
No. 18 Houston
These Texans love more than American football—the Major League Soccer Dynamos will open a stadium here in 2012. Folks in Houston otherwise know how to treat themselves right: the city ranks fourth for both luxury shopping and its decadent burgers. For upscale dining, check out downtown Chinese restaurant Yao’s, owned by beloved Rocket Yao Ming.
No. 19 San Francisco
Don’t be surprised if a fan is inspired to propose on a stadium JumboTron—San Francisco ranks No. 5 for romance. But if there’s one thing locals enjoy more than a love story, or their teams, it’s an excellent meal. Near the Giants’ AT&T Park, you can get a workout while restaurant-hopping on a tour run by the company Grub Crawl. Old-school fans, however, like to stay put at sports bar Lefty O’Doul’s, started by the Bay Area–born New York Giant.
No. 20 Seattle
Both the Seahawks and the MLS Sounders play at CenturyLink Field, which now boasts a gluten-free concession stand. That’s fitting in this earnest town that ranks well for dining and No. 1 for its famously local coffee. Fans’ biggest challenge may be keeping their attention on the game: the city ranks first for its tech-savvy locals as well as for its excellent wireless coverage.