The allure of college football goes well beyond the field, and even beyond the rabid fans and electric stadiums. Before all that, there are the road trips, the tailgating and the parties. Visiting the local restaurants and bars in the area of your favorite team or hated rival can be as much fun as the game itself — or more, depending on the final score.
To that end, our group of intrepid college football reporters have put together a week-by-week guide to the ultimate college football road trip, highlighting the must-see spots for food, drink and revelry — and some great games — along the way. (It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.)
So pack up your gear, fill up the gas tank and make your plans for a road trip for the ages.
A trip to Virginia Tech is like a nice mountain getaway, with just a bit of Metallica and a few stiff cocktails to go with it. The best way to maximize your time in Blacksburg is with a three-step prep-enjoy-recovery plan. The prep work begins on the day before the big game. Dinner at The Cellar or Rivermill or, if you’re looking for a more gentile atmosphere, the Blacksburg Wine Lab, run by beloved professor John Boyer, will provide necessary nutrition. Then make your way over to Sharkey’s on Main Street, where the drinks are cheap and the patio will be rocking. The last stop on Friday should be Top of the Stairs, a New Orleans-style landmark that offers Blacksburg’s most iconic beverage: The Rail. Reddit has described it as “Self Hatred with a splash of Sprite.” (Note: This is not ideal before a noon kickoff. Consume at your own risk.)
Game day is all about the tailgate, but don’t forget to snag a breakfast treat at Carol Lee Donuts before heading to the stadium. It’s a welcoming crowd, so prepare to make friends. The scene on Center Street typically is a riotous mix of student tailgates, but more adult-oriented festivities fill the lots adjacent to Lane Stadium, with the spaces surrounding the dorms serving as prime real estate. Bring drinks to share with your new neighbors. The key to all of this is getting into your seats at least 30 minutes before kickoff because you won’t want to miss the most iconic stadium entrance in college football as the Hokies take the field to “Enter Sandman” and the entire stadium shakes as the crowd celebrates. Sundays are a good day to recover, whether with a greasy breakfast at Joe’s Diner or a nice tube ride at New River Junction. Take a few trips. They have a free return shuttle. And again, bring a few extra drinks for meeting new friends. — David Hale
This itinerary is probably going to be disputed by locals, because there are so many options in Columbus. There really is no wrong answer, and you probably need a few days to digest everything there is to eat there. But my typical routine when I travel to Columbus starts with breakfast at Super Chef’s, where they believe breakfast is art. I get the Cinnamon Toast Crunch waffles and add chicken to create a makeshift chicken and waffles. They’re cinnamon sugar waffles dusted with Cinnamon Toast Crunch flakes and are fantastic. I then head to Hot Chicken Takeover for lunch and Nashville hot chicken. You can pick your meat and then pick your heat, and I usually go with the hot drumsticks with mac and cheese and coleslaw. You’ll probably need to rest after that, but once it’s time for dinner, I like to be a tourist sometimes, and there’s nothing more touristy than going to The Thurman Cafe to get a Thurmanator hamburger. It’s a 12-ounce burger topped with bacon, cheddar and another 12-ounce patty, followed by onions, mushrooms, ham, mozzarella and American cheese and topped off with a pickle. To cap off your day, go to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and marvel at the selection of delicious scoops available. — Tom VanHaaren
When in Gainesville for a game, the first stop should always be The Swamp (and we don’t mean the actual football stadium). But file that tidbit away for 2022, when the famous Swamp restaurant reopens in a new location. Instead, head over to another University Avenue institution — The Salty Dog Saloon — which has been serving drinks and food since 1962. There is no shortage of spots across campus to take in the tailgating scene — from the O’Dome parking lot all the way to the farthest point on campus, Norman Hall, which is a good 15- to 20-minute walk from the stadium. Line up early for the Gator Walk as the team makes its way into the stadium. And don’t forget to make time for a slice and homemade soda (or the beverage of your choice) from Satchel’s Pizza, a short drive from campus. Ask to eat in the converted blue VW van. — Andrea Adelson
It doesn’t matter which team Army is playing: Go see a game at Michie Stadium, one of the best venues in American sports. Built in 1924 on the banks of the Lusk Reservoir with views of the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, Michie is unlike any other college football scene. The leaves will be turning, and the campus, filled with gorgeous architecture, is a national historic landmark on an active military installation. Gates open six hours before kickoff, and you’ll want time to take in the scene. Parking lots are a bit remote, and shuttle buses start running four and half hours before the game. Three hours before kickoff, if the weather cooperates, there’s a full-dress cadet parade and Black Knights Alley opens with live music, food and drink tents and kids activities. You’ll want to be in your seat with 20 minutes to spare to see 1,000 cadets take the field and the performance of the national anthem. Then, for one final reminder that you’re watching America’s Team, a squad of cadets jumps out of a helicopter and parachutes down to the center of the field with the game ball. — Dave Wilson
Week 5: Auburn at LSU
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Start with a drive through campus and stop off to visit Mike the Tiger at his enclosure. I mean, how often do you get to see a live tiger mascot just feet from a football stadium? It’s worth the pit stop. From there, grab some Louisiana style pizza at Fleur de Lis. Oh, you didn’t know Louisiana pizza was a thing? It’s cheesy and rectangular and glorious. For seafood, it’s hard to go wrong, whether it’s a po-boy at Parrain’s or oysters at Drago’s. But don’t fill up at breakfast on game day because the tailgating on campus starts early and will sustain you all the way up until kickoff, whether it’s savory gumbo, smoked sausage or even alligator. Don’t be afraid to wander around and make friends because hospitality in Baton Rouge means feeding everyone under the tent. — Alex Scarborough
Sure, you’re going to watch a bitter rivalry in a major city. But your focus on this trip is strictly Fair Park in South Dallas. Since 1929, the Longhorns and Sooners have met in the middle of the State Fair of Texas, which runs for 24 consecutive days. (As Texans, we’re required to remind you that this is the longest run of any fair in the country.) There’s also the world’s biggest cowboy, Big Tex, there to greet you, and a 212-feet-tall Ferris wheel, the Texas Star, that offers scenic views of the city, including a bird’s-eye view into the Cotton Bowl. But the other star of the weekend is the fair food. You’re required to eat a Fletcher’s Corny Dog, then make your way around to see what sort of ungodly concoctions the mad scientists have in store for you. This year’s award finalists have a little something for everyone: deep-fried seafood gumbo balls or the deep-fried I-35 (notice a theme?), which is a Czech pastry called a kolache filled with smoked brisket, topped with a peach/Dr Pepper glaze and garnished with peach slices. For dessert, maybe try some brisket brittle or the deep-fried Halloween, which is a large pretzel topped with candy corn syrup, buttercream icing, caramel and chocolate drizzle and then plenty of Halloween candy. Just the kind of thing to keep your blood sugar up for one of the most heated rivalries in college football in the middle of it all, with the two sides divided right down the 50-yard line. — Wilson
There are few better places to spend a Saturday in the fall than Oregon’s Autzen Stadium. It’s a destination that belongs on every college football fan’s bucket list and provides a game-day experience that is unique in the Pac-12. Eugene, a city of more than 100,000 people, doesn’t have the college town vibe that exists at Washington State and Oregon State, but there is a much more intimate charm than in the major metropolitan areas around the conference. So there are plenty of bars, restaurants and tailgating spots to host a sold-out game, while still generating the game-day buzz around town that gets lost in larger cities. If the sports bar scene is your preference, give Sam’s Place Tavern across town a try (there’s a game-day shuttle to the stadium) or check out Trev’s Sports Bar & Grill just across the Willamette River near campus. If you’re looking for a tailgate, it won’t be hard to find one. Thousands of people will be posted up around Autzen. Walk around, meet new friends and there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself taken care of. — Kyle Bonagura
Week 8 — Doubleheader!
There’s a strong case to be made that Boone, North Carolina, is the best college town most college football fans don’t know about. It’s a mountain town with a terrific beer and food culture and a game-day environment that rivals anything the Group of Five has to offer (and probably is better than a number of the big boys too). For a little pregame food and entertainment, take a stroll down King Street and stop into Macado’s or Melanie’s, or stop over to Booneshine Brewing Company for the town’s best craft beers. Then head over to the tailgate, which devours nearly every open space on campus for a big game. The prime spot is the Library Deck, then ask around and have a local point you to Big C’s tailgate on River Street. It’s legendary. Get into the stadium in time for kickoff though. The mountain backdrop is gorgeous, and the energy at kickoff is electric. After the game, grab a burger at the Come Back Shack before celebrating an App State win (or drowning your sorrows) at The Annex, where the party will go late into the night. But don’t let your visit end on campus. A quick trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway gets you to Blowing Rock, which has a tremendous restaurant scene, including Woodlands Barbecue or The Speckled Trout, which touts an impressive beer and wine list. Then work off some calories with any number of breathtaking hikes. Just be sure to stay hydrated. — Hale
You can’t go wrong with Rocco’s pizza if you want something simple but delicious. They call their offerings comfort food, Italian style, and they’re not wrong. If you’re craving a burger, try CJ’s Pub, where you can get a five-ounce, 10-ounce or 20-ounce burger. The 20-ouncer is called the Golden Domer for obvious reasons. The Evil Czech Brewery is a great option if you’re looking for classic American fare or unique beer options. You probably wouldn’t expect to get good barbecue in Northwest Indiana, but The Prized Pig is a really good option. For a higher-scale experience, try Tippecanoe Place, which is restaurant in a mansion that was built in the 1800s. — VanHaaren
There is a reason this series is still known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” Reason No. 1: The drinking starts early (in many cases, days early), and the drinks flow like the St. Johns River, which runs through Jacksonville. Reason No. 2: There are too many parties to count in the tailgate lots surrounding the stadium. The truth is, you don’t even need an actual lot to party. People party on their boats along the river, too. In between the cars and RVs clad in orange and blue or red and black, alumni clubs from both schools hold their own tailgates, and there is live music everywhere you look. In the RV lots, the partying starts three days before kickoff. Though TIAA Bank Field holds about 67,000, most years twice as many people show up to take in the tailgate scene. And really, that is the best advice. Grab a drink, walk among all the lots, make some friends and soak it all in. — Adelson
Lean into the nostalgia during your visit to Tuscaloosa. Tour the Walk of Champions. Spend some time at the Bryant Museum. Eat breakfast at the historic Waysider Restaurant, where you can order country ham and red-eye gravy with biscuits and sit at Paul “Bear” Bryant’s table. You can’t miss it. It’s the one with Bryant’s bust front and center. From there, get some barbecue at either of the town’s legendary institutions, Dreamland or Archibald’s. I’m not venturing into that fraught debate about which is better — they’re both excellent — but certainly try to visit their original locations if you can. Finally, grab a famous Yellow Hammer drink at Gallettes and head to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the game. — Scarborough
If you’re a fan of classic Southern literature and run-on sentences, then be sure to get your fill of William Faulkner nostalgia in Oxford. The ghost of Mississippi’s most famous writer is everywhere. But if that’s not your thing, no worries. The food here is incredible, whether at the famous Ajax Diner, City Grocery or Big Bad Breakfast. The real star of the show is the Saturday tailgate, though. No one — and I mean no one — does tailgating like Ole Miss. A walk through the Grove is like stepping back in time. There are men in suits, women in dresses and chandeliers hanging from pop-up tents. At times, it feels as if the scene is overwhelming what should be the main event, which is why you’ll often hear a version of, “We may not win every game, but we’ve never lost a party.” — Scarborough
The star of Norman’s game-day experience is Campus Corner, a business district that dates to 1917. It’s filled with places to shop, eat and drink, including Othello’s, which is home to Barry Switzer’s famed “table of truth,” and the Greek House, a traditional diner opened in 1979 by Greek immigrants and famous for its spicy yogurt sauce. For a little history, visit the Legends Lobby at the Barry Switzer Center at the south side of Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium to see first-hand the dominance of one of the sport’s marquee programs. You can see the Sooners’ five Heisman trophies and statues of four coaches — Switzer, Bob Stoops, Bud Wilkinson and Bennie Owen — with more than 100 wins at OU, the only school in the country with that distinction. And finally, you can see if you’re just as much of a gamer as current Sooners coach Lincoln Riley with a trip to Benvenuti’s, an upscale Italian restaurant in downtown Norman where Switzer first met Riley when the young Riley was the new offensive coordinator for Stoops. According to Riley, the evening featured a lot of stories and a few too many glasses of Switzer Family Vineyards wine — despite a 5:30 a.m. practice the next morning, which Riley proudly says he made. — Wilson
If you’re planning on coming to a game in Ann Arbor, and love food, I would suggest you come in on Wednesday and eat until Saturday or Sunday. There are so many places and such a variety to choose from that you really can’t go wrong. Zingerman’s is a staple for fresh, unique sandwiches on housemade bread. Mr. Spots also is popular, serving cheese steaks and wings. If you’re in the mood for a burger, Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger is almost 70 years old and still going strong. There’s a local brewery called Jolly Pumpkin that has become well-known and has an eclectic selection of food as well as beer. If you’re looking for something a little more upscale for brunch or lunch, Sava’s is one of the better choices in the area. The list could go on and on, but to finish it off, if you like Cuban street food, check out Frita Batidos. — VanHaaren