September ushers in a new NFL season,
with Houston and New Orleans ready to welcome fans.
By Don Redman
New Orleans is the host city for Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, and expectations are riding high for the New Orleans Saints to star in that game. Meanwhile, fans of the Houston Texans are betting that their team will return to the playoffs this year, and will march all the way to New Orleans in January to play in the NFL world championship title game.
Above: Champions Square is a hub of activity when the Saints play. Mercedes-Benz Superdome photo
Below: Reliant Stadium in Houston has 71,500 seats, a retractable roof, and natural grass. Greater Houston CVB photo
Regardless of the outcome of either prediction this season, the good news for sports enthusiasts is that New Orleans and Houston are both great cities for football fans. With varied pregame venues, great restaurants, and welcoming hotels, football fans score a touchdown in both cities.
Located in the heart of downtown Houston’s convention district, Hilton Americas, a AAA Four Diamond hotel, is an excellent staging site for your football getaway weekend within walking proximity to shopping, dining, and the METRORail, a light rail system that can jet you straight to the game at Reliant Stadium.
A plus to staying in the downtown area is the beautiful Discovery Green public park. Located just across the street from Hilton Americas, the park has an outdoor ice-skating rink that opens in late November. When it’s not skating season, the park often plays host to outdoor concerts and a variety of other activities that are usually offered with no admission fees.
If you don’t want to stray too far from the hotel, downtown Houston offers a variety of AAA Three Diamond dining opportunities, including the steakhouse III Forks on Fannin Street, The Grove in Discovery Green Park, and Artista in the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.
Another great hotspot for dining and a favorite among hipsters is Houston’s midtown area, which is easily accessible from any of several rail stops along the METRORail. Here you’ll find a number of venues ranging from funky to upscale shops and eateries. The Fish Restaurant and Sushi Bar (AAA Three Diamonds) on Gray Street offers a tremendous menu and some of the most creative dishes you’ll find anywhere. It’s within walking distance from a stop along the METRORail line, but it’s a long walk.
On game day, Houston offers a wide variety of options for sports fans, whether at the stadium or straddling a stool in front of a large-screen television at a popular sports bar.
Tailgating is allowed at Reliant Stadium; however, tailgating tags are strictly limited to season ticket holders and their guests and must be purchased in advance. For fans hoofing it to the game from the nearby METRORail stop, don’t be dismayed–there are plenty of pre-game activities for you, too, and you don’t have to worry with the clean up.
The Houston Texans host their own version of a tailgate party at Budweiser Plaza, featuring live bands, interactive games, and plenty of food and drinks. More pre-game family fun can be had at the Coca-Cola Zero Kroger Fan Zone, offering interactive games, music, and more. Both areas open two hours prior to kickoff.
If you don’t have game tickets, you can still enjoy all the action from any number of sports venues. Staffers at the Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau recommend Christian’s Tailgate Sports Bar and Grill, Sawyer Park, and 360 Sports Lounge.
march in with the saints
Any visitor to New Orleans can tell you a story or two about the city’s many barstool venues, but there are a few standouts tailored specifically to the sports fan.
Two new locations are sure to be big draws for football fans–Manning’s Restaurant at Harrah’s New Orleans on Fulton Street; and Vitascope Hall, a bar inside the recently renovated Hyatt Regency.
Manning’s restaurant is co-owned by New Orleans Saints legend Archie Manning in partnership with Harrah’s New Orleans (AAA Four Diamonds). The casual dining spot features more than 30 flat screen TVs, perfect for catching televised away games or home-turf sellouts.
The Hyatt Regency (AAA Four Diamonds), adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, offers Vitascope Hall, named after the first for-profit movie theater built in New Orleans in 1896. A media-rich environment, Vitascope
Hall touts a state-of-the-art entertainment system with 25 flat-screen TVs, and offers modern American cuisine.
Other recommended off-site sports venues include Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar on Poydras Street, Cooter Brown’s on South Carrollton Avenue, and Bruno’s Tavern on Maple Street in Uptown.
Tailgating is not allowed on Superdome property, but that hasn’t dampened the spirit of diehard Saints fans who nonetheless find parking spaces surrounding the stadium to tailgate and party for hours before each home game.
But perhaps the mother of all tailgating parties happens at the Superdome’s new Champions Square, a mammoth outdoor festival venue attracting thousands of Saints fans prior to home games and even for some important away games televised on jumbo screens.
Officially opened on Aug. 21, 2010, as the Saints hosted an exhibition game against the Houston Texans, Champions Square has become the place to be before and after the game. Accommodating up to 8,000 revelers, there’s no admission fee and guests do not need a game ticket to enjoy the fun, which includes live music, street vendors, and food from some of the city’s most respected restaurants.
As the NFL season starts in earnest, fans in both cities are excited by the prospect that their respective teams will represent them in the Super Bowl. But whether watching the game from inside the arena, next to a grill in the parking lot, or from the comfy confines of a sports grill, sports fans are sure to be the real winners regardless the outcome of the game.
Don Redman is associate editor of AAA Southern Traveler.
Sept/Oct 2012 Issue
|BEFORE YOU GO
AAA reminds you not to drink and drive. Designate a driver on your game-day getaway.
The Houston Texans (AFC South) open their season at home on Sept. 9 against the Miami Dolphins. Houston-bound fans can get ticket and schedule information for this, and other games, at www.houstontexans.com or by calling (832) 667-2002. Visitor information is available through the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 446-8786 or visithoustontexas.com.
The New Orleans Saints (NFC South) will open at home Sept. 9 against the Washington Redskins. Fans coming into the Big Easy for the game can get visitor information through the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau,
www.neworleanscvb.com or (800) 672-6124. For Saints schedule and ticket information, visit www.neworleanssaints.com or call (888) 635-5944.
Sports Empire offers 2013 Super Bowl packages to New Orleans. Visit AAA.com/travel for details or see your AAA Travel agent.
To visit Houston or New Orleans, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.