Road Trips and Travel Tips 2017-18
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 SideCar.
We've tried all modes and our favorite is the last one. We've had very good experiences with both Uber and Lyft. 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 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 $25/day, now payable with credit card or with FasTrak.
At SJC, the airport-run Economy Lot 1 costs $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.com||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.
The Cardinal play Ohio State on Friday, 10 November, at 6pm. The location is St. John Arena on the campus of Ohio State.
Then on Sunday the 12th, Stanford participates in "Countdown to Columbus" at Nationwide Arena, the site of the Final Four. There will be two games in that event: Stanford vs UConn at 1:30pm and Ohio State vs Louisville following.
Here is a map showing the relation between the two sites. The Ohio State campus is a ten-minute drive from the downtown area and the Arena.
Tickets for both events are being handled by the Ohio State ticket office. The Friday game is general admission; the Sunday event is reserved seating. Stanford fans are welcome to call Andrew Boppel in the OSU ticket office at 614-292-8098 who will sell the tickets to be sent via email in October.
John Glenn International Airport at Columbus (code CMH) is not served by any nonstop flights from a Bay Area airport. All flights require a change of planes in Phoenix, Denver, DFW or O'Hare. (Phoenix? Why would there be nonstops from Phoenix to Columbus, but not from SFO?)
With a 6pm start on the Friday, it is feasible to fly on the Friday, for example a 5am departure from SFO arrives around 3pm. For the return flight, if you don't care to stick around and see OSU play Louisville, there are return flights to SFO starting at 4:50pm (iffy) and later, for example an American departure via PHX at 5:55pm.
Downtown Columbus has all of the usual hotel chains, with at least four major ones in easy walking distance of the Arena, and several more around the nearby city center. Prices appear to run from $400-$500 for a Friday-Saturday two-night stay. (Add another $150 if you have to stay Sunday night as well.)
You can cut that in half by staying on the outskirts of town, but then you will require a rental car which wipes out some of the saving. Look for hotels west of town along I-270.
An important factor is that on the Saturday, Ohio State hosts Michigan State for football. That's likely to be rather a big deal in Columbus, and reason to book your hotel as early as possible.
Columbus is situated on a curvy stretch of the Scioto river. While it is surely a most worthy city, it doesn't have any famous attractions. Here is Tripadvisor's list of attractions, and here is Yelp's list.
It looks as if one could spend a couple of hours strolling German Village. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum houses a large collection of cartoon art from all eras with a rotating exhibit of original works. The Central Ohio Fire Museum has restored fire-fighting equipment in a restored firehouse. The Kelton House Museum is an 1850-era Victorian mansion one can tour.
This year's Thanksgiving tournament is the Play4Kay Shootout to be held in Las Vegas, November 23-25 (Thursday through Saturday).
Everything you need is linked from that site. Here's the schedule. Basically there are four games played on each of Thursday (Thanksgiving), Friday, and Saturday. Stanford plays Kent State at 5:30pm Thursday. Win that, and they will play (probably) Gonzaga at 8pm Friday. Win that one and they will play (probably) Ohio State—yes, the very same Ohio State they played just two weeks earlier—at 8pm Saturday.
Here's the link for ticket sales. A three-day pass is about $60. One-day tickets are also available. The venue looks huge on the seating chart, so you can probably safely wait and buy the tickets on-site.
Prices for flights from SFO or SJC to LAS are crazy for this holiday weekend: $350 and up. (Normal prices are half that or less.) Southwest still has some "wanna getaway" $150 fares for the Thursday, but the return fares for Sunday are all at $300+.
Driving to Vegas from the Bay Area is about 550 miles, and about 8 hours, via Bakersfield (per Google maps). We are looking at leaving on Wednesday and spending a night on the road in Bakersfield or East of it, and should still come in quite a bit cheaper than flying.
The Cardinal plays in Tucson on Friday 5 January at 6pm. They play at ASU in Tempe on Sunday the 7th at
3pm2pm. See below for a fun activity for the Saturday off-day!
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).
Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix (PHX) 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 location 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.
The Cardinal play at USC on Friday 19 January at 8pm; and at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on Sunday the 21st at 3pm.
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.
The Cardinal play the Beavers in Corvallis on Friday 2 February at 6pm. The OSU game in Eugene is at Sunday the 4th at noon.
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. If one did intend on driving, the itinerary would 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.
The Cardinal play UW in the Hec Edmundsen Arena on Friday 23 February at 8pm. Then they travel to Pullman to play the Cougars on Sunday the 25th at 1pm.
This year's trip to Washington just precedes the PAC-12 Tournament, with the first games at Key Arena starting four days after the WSU game. Fans who are free of the nuisances of jobs and dependent families should just settle down to enjoy Seattle and the Puget Sound for a few days ahead of the tournament.
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.
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. 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.
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.
The City has prepared a special Visit Seattle page for Tournament visitors. It has links to hotels that have Tournament discounts, and links to lots of attractions and discounts.
Places to eat
For a quick meal and an hour of wi-fi 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 Rigolletto, located in the basement of the Stackhouse apartment complex. For a luxurious pre-game brunch on Saturday or Sunday, reserve at Palisade. Tournament schedule does not allow much time for a leisurely dinner, but carnivores who find the time should check out The Butcher's Table for a swanky meal of Wagyu beef. Or for an informal meal, try The Brave Horse Tavern.
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—especially this year when the Cardinal plays in Seattle the week before.
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. 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, 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.
The first and second rounds are at the sites of the top 16 seeds. Cross your fingers! The Cardinal might play the first two games at home!
Locations are Lexington KY, Albany NY, Kansas City MO, and—the one we can hope for—Spokane!
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. (I'm looking at you, AA!)