Road Trips and Travel Tips
This year's tournament is at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV. The arena is attached to the MGM Grand Hotel.
All tourney information is at the PAC-12 Tournament Page. There you can also buy tickets. An all-tournament general-admission pass is $104. Reserved seats in the center sections are still available as of January at the price of $125.
It is possible to drive from the Bay Area to Las Vegas in a day, but it is a long and not very rewarding drive and sometimes has heavy traffic. The only benefit of driving is to have one's own car for the long weekend. Having a car means you could stay in one of the very inexpensive motels on the outskirts of town. If you stay at one of the major hotel/casinos, you will pay for parking. If you want to take a scenic drive on the Saturday or Sunday (see below), it's easy to get a rental car for the day.
Las Vegas's McCarran International Airport is well-served with flights from the Bay Area. Southwest Airlines has 8-10 nonstop flights from SJC each day; and there are also nonstops by Frontier and Delta. SFO offers 5 non-stop flights a day by Southwest, and other flights by Alaska and Frontier.
The Championship game is 5PM on Sunday night. The last Southwest flight out on Sunday to SJC, at the cheapest fare, leaves at 9:15PM. There are many more flights available at the cheapest fare on Monday.
The hotels do not provide transportation to and from the airport. You must be a "big George" (a huge gambler) for those perks! There are taxicabs lined up outside the baggage claim. Uber and Lyft ride share fares can be met by using the elevators at baggage claim area. The directions are on the signs at the elevators.
At McCarran, the rental cars are off the airport. Look for the rental car shuttle.
Where to Stay
Las Vegas has an enormous selection of rooms at a wide range of prices. Here we will list the major ones, then give links to sites with discounts.
These four hotel/casinos surround the intersection of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevards, and are connected by elevated walkways. If you can find a discount deal for any of them you will be a short walk from the games.
- The MGM Grand, also the site of the tournament arena and the team hotel.
- The Luxor.
- The Excalibur.
- New York New York.
Two more hotels are only a short walk from the arena:
The following sites list these and other hotels, but highlight discount prices. Or just do an online search for "hotel deals las vegas".
Things to Do
For getting around town, The Deuce is a bus that runs every 15 minutes all day. Purchase a 2-hour pass for $6 or an all-day pass for $8 on the bus or at ticket vending machines. (Or ask your concierge very nicely; maybe they'll comp you one?)
Each of the big hotel/casinos along the Strip is an amusement park and shopping mall unto itself. Here are some highlights:
- The Hi-Roller at the LINQ is a giant wheel giving a panoramic view of the valley. At 550 feet it beats the London Eye as the biggest observation wheel in the world (and stands more than twice the height of Seattle's Great Wheel).
- Inside The Bellagio is a beautiful botanical garden, Conservatory and flower display. Outside the Bellagio are illuminated fountains. Both attractions are free.
- Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel Plaque. The dedication to this infamous gangster is hidden in the garden at The Flamingo.
- Most hotel/casinos have some kind of shopping area, but the Caesar's Forum Shops are unique: walk the streets of Rome shopping, eating and watch the fountain show "Fall of Atlantis" free, every hour on the hour, 11AM to 11PM.
- Stroll the lobby of the The Venetian, looking at the gondola rides and the Eiffel Tower. Some reviews say it is not worth the price to do either attraction, but it's free to look.
- Take a selfie in front of the iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign. It is found south of the Mandalay Bay in the middle of Las Vegas Blvd. There's a nice fenced pull-off area. It is a 1.3 mile walk from the Mandalay Bay, or ride the The Deuce.
- The Park is an open plaza with sculpture, seating, and restaurants. Located behind the New York New York hotel.
- Town Square is an outdoor walking, shopping and dining experience on the Strip, 2 miles south of Mandalay Bay. You can get there and back on The Deuce.
- The Mob Musuem gives an eye-opening, authentic view of organized crime's impact on the world and reveals an insider's look at the events and characters of the continuing battle between the Mob and the Law. Real stories are brought to life with engaging, multi-sensory exhibits and hundreds of artifacts. Close to a Deuce stop.
- Drive the Red Rock Canyon Loop: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area lies in Nevada's Mojave Desert. It's known for geological features such as towering red sandstone peaks and the Keystone Thrust Fault, as well as Native American petroglyphs. Panoramic viewing spots dot the 13-mile Scenic Drive.
- The Las Vegas Springs Preserve consists of 180 acres dedicated to nature walks and displays and is owned and operated by the Las Vegas Valley Water District. The Preserve is located approximately three miles west of downtown.
Pac-12 Road Trip Tips!
The true die-hard will fly fairly early Friday, pick up a rental car at PHX, drive two hours to Tucson for the game, and have a nice weekend in Arizona (see below).
Flying into Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix (PHX) and driving to and from Tucson makes for a nice weekend in Arizona. Sky Harbor is well-connected to both SFO and SJC and it will be possible to return on the Sunday. American and Southwest both have 9pm departures for SJC, and United has an 8pm flight to SFO. There are also return nonstops departing just after 6pm; if you take a taxi or Lyft or Uber from the arena, you might make one of them (thanks to the revised 2pm start).
An option unique to this approach is to make a one-day excursion to see only the ASU game in Tempe. We've done it twice and it works fine. Here's how.
- Take an American nonstop from SFO at 9am, or the one from SJC at 9:25, arriving at PHX a bit after 12pm.
- From Terminal 3 or 4, take the airport's "Sky Train" to its terminus at the 44th street Metro station.
- Take the Phoenix Metro train east to the Mill Avenue/Third Street station.
- You are on busy Mill Avenue with a number of restaurants available for lunch.
- After lunch, walk East on 5th street to the Wells Fargo Arena, visible a few blocks away, for the game.
- After the game walk to the closer Veterans Way/College Station light rail stop to return to the airport.
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.
Cardinal fan Kim Thien alerts us to Grand Canyon University's schedule. Their WBB team is playing Seattle U. on Saturday. Why would we care? Because GCU's head coach is none other than Stanford great Nicole Powell. (And for those with longer memories, Nicole's assistant coach is Nikki Blue. Does it feel like not so long ago that Nikki Blue was UCLA's major back-court threat, facing off against Candice Wiggins? Well, that was 2002-2006, folks. Blue has since had a pro career and several years coaching.)
Anyway, if you'd like to give Nicole some love, head to GCU Arena at 3300 W. Camelback Rd (Google map link) for the 2pm game on Saturday.
Arizona offers other attractions. Here are some things to do around Tucson:
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has more than 300 live animal species and two miles of paths. Located 14 miles west of Tucson in Tucson Mountain Park.
- Catalina State Park—bird-watching and hiking.
- Arizona State Museum (on University of Arizona campus) interprets the history of Southwestern cultures.
- Mission San Xavier Del Bac, an impressive example of Spanish mission architecture, built in 1783-97.
- Sabino Canyon in Santa Catalina Mountains offers hiking as well as narrated excursions aboard shuttle buses.
And some things to do around Phoenix:
- The Desert Botanical Garden is always worth a visit.
- The winter home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West gives a good tour.
- Shopping in Scottsdale.
- The Heard Museum has ten galleries of native cultures and art, including ethnological, historical and contemporary objects of Southwestern Native Americans, daily artist demonstrations, more.
- The Pueblo Grande Museum contains a prehistoric Hohokam village ruin that includes a platform mound, ball court and irrigation canals.
It's a tossup whether to fly or drive for the L.A. trip. Given good weather, the door-to-door travel time is almost the same. (The Mythbusters tested it and got 5:33 one way, 5:25 the other.)
However, there are endless flights to choose among and you can find a comfortable 2pm or 3pm departure on Friday. Sunday there are flights from LAX to SJC at 7:40 and 9:35, and several flights to SFO from 7pm on.
UCLA games can sell out; you should order tickets from the UCLA site (actually TicketMaster) when available. Section 101 and 102 are behind the visitor bench.
USC doesn't draw a big crowd to their nice arena, and all seats are general admission for women's games, so plan to buy tickets at the door.
Los Angeles Attractions
The following are some things that FBC members might enjoy doing in Los Angeles.
- The Broad (rhymes with "road") is a new museum of contemporary art in downtown L.A. Entry is free but you must either reserve a free ticket in advance, or wait in a stand-by line for an open slot. Tickets are available for reservation one month ahead, i.e. for our trip, go to the tickets page on or soon after December 20th. (Note that a celebrated exhibit, Infinity Mirrors by Yayoi Kasuma, closes 1/1/2018, before our weekend.)
- Petersen Auto Museum displays movie cars, race cars and vintage cars of all periods in a newly-remodeled space just across the street from the LA Museum of Art.
- Grand Park is a new downtown park, 12 acres built on top of a parking structure, with performance spaces, a wading fountain, and giant lawns.
- The Hotel Biltmore has appeared in many films and was the original setting for the Oscars ceremonies. Study some quick history before you go.
- The Museum of Jurassic Technology is an eccentric place. Wikipedia says its "collection includes a mixture of artistic, scientific, ethnographic, and historic, as well as some unclassifiable exhibits... The factual claims of many of the museum's exhibits strain credibility, provoking an array of interpretations from commentators." So, check it out!
- The Getty has lots of fine art in a stunning setting. On a clear winter day, great views of downtown. Room to wander and sit, and a nice cafeteria.
- The Huntington has even more, and more varied exhibitions than the Getty, and a vast garden. Nice cafe and tea room.
- Hancock Park, including the La Brea tar pits, the Page Museum in which the Tar Pit discoveries are displayed and explained, and right next door, the massive L.A. County Museum of Art. Just north of Hancock Park at 419 N. Fairfax is Canter's Deli, hit it for a pastrami, blini or an egg cream.
- The Norton Simon in Pasadena is another world-class art museum. On the way back, for something completely different, stop at the Soda Pop Stop, with 450 kinds of sodas and sarsaparillas and 500 kinds of bottled beer.
- The Skirball Center is a Jewish cultural center and a world-class museum.
- Gamble House is a magnificent turn-of-the-century villa, designed and stuffed full of furniture by Greene and Greene.
- Los Angeles: there is a "there" there, and you can find it on a walking tour led by the Los Angeles Conservancy. The docent-led tours are mostly on Saturday, or get one of their self-guided tours for use on another day.
- Disneyland! 'nuff said!
- Descanso Gardens, not as vast a garden as the Huntington but just as big a variety of plants and lots of places to sit and meditate.
- Is the Universal Studios Tour corny and kitschy? You betcha, and we loved it!
- For birders, Bolsa Chica ecological preserve in Huntington Beach has a great variety of shore birds visible from an easy walking trail.
And if that isn't enough, here's Tripadvisor's list of things to do in LA.
You can fly into Portland and drive south to Corvallis, but Portland traffic can be bad; what should be a 2-hour drive can be double that. So allow a good cushion of time for this route. An alternative is to fly into Eugene and drive an hour north. (Eugene airport has car rentals, although it would be a good idea to reserve a car with your favorite rental company in advance.) United has one nonstop flight SFO-EUG that arrives in time for this.
There is a return flight EUG-SFO at 7:10pm on Sunday, so it will be possible to return after the game.
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. Depending on the game days and order of play, if one did intend on driving, the itinerary could be:
- Thursday drive 6 hours to Ashland, OR (many good motels and restaurants);
- Friday morning drive another 6 hours to Corvallis; check into hotel (the Hilton Garden Inn is a very short walk from Gill Coliseum); see the game and spend the night.
- Saturday at liberty in central Oregon;
- Sunday see game in Eugene; afterward drive 4 hours down I-5 to Ashland for dinner and a motel.
- Monday return to the Bay Area.
For OSU tickets, all the nice lower-bowl sections, including section D behind the visitor bench, are sold-out to season ticket holders. Some higher sections are reserved-seating and some are general admission. When single-game tickets are on sale, go to the ticket page or call 800-GO-BEAVS (800-462-3287) to buy tickets.
For UO tickets, order from this sales 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 (800-932-3668).
Here are a few things to do between games:
- University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History.
- Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon.
- Scenic day trip driving to Coos Bay/North Bend.
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.
There are numerous and frequent flights from SFO and SJC to SEA. Back and forth between Seattle and Spokane is also easy; Alaska Air flies each way about every 90 minutes all day every day.
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.
Things to Do in Seattle
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—especially this year when the Cardinal plays in Seattle the week before.
New this year is Amazon's newly-opened corporate HQ, a dramatic cluster of glass geodesics called Amazon Spheres, located in the center of downtown at 2101 7th Avenue near Lenora st. Admission to the "Understory" exhibit space is free but requires a reservation: visit this page for info, and click "Visit Understory" to book a time.
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.
The famous Pike Place Market is somewhat overrated but fun if you've not been there before. 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. The Art Museum at its downtown location is currently featuring Seeing Nature, "39 historically significant European and American landscape paintings" from Paul Allen's collection.
Been there, did that last year? And you've been to the Chihuli Glass in Seattle Center? What about the Museum of Popular Culture—formerly the Experience Music Project, but it has rebranded itself and added more movie and pop exhibits.
OK, consider the Living Computer Museum, where you can get real hands-on time with a variety of old micro-, mini- and mainframe computers. Or the Frye Art Museum, with more modern works than the Seattle Art Museum.
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.
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.
Things to do in Spokane
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. The historic Fox Theater is a renovated performance venue which now houses the Spokane Symphony (which is performing the evenings of February 24-25). Recommended restaurants include Central Food and Santé Charcuterie; see also the Yelp list.
Manito Park is an urban park with gardens and a conservatory. Finch Arboretum is a peaceful green space. 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.
Getting to the Airport
There are now at least four ways to get to the airport:
- Drive yourself and park in a long-term parking lot,
- A door-to-door shared-ride van such as Supershuttle,
- A solo ride in a Lincoln Town car from a limo service such as 101 Limousine
- A solo ride from one of the ride-share services like Uber, Lyft, or Wingz
We've had good experiences with Uber and Lyft and with the newest one, Wingz. Wingz is unlike the others in that you can book your ride to the airport in advance (instead of calling for a ride when you are ready to go), and you can book the pickup for your return flight as well. And you can request the same driver each time.
Cost-wise, a ride in a van or with Uber/Lyft is about the same as three days' parking. So if you will be away for more than three days, it's better to use some type of ride service rather than 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, but only one under $20/day at SFO.
For SFO you can park in the airport-run long-term lot for about $25/day, now payable with credit card or with FasTrak.
At SJC, the airport-run Economy Lot 1 costs about $15/day.
Use these sites to find flights and hotels.
|SkyScanner.com||Our new favorite flight-search site because unlike all the others, it shows Southwest flights! Enter your departure and destination airports and your dates. In the list of results, filter by number of stops and use the sliders to set your preferred range of departure times.|
|hipmunk.com||Our old favorite flight-search site and still a good one because of its clear compact table of available flights, which can be sorted on departure or arrival time or by "agony". (But no SWA flights.)|
|google.com/flights||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. Shows SWA but not prices.|
|seatguru.com/||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.|
|booking.com/||The most comprehensive hotel search site, finds hotels in the most obscure towns worldwide and lets you book them directly.|
|Priceline.com||Bay Area Consumer's Checkbook found that Priceline produced hotel rates "lower than those available on other booking sites."|
|TripAdvisor.com/||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.