Thinking about catching an NBA game away from home? Turn your basketball pilgrimage into a mini-vacation and spend a few days exploring my top 5 non-obvious NBA cities.
Portland, the home of those seemingly cursed Blazers, often gets a bad rap for being the hipster capital of the world—filled with bicycle riding, recycling-obsessed, fair-trade coffee drinking, organic vegetable-eating, alternative people. But what’s wrong with that? No, really—what’s wrong with that? Who wouldn’t want to visit a hip city that boasts a 24-hour doughnut shop famous for its Cock-N-Balls doughnut (http://voodoodoughnut.com/), and eat at some of the coolest food carts in the world?
Portland is a liberal, artistic city with a huge food culture—so if you’re a foodie you’ll have a great time exploring the many cafes, bakeries and restaurants, trying out local specialties. And if you’re a microbrewery enthusiast Portland is the place for you—many breweries and distilleries offer free tours and tasting menus. And not to mention the food carts! (again) Check out Portland’s food cart website to get a sense of the variety (http://www.foodcartsportland.com/). Just imagine spending an afternoon on a rented bicycle, taking in the sights, while also trying to chase down a Turkish food cart for some Chicken Iskender! I’d be down.
And for something different, head down to Portland’s Chinatown and visit the Lan Su Chinese Garden (http://www.lansugarden.org/). Open year round, the Lan Su garden is a magnificent urban oasis—a beautifully landscaped traditional Chinese garden with a large lake at its centre. The garden features a teahouse offering classical tea presentation and snacks.
And you know what else is cool about Portland? There’s no sales tax in Oregon!
I always get a sense of nostalgia when I think about Denver—it’s like a city I don’t necessarily want to visit, but return to. Which is weird, I know. There’s just something about the landscape of the city—the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and green spaces that draws me in. And I’m sure it all comes from listening to songs about people longing to return to Denver—Townes Van Zandt’s songs especially—but I always imagine the surrounding mountains lend an insulating, comforting stability to the city. That, or I’m over-intellectualizing Denver. It’s probably the latter.
Resting at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is a city surrounded by natural beauty with a vibrant music scene. Red Rocks, considered by many to be the one of the most spectacular open-air concert venues in the world, is just a short drive outside the city. Enormous red rock structures run down each side of the venue, with a half-moon shaped rock rising behind the stage. It’s incredible. A definite highlight of a visit to Denver would be catching a gig at Red Rocks. The venue also screens films and holds group yoga classes for something a little different (Http://www.redrocksonline.com/).
And if you’re a fan of Abstract Expressionism, Denver is home to the Clyfford Still Museum (https:/www.clyffordstillmuseum.org/). Recognized as a leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Clifford Still’s works are also considered the most innovative of his contemporaries—thick, jagged colours layer his monumental canvasses in free-form abstraction. So if you need a break from exploring the city, not to mention a change of pace from watching the high energy Nuggets, spend some time at this museum and experience the groundbreaking works of one of America’s leading Modern artists.
Okay, kids—time for a history lesson. In 1791, the City of Washington was founded by… just kidding! No, but for real, if you have any interest in American history or want to visit a city full of world-class cultural institutions, take a trip to Washington. Don’t forget your knee-high khaki shorts, sensible sneakers, fanny pack and oversized camera strap—cut loose and be a tourist for once! Again, I’m kidding…
Washington may not currently have an elite NBA team, but when it comes to cultural attractions, it’s near the top of the pile. Monuments galore. Historical sites galore. Museums, galleries—what to pick? You can’t see everything in a single trip, but you can try! Start with a tour of the United States Capitol and wander the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, stopping for sites along the way. There are so many amazing things in Washington, it’s unbelievable: the White House, the Washington Monument (the obelisk…you know), the Smithsonian Institution (which includes 19 museums!), the National Zoo (pandas!!!), monuments—I can go on, but you get the idea.
A must see is the National Gallery of Art (http://www.nga.gov/). Housing American and European art, the National Gallery is considered to have one of the finest collections of art in the world. Whatever your preference, the National Gallery will have something for you—the collection spans the Middle Ages to the present day. So if you’re a fan of all the modern-isms, or if you prefer the technique of Renaissance masters, you won’t be disappointed.
Music, music, music! And by “music” I don’t mean having to endure the “uh-huh’s” of an Elvis impersonator at every street corner, shimmying in his rhinestone and polyester glory while trying to catch your eye. But if you’re into Elvis (and even if you’re not) you’ve got to make a pilgrimage to Graceland (http://www.elvis.com/graceland/). Spend an afternoon immersing yourself in all things Elvis, capping it off with a tour of The King’s mansion. Who doesn’t love Elvis?
No, when I mean music I mean Memphis is the birthplace of rock n’ roll, Memphis soul, Memphis blues, gospel—and when in Memphis, you’ve got to check out some live music. Go for a walk and head down to Beal Street. The street is lined with blues clubs and iconic restaurants—just follow your ears and you’ll find something you like. While on Beal Street, you’ve got to check out Dyer’s Burgers. Dyer’s is a world-famous burger joint—they deep fry their patties, and legend has it that they’ve been recycling the same cooking oil for 101 years! And if you’re in Memphis in May, check out the Beal Street Music Festival (http://www.thebealestreetmusicfestival.com/), a three day event featuring 60 acts at Tom Lee Park—where Beal Street meets the Mississippi—one of the biggest music festivals in America.
And speaking of the Mississippi, why not take a riverboat tour of the Mississippi and learn some history from a unique perspective while enjoying the skyline? Or take a dinner cruise, and watch the city’s lights twinkling in the distance while tasting southern BBQ and dancing to some live music.
And you thought Memphis just had Elvis and Marc Gasol!
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is cool as hell (Every NBA player should want to play for the Hornets/Pelicans). So be cool and don’t make the mistake of calling it “Nawlinz”—it’s “Nu Or-linz” to the locals. New Orleans is undeniably romantic with its French architecture and jazz clubs, but it also has a hint of seediness which gives the city a bit of mystery. With its melting-pot of languages and cultures, and a heavy dose of music and alcohol thrown in, you don’t need a reason to go to New Orleans. Just go and experience the city.
Spend time exploring the French Quarter. Influences from Old Europe, the Caribbean and the American South collide here—unique to New Orleans—there’s nowhere in the world like it. Take a guided walking tour of the area during the day, stopping off at an elegant restaurant for lunch, and when evening hits, head down to Bourbon Street and join the revelry! Bourbon Street—home to the Mardi Gras celebration—is in the heart of the French Quarter. Thirteen blocks of infamous bars, seedy strip clubs, restaurants, clubs and souvenir stalls await—not to mention the local law permits alcohol on the street. Wander around this street at night and you’ll be guaranteed to have a good time!
And if you get tired of the party, walk over to Frenchmen Street, where the locals hang out to listen to live music. Clubs are packed into two blocks, and seeing that you’re in the birthplace of Jazz, find a dark jazz club and chill. In contrast to the neon liveliness of Bourbon Street, Frenchman Street is low-key, and most clubs are free—provided you pay Philip (you know, fill-up-the-tip-jar).