California Here We Come: A West Coast Hockey Road Trip Guide

Two wins out of three on the road made for a nice first week of October for the Blue Jackets. And of course, getting to combine winning hockey with a bit of California sun just doubles the fun.

As a Columbus ex-pat who has lived on the west coast for the past four years I’ve had a few of chances to watch and play hockey under palm trees, but I don’t often get the chance to see the team playing live. That’s why I alway get pumped for the annual CBJ California swing – and this year I was extra excited because my good friend (and current Columbus resident) Kristen had finagled the vacation days to come visit at the same time.

That meant I both had the chance to watch my favorite team live and to spend a week showing Kristen some of my favorite things about both California and California hockey:

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PART I – Leave your heart in San Francisco

The Bay Area is a short name for a big chunk of northern California, encompassing everything from San Jose and Silicon Valley all the way north past the Golden Gate Bridge to wine country. That means that if you come to San Jose for a hockey game you’re also a short train ride or drive away from a lot of great vacation spots.

Our week, much like this season, kicked off with some super fun mishaps on the way to and from the airport to pick Kristen up. Unfortunately, I have officially classified that trip as a state secret so it will never be spoken of publicly. Lets just say that absolutely no one1 went to pick their guest up at the wrong airport and there were absolutely no travel/car sickness induced stops halfway across the Bay Bridge on the drive back.

That auspicious start (and a much needed morning nap) out of the way, we started on a tour of the best of Northern California. You may notice my “best of” list involves a lot of food, hockey, and beer which… nah, I’m not going to defend myself. This list is on point.

To Eat:

burritos

There are hundreds if not thousands of amazing Taquerias across the state, but for the record my favorites in the Bay Area are El Farolito and Taqueria Cancun.

This was also where we got our first divine sign from the hockey gods via our order number. Or possibly Nick Foligno was following us around, punking our food orders the whole trip. One way or the other.

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In-N-Out 

At one point during our trip I told Kristen that, if you put an In-N-Out on top of a mountain in the dessert, Californians would still pack the place. She though I was being hyperbolic, until we stopped for lunch at an In-N-Out surrounded by tumbleweed roughly a mile north of the San Andreas fault and still had to wait twenty minutes for our burgers.

It was worth it. Make sure you get your burger and fries animal style.

Also make sure Nick Foligno isn’t yet again meddling with your lunch, this time alongside his partner in crime/hugging.

To Drink:

Wine country is always a great trip, especially if you spend about $75-125 for a chartered van to drive you around to a handful of vineyards.

We opted for a brewery tour instead, hitting up San Francisco local Anchor Steam Brewery for an interesting tour and a very generous tasting sample.

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If you’re a beer person, there are a lot of great local options to try. I’d also recommend Almanac, 21st Amendment, and Speakeasy, among many other craft beer options.

To do:

North of San Jose you have all of San Francisco to explore. We hit up Golden Gate park and Muir Woods to get our requisite dose of absurdly beautiful nature. Kristen even hugged a tree, completing her full transformation into a California stereotype.

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Down south it’s always worth it to grab a car and drive along the pacific highway, with all the gorgeous ocean views that entails.

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And of course, the hockey:

SAP Center

Obviously nothing will ever beat Nationwide Arena for official Greatest Hockey Experience Anywhere. If you have to leave Nationwide’s tender embrace, though, then you won’t regret visiting SAP Center, the San Jose Sharks home ice.

There isn’t a bad seat in the house, the beer and refreshments (while predictably expensive) are pretty tasty, and I’ve always found the arena staff and local fans incredibly welcoming. The ushers even put on Blue Jackets just to make us feel more at home! (Just kidding. They always wear those, and probably find the jokes less funny than I do…)

My Recommendation:

  • Buy yourself some garlic fries.
  • Watch the Blue Jackets warm up (the visiting team will be on the opposite end of the rink from the giant shark head.)
  • Try not to roll your eyes too hard when everyone makes awkward chomping motions at the start of a power play.

outdoorrink

We topped off our Northern California adventure with one of the best parts of being a hockey fan in California: Outdoor skating in a t-shirt, under palm trees decked out in Christmas light.

 

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Part II: Driving Down the 101

The second half of our California Hockey Adventure(tm) took us five and a half hours south, to LA and Anaheim. Or well. It would have been five and a half hours, except SOMEONE forgot their wallet 2 so we had to navigate rush hour traffic back to retrieve all my money and forms of ID before finally getting on the road. We like to call that kind of beginning the old CBJ Start of Season Standard.

Once you’re finally on your way, you can take the straight shot to LA and enjoy a nice tour of mountains, citrus trees, and almond farms. Alternatively, if you have a bit more time you can hop on State Route 1, which will take an extra hour or two, but give you unmatchable views of the pacific coast for most of the trip.

pool

There are a lot of things to do in Southern California, from visiting Mickey Mouse to touring Hollywood, but once we hit LA and checked into our hotel, we immediately headed off to indulge in a truly great California tradition: lounging by a pool in the middle of November.

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Staples Center

Staples Center is an interesting beast. Los Angeles knows how to put on a show, and that comes through at a Kings game, where every team entrance and intermission comes with a hard working fog machine and a dozen strobe lights.

My recommendation:

The breakfast buffet at the Marriott across from Staples Center. It’s absurdly expensive and has ruined other breakfasts for me forever.

More seriously, Staples has a pretty good beer selection so I’d recommend grabbing one of those then watching your Captain knock Kyle Clifford out with a wicked right hook.

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The Honda Center

Moving on to Anaheim, the weather got even warmer, so Kristen and I spent the day reading by the pool in 80 degree sunshine. Alternatively, you’re now about four minutes from Disney Land if talking mice float your boat.

ponda

The Honda Center itself was an interesting building. After a bit of debate Kristen and I decided the tiled, incredibly orange interior looked oddly like an old and nicely designed government building. We had splurged on club level seats right behind Curtis McElhinney’s net, which were both a great view and came with drink delivery right to us. (We were too nervous to actually order drinks, but the option is there if you’re a less anxious hockey viewer than I am.)

The building also has one of the best nicknames in hockey. I dare you not to giggle after saying “Ponda” to yourself during a trip to Anaheim.

My recommendation:

Not awkwardly staring at your friends phone while you’re on the Blue Jackets pre-game broadcast.

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Also, when you’re leaving the game I highly recommend trying out another California classic and buying a bacon wrapped hot dog from one of the street vendors you’ll find right outside the rink.

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During our time in California the Jackets pulled off two wins on the trip, a solid 5-2 victory in San Jose and a gritty bought (in every sense of the word) in LA. Even dropping the game in Anaheim couldn’t cut down on just how fun it was following the team across the golden state. Of course, any chance for a week full of hockey is greatly appreciated by a couple of obsessed weirdos like us. But if you want a good example of just how much fun Kristen and I had exploring the world of California hockey know this: About halfway through our drive back from Anaheim we realized the Sharks had a game in San Jose that night. We turned to each other, grinned, and then Kristen pulled up StubHub on her phone so we could grab a pair of nosebleed tickets. The Jackets weren’t playing that night, but there was hockey nearby we were going to watch it live.

Heading out on the road to explore a handful of away arenas is a great way to remind yourself that hockey isn’t just the purview of the original six anymore. And if you’re looking for a good way to escape the winter weather while catching a game or three, a trip out to visit California and its crazy, passionate hockey fans is a great bet.

It’s an even better bet if you just want to spend a week with your buddy, yelling at sports and spending some quality time together. (And if you let me know you’re coming I’ll give you a well researched run-down of my top ten burrito locations.)


  1. me

  2. It was me. Yes, I feel great shame.

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