Summer has arrived—finally! With it, comes the family vacation. For Team Solheim, that usually means a road trip. A lot of planning goes in to our summer journeys as we try to hit points of interest at every stop. Our goal is to visit a historical site (think Lincoln’s home, the Freedom Trail, Alcatraz), a pop-culture icon (Sun Studios, the Ben & Jerry’s plant, the Jelly Belly factory, QVC studios), and, most importantly, something with a sporting theme.
We’re pretty passionate about sports in my family. It’s not unusual for us to travel to bowl games, college basketball tournaments, multiple major league ballparks and various Halls of Fame throughout the country. We’ve even chased down the Stanley Cup through an Atlanta restaurant, but that’s a subject for another time. Instead, I thought I’d highlight a few of our favorite sports destinations. Consider it travel advice from a family of veterans of the sports destination road trip.
Best Major League Ballpark:
Fenway. Seriously, no matter what team you cheer for, this place should be on every sports lover’s bucket list to visit. It oozes character in every corner. There are multiple stadium tours each week and the guides take you everywhere in the park including the Green Monster. My daughter, the least of our sports enthusiasts, can still tell you why one seat is red while the rest are painted green. It’s said that in that spot sat a Yankee fan fell asleep during a game, only to be struck in the head by a Ted Williams homer.
Now, one caveat, while we’ve hit quite a few MLB parks across the country (Fenway to Safeco, Turner Field to Jacobs Field), we still haven’t explored the stadiums in the southwest United States. I’m anxious to see them, but I’m pretty sure they won’t rival Fenway Park. An honorable mention has to go to Wrigley Field. We had a memorable afternoon there, especially since it was American Girl Doll day and they were giving out Cub’s jackets and hats just for the dolls. Score!
Best Hall of Fame:
The NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, is worth the trip. It’s interactive and the kids love it. But, Cooperstown and the MLB Hall of Fame can’t be beat. The town itself is charming, giving you that old-time, small town vibe. There’s almost always a game going on in Doubleday Stadium. There’s also a fun scavenger hunt to play while touring the museum portion of the HOF. We only allotted an afternoon for this excursion and we were really disappointed that we didn’t have more time to explore. Don’t make our mistake!
Once again, a caveat: there are hundreds of sport hall of fames located in North America alone. Including one for poker, but I still insist a card game shouldn’t be designated a sport. But that’s a rant for another day. ESPN the Magazine listed their favorite HOFs in their December, 2012 Hall of Fame issue. Check them out if you get a chance. Clearly, Team Solheim hasn’t hit them all. Yet.
Best Auto Racing Experience:
The Brick Yard, or Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is definitely a must-see for any sports fan. You can take a shuttle on to the track and stop to kiss the bricks on the finish line. There’s also a museum (The Auto Racing Hall of Fame) that kept my kids interested for an afternoon. But, if you ask my kids, they’d say they enjoyed Florida’s Daytona Motor Speedway more. There were more interactive exhibits, including a very realistic simulated race, complete with a near case of whiplash. The tour includes a visit to pit row, the press room, and the lavish guest suites high above the grandstand. It goes without saying, though, that the ultimate auto racing experience is to attend an actual NASCAR event. But, if you can’t, a tour of Daytona is the next best thing.
Our All-time Favorite Sports Destination:
Churchill Downs. Again, this should be on every sports fan’s list to visit. And not necessarily on Derby Day, although that’s fun, too. I’d recommend going on a non-race day, allowing nearly the entire time to explore. The museum on-site features lots of unique exhibits—including a detailed lecture on betting! The tours of the facility vary, with some taking you to the backside of the track to see the barn areas and to the jockey’s lounge where a panorama of riding silks adorns an entire room. Others take you up in to the luxury suites, the press room, and out on to the spires providing a bird’s-eye view of the winner’s circle. And, while you’re there, don’t forget to check out the inside of the building. The artwork within Churchill Downs is amazing and the food in the restaurant isn’t bad, either! (Another benefit to being in Louisville is you can tour the Louisville Slugger factory and have a bat made with your own personal autograph on it.)
That’s our list. It’s by no means all inclusive and must definitely subject to personal opinion. So, what are some of your favorite sports vacation spots? We need to plan our next junket!
Tracy Solheim is the author of Game On, book one in the Out of Bounds series. Book two, Foolish Games, will be released on December 3, 2013. An avid sports fan and frustrated sports writer, she once worked as an associate producer for NBC Sports Summer Olympics coverage. Today, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia, the heart of SEC country, where she still pines for the NHL. See what she’s up to at www.tracysolheim.com. Or on Facebook at TracySolheimBooks.