The college football bowl games, in full swing this weekend, in addition to providing exciting action on the gridiron, serve as a travelogue of some of America’s most intriguing cities. In the past, only a handful of bowl games hosted championship teams, students and fans from across the country, but this season 32 sites will beckon holiday travelers and their dollars.
Games notwithstanding, which destinations are the most intriguing to visit?
San Antonio, Texas – The Michigan State Spartans played in yesterday’s Valero Alamo Bowl, and travelers who went along were surely delighted by the festive nature of the city’s River Walk, a narrow, open-air channel of water winding one story below the streets of downtown San Antonio. Galleries, restaurants and shops, some featuring live music and lit up like Disney World, line the banks of the walk and are accompanied by lush pathways, waterfalls and pools. Stroll along or feel the enchantment aboard a floating river taxi or dinner cruise. Steps away lies the historic Alamo, where a small band of Texans held out for 13 days against the Mexican Army before Davy Crockett, James Bowie and the rest met their doom in 1836. Sam Houston immortalized them with the battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme park and Sea World lie just outside town beside the Westin La Cantera, a resort with two golf courses, one of which hosts a PGA Tour event each season. www.visitsanantonio.com
Mobile, Alabama – The Central Michigan University Chippewas will play in next Saturday’s GMAC Bowl. Like San Antonio, the area boasts its own historic battle cry: “Damn the Torpedoes – Full Speed Ahead!” shouted by Naval Commander David Glasgow Farragut for the Union forces on Mobile Bay during the Civil War. Just west of the Florida state line, the Mobile Bay and Gulf Shores area offer expansive white sand beaches backed by stunning natural sea grass areas. Un-crowded, casual, inexpensive, Gulf Shores is also known as a golf destination with notables such as Kiva Dunes, The Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club, Craft Farms, Rock Creek and Lost Key all in easy striking distance. Don’t visit without stopping into the infamous “Flora-Bama” beach bar (right on the state line) and LuLu’s at Homeport Marina, on the Intracoastal Waterway. LuLu’s is created and owned by Jimmy Buffett’s sister – and it is easy to see the family influence in this one-of-a-kind, family friendly party and open-air entertainment venue. Remember, too, that ‘round these parts, “L.A.” stands for “Lower Alabama!” www.gulfshores.com
Pasadena, California – When Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr took Michigan Wolverine football teams to the Rose Bowl, they often holed the team up in Newport Beach for part of the stay in order to get the players away from the spotlight and distractions of Hollywood. If only they knew what they were missing now that The Resort at Pelican Hill opened last year. Created on 504 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean and inspired by a 16th century Italian architect, Pelican Hill, an exclusive enclave with bungalows, villas, Tom Fazio golf courses, spa, swimming pools, shops and restaurants is as majestic as sunset on the San Gabriel Mountains during the Rose Bowl game. www.PelicanHill.com
San Diego, California – Billed “America’s Finest City,” San Diego hosted both the Poinsettia Bowl and the Holiday Bowl. The San Diego Zoo is ranked the nation’s best, and seaside Torrey Pines Golf Course, site of Tiger Woods’ famous 2008 U.S. Open win on a bum leg, is open to the public. Seeing the sea lions, sunset, shopping and jazz at La Jolla’s Cove underwater park is sublime. San Diego’s latest stunner in the hotel industry is the Grand Del Mar Luxury Hotel and Resort: a Mediterranean estate – palatial, yet warm – with Southern California’s only five-star dining experience and world class golf through and over two secluded canyons. www.GrandDelMar.com
Scottsdale, Arizona – The Phoenix area hosts the Insight Bowl in Tempe and the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale. The historic Arizona Biltmore Hotel is the choice of celebrities (including Presidential candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin on election night), and it’s easy to see why once your inside its striking and soothing Frank Lloyd Wright-style 39-acre lush compound of swimming pools and gardens. www.ArizonaBiltmore.com Shopping, dining, and golf are the most prevalent hobbies in gleaming Scottsdale, with dramatic destination courses such as Troon North, Grayhawk, and The Boulders. www.ScottsdaleCVB.com
Orlando, Florida – The Big Ten runner-up gets the Capitol One Bowl in the same stadium which hosts the Champps Sports Bowl a few days earlier. The ever-expanding and adapting worldwide colossus – Walt Disney World – remains the king of attractions and hoteliers in Central Florida. See www.DisneyParks.com. Renting a vacation home with your own kitchen and swimming pool can give entire extended families a break from the action, too. Learn more at www.VisitCentralFlorida.org.
Honolulu, Hawaii – While the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl is held on Oahu, many visitors prefer to island hop to quieter Big Island of Hawaii and Maui. The glamorous, expansive, modern Waikoloa Beach and Golf Resort, near Kona, with its shops, golf courses, and abundant activities has a Michigan connection! Scott Head, who spent some time at Treetops Resort, in Gaylord, is director of club operations at Waikoloa. Visit www.WaikoloaBeachResort.com Meanwhile, the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, on the west side of Maui, is not only considered the island’s “most Hawaiian hotel,” but it’s also surprisingly affordable. See www.KBHMaui.com
January 3, 2010