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Road trip! A look at travel opportunities for Thunder road games

Road trip! A look at travel opportunities for Thunder road games

The schedule is out! And while some summer vacations have yet to be taken, it’s never too early to start looking at the Thunder’s schedule in search of fun trips to watch Oklahoma City take its show on the road.

For the purposes of this post, road games that could make fun trips are defined as those that someone with a job or a class schedule would only have to take one or two days off, not including the weekend. And airfare or hotel prices can change by the minute, so anything listed here is just a general idea of what’s available to an ordinary travel shopper right now.

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel extensively, and I’ve yet to find a reason to doubt my belief that there’s plenty in any city large enough to have an airport to entertain you for a couple of days and nights. Some places may be more fun than others, and some places may have more options than others, but I haven’t found a city yet that wasn’t worth exploring. That being said, no offense to the residents of places like Milwaukee or Sacramento, but the focus here is on more traditional locales for weekend getaways.

And one last bit of motherly advice: the earlier you start planing the better, especially if it involves air travel. Single-game tickets will go on sale at different times throughout the year, but that would be no reason to wait before you jump on a decent airfare. Just be aware of when upcoming ticket sales deadlines are and don’t miss them. As for hotels and rental cars, reserve early because most places will let you cancel without penalty until very late. If you find a better deal elsewhere, you can nab it.

Boston: Friday, Nov. 19
Oklahoma City’s only trip to play the Celtics is early in the season, but that’s better than late because we’re talking fall in New England here. Primetime leaf-changing season is a couple of weeks before the game, but if you’re lucky there will be pleasant highs in the 50s or 60s and crisp autumn air.

Transportation and hotel: If you want to drive, more power to you. But if you’re talking about a long weekend, flying is the way to go. Southwest now flies to Boston’s Logan Airport (they used to fly only to nearby airports in New Hampshire and Rhode Island), which helps keeps fares close to reasonable. Right now, you could get a round-trip ticket for about $450 each leaving late Thursday or early Friday, but you may be able to do better by waiting a few weeks or leaving earlier Thursday.

One of the advantages of Boston and other East Coast cities is that they have extensive light rail (metro, subway, etc.) service throughout the metro area. Once you get to Boston, you won’t need a rental car as long as you’re staying near a station for the “T,” as it’s called there. Anywhere close to the city center means you won’t have too long of a T ride or a walk to some fine entertainment, and safe hotels in decent neighborhoods that qualify can be had for $80-$100 a night.

What to see: If you could stay until Monday, would Pats-Colts interest you? Getting away from sports, what about the Sam Adams brewery? Free beer at the end (assuming you’re at least 21, of course).

Other than that, I shouldn’t have to explain a whole lot about the opportunities to see important places in American history. If I do, then your elementary school history teachers are ashamed of you. And by American history, I mean Cheers.

Toronto: Friday, Dec. 3
Speaking of American history, I hope the Canadians have forgiven us for once invading the big chunk of Ontario on which Toronto sits. (Here, we don’t like to talk about it because we got whipped … in Canada, so presumably by Canadians, even though they were masquerading as the British at the time.)

Anyway, let’s let bygones be bygones and enjoy one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Toronto is very urban, often substituting for New York City on movie sets. There are museums, restaurants and night clubs galore, and yeah it will be very late fall, but it could be -24 degrees in Oklahoma City in early December too (or 85), so what do you have to lose?

Transportation and hotel: Don’t forget that you need a passport now to enter Canada. So apply soon if you don’t have one.

As for airfare, there’s no two ways to say it: Toronto is expensive. Right now, you’ll be hard pressed to find airfare for less than $600. But hotels in decent areas can still be found in the range of $90-$110 a night, which isn’t too bad for a big city. And an extensive metro system means you don’t need to rent a car and deal with the legendary wrath of Canadians behind the wheel. (You know, ’cause Canadians are such angry people.) But the expensive airfare makes this trip perhaps better suited to a real vacation where you spend significant time in the area. Or if you’re rich, you can probably handle it and should probably take me with you.

What to see: The Leafs are in town that weekend. And this is the right town for hockey in general, because the Hockey Hall of Fame is there. I went when I was a kid and remember they had a plastic rink that you could actually skate on, and there was a thing where they’d let you put on goalie pads and try to stop electronic pucks on a green screen type thing. DID YOU HEAR ME? I said they let you put on goalie pads!

There’s plenty outside of the athletic realm too. Taking a day trip to Niagara Falls would be time well spent, and you can go up the CN Tower, the world’s tallest free-standing structure. There’s a little square of glass that you can stand on up at the top, but I was too chicken to stand there looking straight down for more than a millisecond.

New Orleans: Friday, Dec. 10 (and Monday, Jan. 24)

Basketball and Bourbon Street. A chance to support the all-important Gulf tourism industry in a time of need. Delicious seafood. Trading beads for … things you might enjoy seeing. How many more reasons do I need to list?

Transportation and hotel: This one is the first on the list that’s within anything resembling driving distance for a long weekend. Google Maps says it’s a little less than 12 hours each way, which is pretty rough for a two- or three-night trip but isn’t out of the question. Flying is also pretty reasonable, with tickets going for as little as $270 right now. That counts for a steal in this climate of rising airfares.

As for hotel, there’s really only one option in my opinion. You’ve got to stay in the French Quarter. Few people go on vacation to New Orleans for anything that’s very far from Bourbon Street, so that’s where you’ll want to stay. It can be a little dangerous at night, so stay in groups and watch your back. But it’s not dangerous if you don’t put yourself in a bad situation, and I don’t think it’s possible to have much more fun than you can have in New Orleans. About $70 to $100 a night will get you a suitable hotel room.

What to see: Again, the French Quarter. If you’re not 21, just wait until you are and go then.

San Antonio: Saturday, Jan. 1
There are probably a lot worse places to be than San Antonio for New Year’s. The weather is likely to be nice, the margaritas are likely to be flowing and the Mexican food is sure to be good. Beating the Spurs and witnessing Tim Duncan’s wide-eyed “WHAT?” routine at every call against him on his own court would be the icing on the cake.

Transportation and hotel: This one is a relatively easy drive even for a short weekend because it’s only about seven hours from the Oklahoma City metro. Trying to avoid rush hour traffic in Dallas and Austin along the way (the whole trip is on Interstate 35) will help keep travel time to a minimum. Flying would cost at least $350 and would save you only about an hour or so, door-to-door.

The choice of areas within San Antonio for your hotel is an easy one. The River Walk area is the place to be. Reasonable hotels in the area start at about $75 a night and go up — way up, because of the New  Year’s Eve festivities. And if you stay on the River Walk, you probably won’t need to rent a car unless you plan on making multiple trips away from the area.

What to see: It wouldn’t be hard to stay in the River Walk area the entire trip. There are scores of restaurants, bars, clubs and hotels. It’s one of those places where you can just lean against a railing, soak in the atmosphere and be glad you’re on vacation.

Oh, and there’s the Alamo. There will also be plenty going on to ring in the new year. And there’s always a chance your favorite Big 12 team will be playing in the Alamo Bowl a couple of days before.

Los Angeles Lakers: Monday, Jan. 17 (and vs. Clippers on Saturday, April 2, and vs. Lakers on Sunday, April 10)
If you see the Lakers, you get to see two of the West’s best square off in enemy territory. If you see the Clippers, you get to see Oklahoma City’s own Blake Griffin — unless he blows out another knee because he plays the post for the Clippers. The three Thunder games in LA that are best suited for a long weekend-type trip all have something to offer.

Transportation and hotel: It will probably be best to fly unless you just really like 20-hour drives. But keep in mind that LAX isn’t the only airport you can use, which could help you find a better deal (if you don’t mind a bit of a drive). Other airports that serve the greater Los Angeles area are in Ontario, Burbank, Orange County and Long Beach. If you do enough scouring of travel websites, you ought to be able to get there for less than $400 and maybe even less than $300 if you are flexible and find a nice airfare sale.

There are so many hotels, and so many areas in which to stay, that it’s almost not even worth talking about them. Where you stay should depend on what you want to do while you’re in LA. If you want to hit the beaches, then check out Malibu or Santa Monica or one of the non-ghetto areas of Long Beach. If you want to shop and look at celebs, try Beverly Hills or Hollywood. If you just want proximity to the Staples Center, look downtown. If you want to hear gunshots, check out east LA. You can probably find something safe for around $100 a night almost anywhere.

You’ll almost certainly need to rent a car in LA, so be sure to factor that into your budget.

What to see: If you need a lot of help thinking about things to do in LA, I don’t know what to tell you. But I’d try to score tickets to a taping of The Price is Right if I were you. That’s been a dream of mine for a long time.

Phoenix: Friday, Feb. 4
I’ve been to the Phoenix area to witness two sporting events. If it’s OK with you, I think I’ll sit this one out because I’m afraid of what might happen if I attend. But if you’re thinking about escaping the brutal Oklahoma wind in the winter, this would be a nice choice.

Transportation and hotel: Southwest flies nonstop to Phoenix from Oklahoma City, which is nice. You’ll have to change planes with anyone else. Southwest doesn’t publish fares this far in advance, but I wouldn’t expect them to do much better than the $300 or so the other guys can do right now, especially on the nonstop. Driving would take about 15 hours.

Your choice of hotel would depend on what you want to do when you get to Phoenix. If you’re a 20-something, I’d go with Tempe because it’s close to Arizona State University and there’s tons to do there. If you’re a little older or have to appease a significant other with significant shopping opportunities, go with Scottsdale. Decent motels start in Tempe at about $75 per night, but it will jump by about half in Scottsdale.

What to see: If you go the Tempe route, check out the bar scene on Mill Avenue. You know ASU has the reputation of being a party school, right? High STD rates have also plagued ASU, which you may view as a good or a bad thing depending on your goals for the trip.

The Coyotes are also in town, if you’re interested in the phenomenon of hockey in the desert. Unfortunately baseball’s spring training will likely be a couple of weeks away.

And please, if you go, do me a favor: Burn down this stadium. I’m begging you.

Oakland/San Francisco: Sunday, Feb. 13
How about a long Valentine’s Day weekend in San Francisco? Beats a Valentine’s Day at home. And if you don’t have someone with whom to celebrate it, it’s probably a great place to stare into a picturesque landscape and be depressed.

Transportation and hotel: The Warriors play in Oakland, but there’s more to do and see in San Francisco, so that would be the place to stay. Like Los Angeles, there is more than one airport to use if you don’t mind a slightly longer drive by using a more distant one. In addition to San Francisco and Oakland’s airports, you can try San Jose. There’s good public transport once you’re in the heart of the Bay Area, so you’re less likely to need a rental car if you can manage to fly into SFO. There are some truly amazing deals out there to SFO as we speak — less than $270 to be exact, which is about as good as it gets for that trip. If you’re looking for a trip to book now, this may be the one based on that price alone.

Somewhere in the heart of the city is the place to stay. You can probably get a good room for about $120 a night.

What to see: Especially because it’s Valentine’s Day, you should go to eat chocolate to Ghirardelli Square. That is some damned good chocolate. More specifically, you should be feeding that chocolate to your significant other. If she (or he, in fairness) is behaving well, then it will be a nice reward. If not, you can feed them into a sugar coma and they’ll pass out.

I also hear Alcatraz can be pretty romantic. Didn’t Nicholas Cage make out with some chick on the roof at the end of “The Rock” or something?

Orlando: Friday, Feb. 25
This is only acceptable if you return to Oklahoma on Saturday night so you can see the home game against the Lakers on Sunday afternoon. Otherwise Mickey will have to wait for another year.

Transportation and hotel: Frontier Airlines had a short-lived nonstop to Orlando, but no more. A pity. Now you have to change planes somewhere, and it will set you back at least $350 or so. It’s too far to drive in most cases. You’ll need to rent a car once you’re there, because the public transit system is lacking.

The reason to go to Orlando is obviously to see Disney World, so if you do that, you might as well splurge for the extra cash it takes to stay in a hotel on the Disney campus. Rates are pretty unpredictable because so many come with package deals. But if you stay on the campus, you can take advantage of the monorail system to move about Disney World and you won’t have to drive in every day and pay for parking anyway.

What to see: Disney World, Universal Studios and Dwight Howard’s shoulders. (By the way, did anyone else have friends who went to work at Disney World for awhile in college? My god. It changes those people forever, and not in a way that I enjoy. That place is like a cult.)

Washington, DC: Monday, March 14
This is spring break season for many, which could make it extra convenient to make the trip. It will also make DC a more crowded place to be. Additionally, it will make me want to cut your head off because I’m at the point in life where spring break is just something other people get to enjoy.

Transportation and hotel: DC has three major airports, but one is clearly more convenient than the others. Ronald Reagan National Airport is just outside DC itself and is on the metro (subway). Dulles is way out in Virginia, and you’ll need a car or a shuttle of some kind to get to a hotel. Baltimore-Washington is closer to Baltimore, so you’d also need a car, a shuttle or to take the Amtrak into DC. Southwest, though, has a nonstop from OKC to BWI. Right now you can book a flight to the DC area for about $320.

The most important thing for your hotel is to be on the metro. It can be in DC, Virginia or Maryland as long as it’s within walking distance (or a free shuttle ride) from a metro station. Decent places start at around $100 a night.

What to see: Not much, really. Just some of the most important buildings, documents, monuments and museums in the world.