March is heaven on earth for college basketball fans. Seeing 68 teams duke it out for the national championship in arenas across the nation is incredible. But if you’re traveling to one of the eight sites hosting the second & third rounds of March Mayhem, you’re going to want something to do aside from watching hoops. Here are some cool things to do while in town… wherever that town might be.
1. Jacksonville, Florida
Fans heading out to Jacksonville for the opening madness will have plenty of options within walking distance of Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The big draw for fans looking to party before and after games will be Jacksonville Landing. It’s home to several dining options, sports parties (Florida/Georgia Weekend & TaxSlayer Bowl Celebrations), as well as year-round entertainment with stunning views of the St. Johns River. You can also get a little culture at the nearby Florida Theatre, where you could catch some Irish folk dancing and the B-52s holding shows during that weekend.
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2. Louisville, Kentucky
The home of the Louisville Cardinals – KFC Yum! Center (yes, that’s its real name) – will bring the hoops fanatics plenty of fun. But the Derby City way more than basketball to keep you entertained. Taking a tour of historic Churchill Downs is a way to see the home of the Kentucky Derby while it’s still a few weeks before races begin. Learn all you can about what goes into making the perfect baseball bat at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. And if you want to try your luck with the cards or see a show, drive over the Ohio River to Horseshoe Indiana for a taste of Vegas in the area.
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3. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
You’re going to the CONSOL Energy Center for something other than Penguins hockey? Way to buck the trend! You know how else to zig when everyone else zags? Visiting Point State Park is a good start. This park sits on the meeting point of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, but was also the home of Fort Duquesne. Bricks mark the old fort’s outline. You can also get some amazing views of the city by crossing the Monongahela to take the Duquesne Incline funiculars. And if you want to see some awesome artwork, head across the Allegheny to check out the Andy Warhol Museum.
4. Portland, Oregon
More than just the basis of a popular IFC comedy, Portland is one of the best basketball towns in the country. But the Rose City has way more to offer aside from hipster kitsch. There’s the International Rose Test Garden (you should see some roses while in town, right?) to see over 7,000 rose plants of around 550 varieties. We also recommend taking a trip to the original location for Voodoo Doughnut. From doughnuts like the Maple Blazer Blunt to the Old Dirty Bastard, you know you’re getting some deliciously quirky takes on classic breakfast fare. And after you fall in love with the goodies, prove your love to that special someone in your life by getting married at the store. Best way to cap off a good weekend, if you ask us.
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5. Columbus, Ohio
Ohio State’s hometown will be hosting games not on campus at the Schottenstein Center, but at Nationwide Arena downtown. That turns out to be a good thing for folks looking for ways to party before and after games with the lively Arena District. Everything worth doing is within walking distances – from drinking at the Three-Legged Mare to grabbing a bison burger at Ted’s Montana Grill or catching a flick at the Arena Grand Theatre. If you can pull yourself away from the downtown fun, you can see one of the world’s best zoos in person or discover one of the country’s best college campuses.
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6. Charlotte, North Carolina
There may not be a more basketball-mad (or NASCAR-mad, for that matter) state in the Union than North Carolina. And Charlotte will caters to the hoops fans at Time Warner Cable Arena. But the Queen City has become quite the arts town, evidenced by the Mint Museum Uptown. Plus, you can get that gearhead fix satiated with a trip to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
7. Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha may be the home of the Creighton Blue Jays (and the home of CenturyLink Center Omaha), but many sports fans in the States know this town for the College World Series. You can check out TD Ameritrade Park Omaha to see where baseball dreams are realized when not seeing hoop dreams materialize. Families can enjoy a great walk (albeit a brisk one in March) on the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge, a 3,000-foot bridge connecting Omaha and Council Bluffs above the Missouri River. There’s also Old Market, which is a great place to shop, buy some local art, drink among the locals and people-watch.
8. Seattle, Washington
Key Arena is always a lively spot to catch a basketball game, but Seattle has more than enough to keep anyone entertained. The Space Needle is within close walking distance of the arena, so you can do the uber-touristy thing. But we believe there might not be a better view of Elliot Bay than at Olympic Sculpture Park. Not only are there some cool sculptures in the area, but it’s free.