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Now that BYU's inaugural basketball season in the West Coast Conference is complete, I've compiled a few thoughts from the thousands of miles I traveled since December. Though top to bottom, the WCC wasn't as strong as our former MWC foes, the WCC was MUCH greater when it came to being a tourist!
I've broken my travel guide up by a number of different criteria. Each category played a large part in what made an individual trip memorable. I used these individual rankings to then compile an overall ranking list from 1 to 10 of all trips taken. The game in which the site, restaurant, or sightseeing location was located is listed in parentheses.
BEST SCENIC VIEWS
1. 18-MILE DRIVE AT PEBBLE BEACH (Santa Clara). Located just an hour southwest of Santa Clara, the few hours we spent in Monterey/Pebble Beach/Carmel turned out to be some of the most scenic coastline I've ever witnessed. Being a golfer, spending time on the grounds at Pebble Beach was also all I'd imagined it to be. Anytime you're in the San Jose area, this detour is a must!
2. SAN FRANCISCO (Saint Mary's/USF). The bay area is kind of the central hub of the WCC. San Francisco has so many great attractions: Fisherman's Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, Alcatraz, cable cars, shopping, etc. SMC is just a half hour inland of San Fran, yet has a completely different feel. Moraga is a small, quiet country club type town that's secluded in the mountains. A welcomed break from the hustle and bustle of metro Oakland/San Fran.
3. THE OREGON COAST (Portland). It's only about 45 miles from Portland to the coast. I suggest starting out in Tillamook for a tour of the cheese factory and then follow the coastal highway north. The Oregon coast offers an amazing contrast of lush green forests that meet crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. Some stretches are tranquil bays, others have huge swells crashing into rock cliffs. One of the prettier stretches in all of the Pacific Northwest.
4. PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY (Pepperdine). It's hard to complain anytime you're on the PCH. The gorgeous coastline, huge mansions and luxury vehicles in Malibu speak for themselves. The only reason it's not higher on the list is because it's not far from the concrete jungle of LA, and there's not much else to see/do in Malibu.
5. SAN DIEGO HARBOR / LA JOLLA (USD - Not attended this season). Though I didn't go to the game at USD, I did go to the game at SDSU last season and have been to San Diego many times. One of my favorite spots in SoCal is La Jolla. You can't go wrong with spots like the LDS Temple, Swami's and Torrey Pines. The opposite side of the bay is also nothing to sneeze at. Coronado is a tranquil version of Newport, but a little more pricey.
BEST TOURIST ATTRACTION
1. LOUISVILLE SLUGGER MUSEUM/FACTORY (NCAA Tournament, Louisville). As a lifelong baseball player, visiting the Slugger factory was a bucket list item of mine. It's a very open and informative museum, with an up close and personal tour of the bat factory. This museum is recommended for all tourists, but especially for baseball fans.
2. PEBBLE BEACH RESORT (Santa Clara). The only reason Pebble Beach isn't #1 is because I couldn't afford $500 to tee it up. I only got to walk the grounds. The views are amazing, the shops have cool items and the people are nice. PB is arguably the Mecca of golf in the U.S.
3. NIKE EMPLOYEE STORE (Portland). Ok, so this probably shouldn't count since it's not actually accessible to the public. However, for any that have ever been granted access, you know it deserves a spot on this list. I'm not one that is known to spend more than $50 a month shopping, so the fact I dropped over $700 says something. Heaven for Nike fans!
4. GHIRADELLI SQUARE / FISHERMAN'S WHARF (SMC/USF). San Francisco is an American gem. So much to do, so much to see, and so easy to get around. BART is one of the best mass transit systems in the US and makes it easy to get to any point in the bay area in minutes.
5. CHURCHILL DOWNS (NCAA Tournament, Louisville). The museum at Churchill Downs is possibly the most interactive and informative museum I've ever been to. It's a very high-tech and hands on museum that has something for everyone. Admission also includes a walking tour that allows access to the grandstand, race track and winner's circle. I'm not a horse racing fan, but after taking the tour, my bucket list now includes a return to CD to witness the Kentucky Derby.
1. LYNN'S PARADISE CAFE (NCAA Tournament, Louisville). This was one of the easiest rankings on the whole list. Not only did it have the best menu item I ate all season, it may have had #2 as well! The Bourbon Crunch Cinnamon French Toast and the Kentucky "Hot Brown" are two of the top 10 plates I've EVER eaten. In my 29 years of travel, no other restaurant in the world can claim two spots on my top 10. Impressive.
2. DUKE'S BEACH CAFE (Pepperdine). Not sure what was better, the food or the scenery? Both were amazing. The fish tacos and lettuce wraps are recommended as you sit on the patio built on the beach. If you're lucky, you can even see dolphins playing just 50 feet away.
3. FISHERMAN'S WHARF (SMC/USF). Admittedly I'm biased as my favorite food is seafood. But it's hard to complain when you get it fresh on the pier and cooked right in front of you! Multiple vendors offer crab, shrimp, clams and fresh chowder in sourdough bread bowls.
4. SMOKEHOUSE USA (NCAA Tournament, Louisville). A little hidden gem in the suburbs of Louisville. Don't let the half sketchy location fool you though, the BBQ was awesome. The proprietor was very friendly and the food was awesome. A lesson was learned here not to judge a book by its cover.
5. MILLBRAE PANCAKE HOUSE (Santa Clara). The Millbrae Pancake House was a recommendation from Greg Wrubell. It's located just a mile from the San Fran Airport. It's a country style diner with great breakfast food and big portions. It's a locals-type joint that has had the same waitresses and grandpa's meeting for coffee for the last 40 years. We got in quick, but apparently if you go after 9:00, expect a wait.
1. KFC YUM! CENTER (NCAA Tournament, Louisville). Not only was this the best arena of the season, it's hands down the best college arena I've ever been in...by a mile. I've been in 30+ college and NBA arenas and the only one that can compete is the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. The KFC center was amazing.
2. McCARTHEY ATHLETIC CENTER (Gonzaga). "The Kennel," as it's known, is a great venue for basketball. All 6,000 seats are chair backs and each has a great view. There are numerous LED screens inside, spacious concourses and ample parking. Also great to be in an arena that the 2,000 students are there two hours before tip and standing the entire game. Well done, Zags.
3. ORLEANS ARENA (WCC Tourney, Las Vegas). Though the arena was built for concerts, it's a great venue to watch basketball. It was VERY clean inside and because there's too many concession stands, you never have a line. Once inside, it's fairly small so all seats have great views. As an added bonus, all seats are padded and have cup holders. Last, the parking is free and located just outside the door, which isn't usually the case anywhere you go in Las Vegas.
4. LEAVEY CENTER (Santa Clara). Though it's not exactly an electric atmosphere, Leavey is a very sharp looking arena both inside and out. It's got huge floor to ceiling windows surrounding the arena so you have great views even when inside. It also has the largest LED scoreboard I've seen in a basketball arena.
5. CHILES CENTER (Portland). One of the larger arenas in the WCC, the Chiles center is one of the few that actually felt like a college arena, not a high school gym. The concessions/concourse area was tiny and parking was non-existent...but let's be honest, a majority of WCC venues fit that description.
1. NCAA Tournament in Louisville, KY: From the tourist attractions to the arena to the food, Louisville hands down was the best trip this season!
2. Santa Clara: Easy access from SFO, having Pebble Beach within an hour, and a pretty nice arena land Santa Clara near the top of the overall list.
3. Pepperdine: A campus based on a cliff overlooking the beach in Malibu, plus Duke's Beach Café just a half mile away help Pepperdine make up for a sub-par Firestone Fieldhouse.
4. Portland: Nike was awesome and the coast was scenic, but not a whole lot else going on for non vegan/tree huggers like me.
5. WCC Tournament: Since I grew up in Southern Utah, going to Vegas is old news, but due to a great venue, lots of restaurants and no UNLV fans, the WCC isn't lower.
6. Saint Mary's: Hard to justify SMC any higher than 6th. It's only this high because it's close to San Francisco, which I like. The arena was terrible, the fans were punks and we lost the game. Blah.
7. Gonzaga: The arena is nice, but that's where it ends. When I lived in Spokane and friends came to visit, the highlight of their trip was leaving town to visit C'oeur D'Alene. That pretty much sums up this ranking.
8. Utah: Not exactly a road trip since I live in SLC, but a road game none the less. The arena was empty, the fans are lame and well, like I'd ever rank Utah high on any fan related list.
9. Utah State: The only reason USU is below Utah is due to the extreme lack of class shown by the students. When the school President has to send out a formal apology for student actions, you deserve to be at the bottom.
66. New Mexico: I know, this was a trip from the MWC days, but my hatred for Albuquerque is so strong that it will hold down the bottom of any fan list I ever draft. Sorry Snake, your town, your school, your fans and your coach suck.
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See you in the fall!