Each year, more 49ers fans are making a pilgrimage into enemy territory, turning a Niners’ away game into a weekend retreat.
The 49ers Faithful spans coast to coast (and beyond). Those who travel certainly won’t find themselves alone. Some stadiums become bipartisan by the sea of red jerseys. Some are lorded over by rowdy hosts, such as Philadelphia’s bullring where the 49ers’ 2022 season ended.
The 2023 season’s itinerary is first-class, with an eclectic mix of stadiums, cities and locales to visit. The preseason opened Aug. 13 in Las Vegas, and that is where the 49ers hope their postseason ends, in Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium on Feb. 11.
Based on my extensive research — 22 years crisscrossing NFL cities — as well as fan’s suggestions, here’s my travel guide for this season’s tour stops:
Sunday, Sept. 10, 10 a.m.
At Pittsburgh Steelers
Acrisure Stadium: Rebranded last season from Heinz Field, this 22-year-old gem abuts the three rivers (Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela) and is an easy stroll from downtown across the Roberto Clemente Bridge. The 68,400-seat stadium is awash in the six-time Super Bowl champion Steelers’ memorabilia.
Transportation: The airport is about a 20-minute ride by car, or twice that by the much cheaper bus route. The train is not an option.
Grub: The Strip District and Market Square are hot spots. Both offer Primanti Bros. hefty sandwiches stuffed with fries. Roland’s Seafood and Peppi’s are also worth checking out. Stock up at Mancini’s Bakery for your tailgate.
Grog: Order an IC (Iron City). Tune in to Ben Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin podcast for beer (and football) reviews. I’m curious to try Dancing Gnome brewery.
Sights: Botanical garden, natural history museum, or head to the other side of the Monongahela to Mount Washington and the Duquesne Incline for skyline views.
Detour: If you’d rather not fly out Monday (Sept. 11), the Pirates host the Nationals at PNC Park, where you can see how that stadium rates against the Giants’ Oracle Park.
Sunday, Sept. 17, 1:05 p.m.
At Los Angeles Rams
SoFi Stadium: Some call this Levi’s South, or the 49ers’ in-season vacation home, where their fans have packed the 70,000-seat stadium since its 2020 opening. The lighting and airflow give it a top-up, windows-down feel of a convertible Porsche. The Inglewood locale doesn’t offer nearby food options, all due respect to Costco hot dogs.
Digs: This is L.A., so your hotel taste and budget will conflict. The easiest path for those flying into SoCal: anchor near LAX, either north in Santa Monica and Marina del Ray or south among the beach towns.
Grog: El Segundo Brewery, Highland Park, Monkish, Three Weavers, and Golden Road are acclaimed options, but craft beer lovers also can hit the L.A. Beer Fest on Sept. 16.
Grub: One Niners fan recommends Tito’s Tacos and Johnnie’s Pastrami in Culver City, 7 miles from SoFi.
Exercise path: Arguably the best running (or bike-cruiser) path on the NFL beat is The Strand, particularly the stretch from Manhattan Beach to Redondo Beach.
Detour: UCLA plays on Saturday at the Rose Bowl (vs. North Carolina Central).
Sunday, Oct. 15, 10 a.m.
At Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns Stadium: The 49ers lost in their 2007 and ’15 visits – with quarterbacks Chris Weinke and Blaine Gabbert — since the Browns moved into this lakeside, downtown home in 1999.
Must-visit: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is located next to the Great Lakes Science Center across from the football stadium, and worth the $35 adult admission.
Grub/Grog: Mabel’s BBQ is one fan’s tip. Meanwhile, six blocks from the stadium – closer to the Guardians’ ballpark — are sports bars and breweries: Whistle & Keg, City Tap, The Clevelander, Butcher and the Brewer, and the Corner Alley.
Detour: The Pro Football Hall of Fame is an hour south in Canton, and definitely worth a tour: you’ll get the best education possible about football’s history. It’s a boom-and-bust tour, if you will.
Monday, Oct. 23, 5:15 p.m.
At Minnesota Vikings
U.S. Bank Stadium: This prime-time affair might offer the NFL’s best stadium experience, with its location (downtown), noise (“Skol!” chants) and skyline view beyond one end zone’s glass doors.
Daytime options: Run, bike or walk along the Mississippi River. Pop over to the University of Minnesota. Shop at The Mall of America. Swing by St. Paul’s Summit Avenue homes. Tour Prince’s Paisley Park. You can also drive out to Lake Minnetonka (eat dock-side at Maynards; hit Skipper Barber Shop).
Grub: Bar La Grassa (Italian), J.D. Hoyt’s (steak/seafood), The Butcher’s Tale (steak), Black Sheep (pizza), Rise (bagel), Mill City Farmer’s (breakfast) and The Loon Cafe (chili, sports bar).
Hops: Summit’s Extra Pale Ale is popular, but also seek an IPA from Lupulin Brewing, perhaps at The Gnome in St. Paul.
Transit: Light rail can zip you from the airport to town. The stadium is walkable from downtown hotels.
Sunday, Nov. 12, 10 a.m.
At Jacksonville Jaguars
TIAA Bank Field: This is only the fifth visit by the 49ers since the Jaguars joined the league in 1995 as an expansion team. It’s the site of the old Gator Bowl Stadium, and there are plans for more renovation to the facility and an entertainment district that could run $2 billion, aided in large part by public funding.
Beaches: Over 20 miles of white-sand beaches are a couple of bridges and 25 minutes away from downtown.
Grub: About 10 blocks down the street from the stadium is Cowford Chophouse, along with Spliff’s Gastropub and Bold City Downtown.
Golf: Some of the nation’s finest golf courses are within 90 minutes, the closest being TPC Sawgrass (see: 17th-hole island green) in Ponte Vedra Beach. Travel north to hit Sea Island. Venture south to tour the World Golf Hall of Fame, and either play the course there or go another 25 minutes south to the charmingly historic St. Augustine (Prohibition Kitchen; Roosevelt Room).
Disney World: Because you (or your kids) will want to know, it’s about a 2 ½-hour drive south to Disney World in southern Orlando.
Travel time: No direct flights from the Bay Area, so manage your time and book your connections wisely, then grab a rental car to get around.
Thursday, Nov. 23, 5:20 p.m.
At Seattle Seahawks
Lumen Field: The 49ers clinched the NFC West (on Dec. 15) in their last visit, and now they can exact revenge for the Seahawks spoiling 2014 Thanksgiving Night at Levi’s Stadium. This downtown locale offers arguably the NFL’s most electric and loudest environment, especially in prime time (barring a lightning delay like in 2013).
Transportation: The light-rail line can whisk you from the airport to downtown in about 35 minutes. Seattle is definitely walkable if you can handle hills, such as for a scenic run up to the Queen Ann neighborhood.
Must-see spots: The Space Needle, Pike Place Market, the original Starbuck’s, Lake Union, and the University of Washington are reachable via foot or light rail. Look out your airplane (or hotel) window for a snow-capped Mount Rainer.
Other neighborhoods: Spend an extra day or two touring Bainbridge Island, Alki Beach, Ballard, Bellevue and more.
Grub: Wild Ginger was in sportswriter’s regular rotation, but tastes have expanded to such hot spots as Sushi Kashiba, The Pie Bar, Barolo, Le Panier, Walrus and Carpenter, and, Purple.
Watering holes: Diller Hotel, Shorty’s, The Alibi Room and Blarney Stone.
Breweries: Georgetown (south Seattle), Fremont (Lake Union), Reuben’s (Ballard), Stoup (Ballard), Elysian, Old Stove, Pike.
Sunday, Dec. 3, 1:25 p.m.
At Philadelphia Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field: Perhaps no greater hostile environment exists, according to wild tales from 49ers fans who attended last season’s NFC Championship Game. Perhaps there’s no shame in going incognito.
Transportation: Go to/from the South Philly stadium with an Uber ride or the Broad Street subway line. It’s over seven miles to City Hall in downtown.
Happy trails: Philadelphia is a wonderful city to roam, rich with history and culture. Go get lost.
Rocky steps: Yes, even you can run up the famed steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and put your feet on a plaque where Rocky Balboa stood.
Other attractions: Independence Hall and Liberty Bell for American history, Rittenhouse Square for peace/art/music, Palestra for basketball, and Walnut Street for shopping.
Grub: Reading Terminal Market for any appetite (see: Dinic’s), Dalessandro’s cheesesteaks, Dante & Luigi’s, The Dandelion, Parc, Di Bruno Bros, Oh Brother, and Franklin Fountain.
Grog: Monk’s Café is quaint but it serves some of the nation’s best beer, including some from California if you’re homesick.
Sunday, Dec. 17, 1:05 p.m.
At Arizona Cardinals
State Farm Stadium: From the airport or Phoenix or Scottsdale or Tempe, head west, then north, then look for the spaceship in the desert. The town of Glendale is forever in 49ers lore as their COVID hostel in December 2020 when the team couldn’t play in Santa Clara County.
Detour: If golfing in northeast Scottsdale is out of the question because of budget or weather constraints, keep an eye on the college and pro basketball schedule.
Transportation: Rent a car or rely on a ride-share service. The Valley of the Sun does have a light-rail line linking Phoenix with Tempe and Mesa, not Glendale.
Grub: Chelsea’s Kitchen, The Mission, Oregano’s, The Macintosh, and Snooze.
Digs: This is not a centralized NFL city, so you pick an area to bunk that works best for you. Tempe should be clear of Arizona State students on winter break. Old Town Scottsdale is a tourist hub, while Northeast Scottsdale is classy but a haul from State Farm Stadium.
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Sunday, Dec. 31, 10 a.m.
At Washington Commanders
FedEx Field: This outdated, dilapidated joint is remote (Landover, Maryland) and hopefully in its final seasons until the club’s new ownership can make a happier home. Tailgating room is plentiful, with nothing else nearby. It’s 12 miles and about 30 minutes by car from your guest room at The White House.
National monuments: Who needs a New Year’s Eve date when you can visit the National Mall saddle up to the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and sacred war memorials. Try scheduling a Capitol tour now through its visitor center or your Congressional representative.
Museums: The National Archives is closed Jan. 1, so be sure to visit our Constitution and Declaration of Independence either the day before or the morning of the game. Smithsonian Museums are open daily except on Christmas, and the most visited are those for Natural History, American History, African American History and Culture, and Air and Space.
Watering holes: Churchkey, Off the Record, Bier Baron, Other Half, Shaw’s, and Right Proper.
Grub: Old Ebbitt Grill dubs itself as “Washington’s oldest saloon” across the street from the White House. Others: St. Anselm, RPM Italian, 2 Amy’s, Pearl Dive Oysters, Del Mar, Baked & Wired, Call Your Mother Deli, and Bullfrog Bagels.