Road Trips and Travel Tips 2016-17

Important Notes

Getting to the Airport

There are now at least four ways to get to the airport:

We've tried all modes and our favorite is the last one. We've had very good experiences with both Uber and Lyft.

Until this year there were problems getting a Lyft or Uber from SJC, but those issues have been resolved. Now you just cross from the baggage claim area to Island 5 and your Lyft or Uber comes right away. With that improvement they offer all the comfort of a limo service and are almost as convenient as driving yourself; yet the fee is less than a taxi and close to that of the shared-ride van.

Cost-wise, a ride in a van or with Uber/Lyft is about the same as 4 days' parking. So if you will be away for more than 4 days, it's better to use some type of ride service rather than airport parking.

Airport Parking

Airport Parking Reservations has a nice search that lets you find and book the best off-airport parking at (apparently) any US airport. They find a number of options under $10/day at SJC, and under $20/day at SFO.

For SFO you can park in the airport-run long-term lot for $25/day, now payable with credit card or with FasTrak.

Skypark costs $19/day for outdoor or $21/day for covered parking. ParkSFO has a building where you can have covered parking for $19/day (and you can print a one- or two-days-free coupon from their website).

At SJC, the airport-run Economy Lot 1 costs $15/day.

Travel Information Sites

Use these sites to find flights and hotels.

LinkComment Our favorite flight-search site. Enter your departure and destination airports and dates; you get a clear, compact table of available flights, which can be sorted on departure or arrival time or by "agony". Another way to list the flights available for a given itinerary. Responds more quickly than hipmunk, but the results cannot be sorted in as many ways.
Two more starting points: you enter your air travel information once; each returns links to a number of sites that offer the best fares. Kayak does hotels and cars as well. Southwest schedules and ticket sales must be accessed at the company site; they are not available from Hipmunk, Kayak, Google, or other aggregator sites. While booking a flight, before you get to the seat-selection part, open this site in another window. Click on the airline and enter your flight number. Seat Guru shows you the seat map as that airline configures that type of plane, showing which seats to prefer and which to avoid. For the bold (or feckless) traveller, buy bargain seats at the last minute. The most comprehensive hotel search site, finds hotels in the most obscure towns worldwide and lets you book them directly. Bay Area Consumer's Checkbook found that Priceline produced hotel rates "lower than those available on other booking sites." Hotel price comparisons based on four other sites including Expedia and Travelocity; and user reviews of hotels.

Once you arrive, you can use one of these sites to find food and entertainment.

TripBuzz Enter the city and the class of activity (choose "all", you can narrow it down later), click "go". You get a list of things to do or see, and you can narrow the list from a pull-down menu. Tripadvisor again. Enter the city name then click Restaurants or Things to do.
Yelp Enter your city in the "Near:" field. Start typing what you want in the "Find:" field, for example "Entert..." and choose one of the options presented. Good for restaurants but also works for amusements, specialty stores, and services.

The Experienced Traveler

Fast(ish) Check-in with TSA Pre-Check

The TSA Pre-Check program allows you a lower-hassle route through airport security. The Pre-check line is not as short as it used to be! The program is popular and we pre-checkers are no longer scarce. Still, you don't have to remove jacket or shoes; you don't take your lap-top out of its bag; and you walk through a magnetic arch, you don't hold up your arms for the x-ray.

To enroll in the program, go to the Enrollment site, fill out a questionnaire, and sign up for an appointment. You will be interviewed and pay $85 for your Known Traveller Number. Then, whenever you book a flight you give the Known Traveller Number and your boarding pass will have the magic pre-check note on it.

Things to Have With You

Noise-canceling headphones really work, and make a huge difference. Besides the generally high ambient noise, you never know when there's a baby nearby who can't pop his ears. Audio-Technica's are highly recommended and inexpensive. Earplugs are a cheap and portable substitute for noise-canceling headphones. EP5 Sonic Defender is the best brand.

Have a backup battery so you don't worry about your iPad, Kindle or phone dying. There are many inexpensive and powerful ones, for example this one.

For any but the youngest and healthiest travelers, Travelsox compression socks. Yes, they are goofy, but they prevent your feet and ankles from swelling up.

At the Gate

Don't pay airport price for water. Bring an empty sports bottle through security and fill it at a drinking fountain. Buy a sandwich or bagel just before you board: at least as good and probably cheaper than a "snack box" on board. Make a real effort to swap a few friendly words with any member of the crew who addresses you. Ask how their shift is going, look sympathetic, say I'm looking forward to the flight. It does zero harm and results in an extra dessert or an extra-large wine on occasion.

If your flight is cancelled, be nice to gate agents. They deal with people yelling at them and telling them sob stories all day. You be super nice and ask politely if they can help you. You are much more likely to receive a hotel, seat, etc. But first, call the airline reservation number. The people on the phone can do everything about re-booking that the gate agent can. When that doesn't work, the gate agent has the vouchers for meals and hotels.

After the Flight

Don't dispose of your old boarding pass casually. According to this article, the various barcodes on the boarding pass may contain quite a bit of your personal information, such as your frequent flier number, and it can be easily read by anyone. What can be gleaned from a discarded pass varies with the airline. Some put enough data on the pass to help an identity thief.

Road Trips!

Cancun Challenge, 24-26 November

This year's Thanksgiving tournament is the Cancun Challenge. That link lists the schedule, in which Stanford plays one game on each of Thursday (yes, Thanksgiving day), Friday and Saturday. Thursday and Friday Stanford games are at 11am. (FYI, Cancun is on the same time zone as the Eastern US, GMT-5.) There are four other games you could watch on each of these days. Saturday, Stanford plays at 1:30pm against Purdue.

Accomodations are in the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, an all-inclusive resort. The teams will no doubt be housed there, and if there's a Thanksgiving banquet, that's where it will be. The games are played in the same facility.

Tour packages are available from the event. This resort is some miles from the town of Cancun. There are a couple of other hotels nearby, but many, many more in the nearby town of Playa Del Carmen ( link).

When booking your flights for this event, investigate the price difference for different return dates. It turns out that returning on Monday or Tuesday can be significantly cheaper than returning on the Sunday.

Cal State Bakersfield, 1 December

The Cardinal goes to Cal State Bakersfield for a game at 7pm on a Thursday evening. The CSB basketball coach is Greg McCall, father of Cardinal senior Erica McCall. Icardo Center is a small arena (similar in size to the ones at St. Mary's or USF). All seating is general admission. You could buy tickets at the door, or order them via phone after Oct 5 at (661) 654-2583.

Although there are no reserved seats, the first few rows on each side have chair backs while the rest are bleacher style. If you want a chair seat, be sure to be in line when the doors open.

Per Google maps, CSB is four hours by car from Palo Alto, but that is unpredictable because it requires traversing San Jose to Gilroy before reaching the somewhat open highways of 152 and I-5. One should probably leave around noon to be sure of having time for a bite in Bakersfield before the game. Plan on spending the night to return on the Friday morning.

United does offer a Bakersfield flight from SFO, but at $768, it costs a bit more than a tank of gas and a motel night.

Tennessee and George Washington, 18 & 21 December

Stanford plays in Thompson-Bowling Arena in Knoxville at 3pm on the Sunday before Christmas. After two days off, the Cardinal plays at the Charles E. Smith Center on the campus of George Washington University at a time TBA.

It is nominally about 9 hours driving time between the two locations, so the schedule does allow for driving oneself from Knoxville to D.C. However, it seems more sensible to fly, and have a day and a half free to enjoy the many tourist attractions of the D.C. area.

There are no easy flights SFO-TYS; whether you leave from SFO or SJC, that trip will take most of the day Saturday, with a stopover in Dalles or Denver or Charlotte. But here's a discovery: United has a daily nonstop at 7:30pm from TYS to IAD (Dulles International). One could possibly make that flight after the Sunday game. If not, then American has a nonstop TYS to DCA (Ronald Reagan airport) at 7:30am Monday.

After enjoying the nation's capitol Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday and watching a game on Wednesday, one needs to get back to SFO. United has an 8:30am nonstop DCA->SFO, and Virgin America has a 9:30am nonstop from the other airport, Dulles.

ASU and UA, 30 December & 1 January

The Cardinal plays in Tempe at 4pm on Friday. After what one supposes will be a fun New Year's Eve party at the team hotel, it plays UA in Tucson on Sunday January 1st.

In fact it is quite feasible to make a one-day excursion to see the Tempe game. Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix (PHX) is well-connected to both SFO and SJC. Here's how.

The true die-hard will pick up a rental car at PHX, spend the weekend in Arizona, and see the game in Tucson on Sunday at 2pm. It should not be a problem to catch the 9:10 (SJC) or 9:20 (SFO) nonstops on Sunday.

As usual, you can figure on buying UA tickets at the door. You should always order ASU tickets in advance. The ASU ticket number is (888) 786-3857. Ask for section G to sit behind the visitor bench.

If you are spending that weekend, here are some things to do on the Saturday around Tucson:

And some things to do around Phoenix:

Colorado and Utah, 13 & 15 January

This trip begins with an 6pm Friday game versus the Utes at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. The second game is at the Coors Event Center in Boulder on Sunday, at 2pm. Neither team pulls large crowds, so plan on buying tickets at the door.

There are several convenient nonstops to Salt Lake (SLC) from both SJC and SFO, so you can plan on flying on the Friday and going directly to the game from the airport. (Think about using Uber/Lyft for this, and not renting a car.)

There are also numerous nonstop flights SLC->DEN on both Saturday and Sunday, so you can spend a full Saturday in Salt Lake, or an afternoon and morning in Denver, whichever suits your touristing taste. However, allow for a 90-minute drive from the Denver airport to the arena in Boulder.

Because of that drive, about 7pm is the earliest departure you'd want to plan following the Sunday game. United has a 7:25pm nonstop departure for SFO, and a 6:50pm nonstop for SJC.

Here is Tripadvisor's Top Things to Do in Denver; and here is its Top Things to Do in Salt Lake City.

WSU and UW, 27 & 29 January

The Cardinal play in Pullman at 8pm on Friday the 27th, then in Seattle on Sunday at 5pm. The late start Sunday means you've probably got to spend Sunday night in Seattle. (The last Alaska flight for SFO departs at 8:45pm and the last for SJC, at 8:55pm. Those would be makeable given a 2pm or 3pm start, but oh no, PAC-12 Networks.)

For Pullman it is safe to buy your ticket at the door. The Huskies can draw a big crowd, though, and you should order in advance. This is the ticket sales page or you can call (206) 543-2200. Single-game tickets on sale in "late October".

For things to do in Seattle, see the PAC-12 tournament section, below.

Spokane is not the home of the Washington State Cougars, but it is where the team and visiting fans usually stay. Downtown Spokane has become more interesting in recent years, with much renovation and the completion of the River Park Square mall. There are several quite decent restaurants. The historic Fox Theater is a renovated performance venue (click for schedule), which now houses the Spokane Symphony.

The Riverfront Park (which features "one of the best outdoor skating rinks in the nation"), the Riverside State Park and the Spokane River Centennial Trail are all either in or very close to Spokane and offer plenty of possibilities for hiking or biking—weather permitting.

It is about a 2 hour drive from Spokane to Pullman, where the Cougars lurk. Check the official WSU Campus Map.

Cal, 16 February

Stanford plays Cal at Haas Pavilion on a Thursday night at 8pm.

You can buy tickets starting from this link. At Haas, all lower-level seats are sold out to season ticket holders.

UO and OSU, 24 and 26 February

The Cardinal play the Beavers in Corvallis on Friday at 8pm. The OSU game in Eugene is at 1pm on Sunday.

United has two nonstop flights SFO-EUG that arrive in time for the Friday game. There is a return flight at 6:30pm on Sunday, so it will be possible to return after the game.

On the other hand—the PAC-12 Tournament kicks off in Seattle the Thursday following this game. Think about making a single trip, continuing to Seattle after the Oregon weekend.

It is feasible for a person unencumbered by a job to make this trip by road, and pleasant if the weather is decent. However, both northern California and central Oregon sometimes see snow. If one did intend on driving, the itinerary would be:

For OSU tickets, all the nice lower-bowl sections, including section D behind the visitor bench, are sold-out to season ticket holders. All other seats are general admission. When single-game tickets are on sale, go to the ticket page to get general-admission tickets to print at home. Bring them along and be at the doors when they open.

For UO tickets, pre-order from the Oregon ticket purchase page. Sections 102P, 102L and 202 are behind the visitor's bench in Knight Arena, although 103P has better sight-lines. If you prefer to call, the number is 800-WEB-FOOT.

Here are a few things to do between games:

PAC-12 Tournament, 3-6 March

Once again the tournament is at Key Arena in Seattle. Seattle is easy to get to, with many flights by many carriers and a wide range of hotels. Key Arena is in the Seattle Center with plenty of parking and the monorail for access from downtown. Several comfortable hotels are in walking distance of the games.

Places to eat

The "Thrillist" lists the best restaurants, and Seattle has many good ones.

For a quick meal between tournament sessions, the food court in the Seattle Center is convenient to the Key Arena but frankly, not that interesting. For a proper meal, walk just a few blocks south of the Space Needle to the Tilikum Place Cafe, a delightful small restaurant with an inventive, French-inspired menu. Another place we've tried and enjoyed, less than a mile from the Center, is Osteria Rigolletto, located in the basement of the Stackhouse apartment complex. Or, grab a taxi downtown and lunch at Il Corvo, a highly-touted pasta place that is open only for lunch.

Things to do

There is so much to do and see in Seattle, you really should arrive a day or two early just for sightseeing before you settle in for basketball. Two high points for views over the city (besides the familiar Space Needle) are the SkyView Observatory on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center, and the Seattle Great Wheel. On a day when, as local people say, "the mountain is out" (i.e. not hiding in clouds) you will get a stunning view of Mt. Rainier from any of them.

If you have the time, it might also be worth visiting the famous Pike Place Market, which is consistently rated as one of the best places to shop for food in the US. In the middle of the market look for the elevator that takes you down to the waterfront esplanade. From there, a brisk mile walk along the waterfront brings you to the Olympic Sculpture Park, an outdoor wing of the Seattle Art Museum.

Been there, did that last year? And you've been to the Chihuli Glass in Seattle Center?

Well, how about the Living Computer Museum, where you can get real hands-on time with a variety of old micro-, mini- and mainframe computers.

Or, do you like books? Seattle has great bookstores. Start with Ada's Technical Books "where the technical mind finds what it craves". The Lion Heart bookstore in Pike Place Market is said to have a wide selection and a friendly owner. Twice Sold Tales is a used book store you can get lost in. The Book Larder specializes in cookbooks.

Want to get outdoors? In 1903, the city of Seattle hired the Olmsted brothers (sons of Frederick Law Olmsted who designed the UC Berkeley campus) to plan a system of parks. The jewel of that system is Volunteer Park, where you will find the Conservatory, a beautiful Victorian-style glasshouse that has just been restored in 2014, and also the Asian Art Museum specializing in the arts of the entire Pacific basin.

Like airplanes? Take your rental car to the south end of town and spend hours among vintage planes in the three hangar-sized galleries of Boeing's Museum of Flight. Then step outside and walk through President Johnson's Air Force One, and the last Concorde SST to fly. If you are interested in aviation, budget at least four hours for this stop.

Continue 30 miles south to Tacoma and visit the Museum of Glass, where you watch major works being blown in the working "hot shop" every day. Barely half-mile away in the confusing streets of waterfront Tacoma is the LeMay Car Museum, a huge collection of vintage cars presented in a vast but beautiful gallery. If you are a car buff, expect to spend at least three hours.

For a nice day-trip by car, take the Ferry to Bainbridge Island, or go to the north end of Seattle and take the Mukilteo ferry to Whidbey Island. Either jaunt lets you poke around miles of quiet roads through rustic scenery, cute small towns, and water vistas. On Bainbridge, get fish and chips at the historic Harbor Public House. (We did this last year; it was excellent!) Or if you explore Whidbey, find the little town of Coupeville and have a seafood lunch at The Oystercatcher.

Marijuana is now legal in Washington State. Adults may possess up to 1oz for private consumption. There are now a number of licensed marijuana vendors in Seattle. Go to HighAboveSeattle for a convenient store locator.

NCAA Sub-Regional, 18—21 March

For the Cardinal, the first and second rounds are ... TBS!

NCAA Regional, 24—27 March

Locations are Bridgeport CN (gee, wonder who'll play there?), Lexington KY, Oklahoma City, and Stockton, CA (we can but hope!).

Final Four! 31 March and 2 April

The 2017 Final Four is to be held in Dallas, TX.. The semifinal games are on Friday and the final on Sunday.

Here is how to schedule a Final Four trip.

First, arrive early. There's a ton of hoopla the day before: the WBCA high-school All-American game (often featuring an upcoming Stanford recruit), the battle of the bands (often won by LSJUMB), possibly a team reception (your team, all poshed up). For this year, arrive on Wednesday so you can attend these things on Thursday.

Second, book your trip on the expectation that Stanford will be eliminated in the semifinal. Reserve the hotel only through the night of the semifinal game (Friday) and book your return flight for the day after that game (Saturday).

The point is, if Stanford loses, you don't have to make the agonizing decision whether to stay around and watch another coronation for UConn, or go through the fuss of trying to get an earlier return flight. You're all set to go.

But if Stanford does win, there will be no objection from your hotel at extending your stay for two days. After all, a bunch of disappointed people just checked out! And your airline will usually not have a problem rebooking your return flight, although you might want to initially buy a higher-priced ticket that doesn't have a big rescheduling fee.