Are you planning to attend one of the 16 NFL season openers? Here’s a guide to help plan or tweak your pro football vacation agenda for Week 1 of the National Football League season. Check back here every week during the season for more travel ideas.
Thursday, September 10
Steelers at Patriots
8:30 p.m., Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Massachusetts
Storyline: Two the top teams in the AFC meet in the nationally televised season kickoff. Pats QB Tom Brady‘s suspension (Deflategate) has been overturned in court, and he will play, but Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell (substance abuse) will serve his suspension. Can the Steelers survive his absence?
Stadium tip: Before your trip, find and download a local traffic app. Boston driving always requires patience and planning, and depending on when you leave for the stadium, in this instance you might also have to contend with rush hour traffic.
Making a weekend of it? Enjoy a pure Cape Cod experience as you browse or buy at the Bird Carvers & Wildlife Arts Show and Sale, 10 a.m-4 p.m. September 12-13 at Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen, just off Highway 6A in East Sandwich. Then take a short drive down cape on scenic 6A for a lovely and modestly priced seafood dinner at the Dolphin Restaurant in Barnstable Village, family managed for more than 60 years.
If you’re in the Bluegreen Vacation Club: The stadium is 90 miles from adjacent resorts in Dennis Port on Cape Cod, The Soundings Seaside Resort and the Breakers Resort. Expect a best-case 2-hour drive to Foxboro if traffic is average. The return trip should be shorter.
Sunday, September 13
Packers at Bears
1 p.m. (noon local), Soldier Field, Chicago
Storyline: The Bears scrap-heaped their woeful 2014 defense, upgrading personnel and switching schemes to a 3-4. But can Chicago hope to slow the Packers, who figure to be plenty potent even without injured WR Jordy Nelson?
Stadium tip: Parking lots open 4 hours before kickoff. The Will Call window opens 2½ hours before kickoff. Don’t plan on buying a ticket from scalpers onsite; strictly enforced ticket-scalping rules at this stadium subject both seller and buyer to arrest.
Making a weekend of it? Enjoy the light, late-summer lakefront breeze and taste wines from around the globe (via local restaurants) at the Windy City Wine Festival, September 11-12 at Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. As for dinner, since you’re in Chicago for a Bears game, it’s hard to pass up a boneless ribeye from Ditka’s—except maybe for a gorgeously gooey deep dish from Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria.
If you’re in the Bluegreen Vacation Club: Hotel Blake is less than 1½ miles from the stadium. Call a taxi or Uber. Or if you’d enjoy the exercise and the weather’s nice, the 30-minute walk—partly through Grant Park green space—beats sitting in traffic.
Chiefs at Texans
1 p.m. (noon local), NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Storyline: Questions, questions. Will star free-agent Jeremy Maclin catch a TD pass, something no Kansas City WR did all last season? Can RB Alfred Blue and WR DeAndre Hopkins effectively replace two missing longtime Houston stars, the inured Arian Foster and the departed Andre Johnson?
Stadium tip: Parking passes are sold out for the entire season. If you need one, the Texans recommend looking into the secondary market.
Making a weekend of it? There’s enough to see at Space Center Houston to make it an all-day Saturday trip. See moon rocks, a restored Saturn V, experience “Living in Space,” or maybe even splurge for a VIP-style Level 9 Tour of the entire Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. At dinner, fill up on chicken, pork, duck and fish at Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakouse, but leave room for on Pincaha, the specialty cut at this authentic Churrascaria.
1 p.m., Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, New York
Storyline: Buckle up, Bills fans, as the Rex Ryan era begins. And the first-game matchup will be telling, pitting Ryan’s defense against QB Andrew Luck and the high-powered Colts offense.
Stadium tip: Less expensive alternatives to stadium parking are abundant. They include private lawns on Abbott Road, Big Tree Road and Southwestern Boulevard. Most residents charge $15 or less and even allow tailgating within reason.
Making a weekend of it? If you’ve never been to Niagara Falls and ridden the Maid of the Mist, here’s your opportunity. This landmark wonder is just an hour away and a great way to spend your Saturday. For dinner (or whenever), cross the Rainbow Bridge at the Falls into Welland, Ontario, for the Niagara Food Festival. It’s all-day food truck fiesta, with live music and other attractions, too.
Dolphins at Redskins
1 p.m., FedEx Field, Hyattsville, Maryland
Storyline: Whoever is quarterbacking the Redskins, the fragile Robert Griffin III or his backup, Kirk Cousins, will have to contend with an amped-up Miami pass rush led by free-agent acquisition Mdamukong Suh.
Stadium tip: You can purchase single-game parking passes online. Cash lots are available, but traffic around the stadium and competition for spots can get your stadium experience off the wrong way.
Making a weekend of it? Spend Saturday strolling National Mall. Make a special effort to visit the National World War II Memorial. And don’t pass up a single opportunity to say thank you to any veteran you encounter there, especially if you’re in the company of your children. As for dinner, never pass up an opportunity for a meal at Old Ebbitt Grill. The food’s fine and reasonably priced, and you never know which D.C. insider will be seated in the next booth.
Seahawks at Rams
1 p.m. (noon local), Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Missouri
Storyline: The two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks debut their newest weapon, TE Jimmy Graham. Rams fans will be paying attention to how much playing team prized rookie RB Todd Gurley as he returns from injury.
Stadium tip: Download a local traffic app, such as TrafficStL. Tourist activity and traffic along the riverfront might be heavier than normal thanks to renewed, 50th-anniversary interest in the Gateway Arch a major construction project linking the arch with down via a pedestrian park being built over Interstate 70.
Making a weekend of it? The CityArchRiver project is not quite complete, so if you’re planning to be in St. Louis again, consider a later opportunity. But if travel here is rare and you’ve never ridden the enclosed tram to the 630-foot-high apex of the arch, go for it. A nice alterative might be to spend Saturday at LouFest, the annual two-day outdoor music and food festival at Forest Park west of downtown. The headline acts Saturday include Ludacris and Hozier. As for a meal, don’t bother dressing up—just sit down and salivate over a half slab of BBQ at Pappy’s Smokehouse in midtown.
Panthers at Jaguars
1 p.m., EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
Storyline: Weakened by an injury to standout WR Kelvin Benjamin, the suddenly vulnerable Panthers represent an opening for the Jaguars, a young team on the uptick, to spring a Week 1 NFL upset.
Stadium tip: You probably already know this, but you have the option to upgrade to a spa deck that includes a swimming pool—right inside the stadium.
Making a weekend of it? Spend a Saturday exploring the wonders of historic downtown St. Augustine. The Lightner Museum and Flagler College, both originally hotels built in the 1890s for the obscenely rich of the day, and many of the original artifacts, including Louis Tiffany glasswork, is on display. Grab lunch and enjoy live music at Café Alcazar, a repurposed former indoor spa swimming pool of the rich and famous at the Lightner Museum. Stay in St. Augustine for dinner and go casual——seafood outdoors at Cap’s on the Water.
If you’re in the Bluegreen Vacation Club: The resort in St. Augustine, Grand Villas at World Golf Village®, is just 32 miles from the stadium—24 via interstate.
Saints at Cardinals
4:05 p.m. (1:05 p.m. local), University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
Storyline: Two veteran gunslinger QBs—Drew Brees vs. Carson Palmer. Should be fun.
Stadium tip: The Cardinals provide free shuttle service to an inexpensive remote parking lot.
Making a weekend of it? Make a day trip Saturday to Sedona—less than 2 hours each way—via State Road 179, also known as Red Rock Scenic Byway. State Road 179 is a stunning, 7.5-mile stretch of road through the famous red rock formations. Accessible an hour north of Phoenix, it’s been honored with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s highest designation, “All-American Road.” Along the way, take in the majesty of Cathedral Rock and the nondenominational spirituality of the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Just outside Sedona, leisure-shop for unique artisan keepsakes at the Tiaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. And while in Sedona, enjoy Smoked Pork Cheeks, Corn Crusted Scallops or some other gourmet delicacy at Elote Café—laidback and casual and yet maybe the closest thing anywhere in the United States to a “destination” Mexican restaurant.
If you’re in the Bluegreen Vacation Club: The area resort, Cibola Vista Resort and Spa in Peoria, is an 30-minute drive in moderate traffic drive from University of Phoenix Stadium. If you set out enough, the drive takes barely 20 minutes.
Lions at Chargers
4:05 p.m. (1:05 p.m. local), Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
Storyline: Lions QB Matthew Stafford leads one of the league’s more diverse offenses against the Chargers, who have high expectations for rookie RB Melvin Gordon.
Stadium tip: Green Line trolleys provide game-day service to the stadium from 5 a.m. to midnight local time. Tickets are $7 per rider, with discounts for seniors and free rides for children 12 and younger accompanied by a rider 18 or older.
Making a weekend of it? Don’t miss the U.S.S. Midway Museum downtown at Navy Pier. The longest-active U.S. aircraft carrier of the 20th century is open to interactive, self-guided tours of 60 shipboard exhibits and 29 restored aircraft. Later, discover or rediscover the unfulfilled greatness of 1970s singer-songwriter Jim Croce at Croce’s Park West, an award-winning restaurant that honors his legacy. Ingrid Croce opened the casual-chic restaurant in loving tribute to her late husband, remembered for songs like “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “I Got A Name.” Don’t leave without browsing the gift shop.
Titans at Buccaneers
4:25 p.m., Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
Storyline: Rookie QBs Jameis Winston (Buccaneers) and Marcus Mariota (Titans) were destined for career-long comparisons from the moment they became the top two picks in the 2015 NFL draft. It’s only fitting they begin the next chapter of their already existing rivalry with a head-to-head meeting in their regular-season debuts.
Stadium tip: The stadium’s most recognizable feature, the 103-foot pirate ship in the north end zone, is not open to the public on game days.
Making a weekend of it? Spend Saturday as a beach bum in Pass-A-Grill, a lovely Gulf town at the southern end of St. Pete Beach with designated U.S. historic district. Stroll the quiet beach or the quaint outdoor shopping district. Charter the Miss Pass-A-Grill for a deep sea fishing adventure, or buy bait and cast from the sea wall at Merry Pier. that includes almost 100 buildings. At night, stick with the fishing motif at Guy Harvey Rumfish Grill SM in St. Pete Beach. Enjoy a terrific meal—if you’re not too self-conscious eating seafood while being watched by the live inhabitants of a wall-length, 33,500-gallon aquarium.
If you’re in the Bluegreen Vacation Club: Bluegreen at TradeWinds, specially reserved villas in the famous TradeWinds Grand Island Resort, is 30 miles from Raymond James Stadium.
4:25 p.m. (2:25 p.m. local), Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado
Storyline: Ravens WR Steve Smith Sr. and Broncos QB Peyton Manning, combined age 75, begin what could the final seasons for both future Hall-of-Famers. So far only Smith, 36, has publically declared his intent to retire.
Stadium tip: If you’re planning to tailgate but don’t have a parking permit, arrive super early. Tailgating spaces right next to the stadium are available game day ($30 each, cash only), but get filled first-come, first serve.
Making a weekend of it? If you don’t mind altitude … and you’re confident behind the wheel on making blind hairpin turns on an incline above the tree line … and you aren’t disconcerted by the absence of guardrails … then add a pelt to your vacation adventure belt by completing the 19.5-mile drive up Pikes Peak Highway to the summit. The pluses: The drive is truly thrilling, the summit view is beyond description, and the gift shop at the top is a reward in itself. The minuses: You might experience headaches or dizziness at the summit, which at 14,000 feet is double that of Denver. And you’ll be equally uncomfortable if you don’t plan for the sharp drop in temperature at the summit. Back in Denver, enjoy selections from an eclectic food and drink menu at Acorn, a family-style eatery in the River North District.
Bengals at Raiders
4:25 p.m. (1:25 p.m. local), O.co Coliseum, Oakland, California
Storyline: This could be a high-scoring affair, with QBs Andy Dalton (Bengals) and Derek Carr (Raiders) matching bombs throw-for-throw to their game-breaking WRs, A.J. Green and rookie Amari Cooper.
Stadium tip: Take Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to the stadium if you can. Your pregame food choices are pretty good if you can talk your way into a tailgate and not so good if you’re expecting to find a restaurant nearby.
Making a weekend of it? Spend Saturday morning walking the trails among the redwoods in Muir Woods. Later, head to the beautiful bayside city of Sausalito, famous for shopping, galleries and many interesting restaurants that make dining decisions difficult. Go for seafood or Italian at Scoma’s, the iconic peninsular on Bridgeway Promenade listed in the National Register of Historic Buildings.
8:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. local), AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Storyline: Two highlight-reel WRs, the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. and the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant, will be amped to outdo each other in the NFL’s prime time showcase.
Stadium tip: Have your Uber app ready. No public transportation routes serve the stadium.
Making a weekend of it? If you’re staying in Arlington, as opposed to Dallas or Fort Worth, take in Six Flags Over Texas. The first Six Flags Theme Park, it opened in 1961, but it’s kept up with the times. In June 2015, the park introduced Justice League: Battle for Metropolis, a new interactive dark ride themed after the mega-popular comic book. For dinner, enjoy modestly priced authentic Turkish cuisine at Istanbul Grill.
Monday, September 14
Eagles at Falcons
7:10 p.m., Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Storyline: Free-agent RBs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews make the Eagles hard to stop, but QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones give the Falcons hope of matching them score for score.
Stadium tip: Not planning to tailgate? No need for a car. Catch a ride to the game with MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.
Making a weekend of it? There’s a lot to do downtown on game day, but two high-priority stops should be CNN Center, for a tour, and Atlanta Aquarium. If you’re there over the weekend and happen to be among the millions of zombie-lovers who tune in each week to AMC’s hit “The Walking Dead” do something different and fun: Drive around the area to see the Atlanta-based series’ shooting locations. For dinner, enjoy a lively evening of shrimp, oysters, lobster rolls and other seafood delights at The Optimist.
Vikings at 49ers
10:20 p.m. (7:20 p.m. local), Levi’s® Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Storyline: Reinstated star Vikings RB Adrian Peterson finds himself part of a more complete offense than before his suspension for almost all the 2014 season. The 49ers begin life after not only RB Frank Gore but also Coach Jim Harbaugh.
Stadium tip: Vegans will be happy here, as will fans that detest long food lines. Not only are stadium concessions committed to serving vegan, the number of service counters averages out to one per every 86 fans.
Making a weekend of it? If you’re staying in Silicon Valley, you’ll naturally be drawn to immersing yourself in something geeky (stroll the common areas at Google, Facebook and Apple, visit the Computer History Museum), or something outdoorsy (hike Muir Woods), or something geeky and outdoorsy (walk the scenic Stanford University campus). For dinner, channel your inner genius for the culinary sciences by building your own yummy plate at El Camino Mongolian BBQ Buffet in Santa Clara.