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Home Road Trip Yohe: 2023-24 Penguins Fan Roadtrip Guide, Part 2

Yohe: 2023-24 Penguins Fan Roadtrip Guide, Part 2

by Staff

I sincerely hope you enjoyed Part 1 of the annual Penguins travel guide, and I hope you visit some of those cities. I hope it made a difference in your quest to follow the team on the road.

But this is where things get serious. These are the cities that you truly must experience.

And is the rumor true? Is there a new No. 1? Has Montreal, the mighty king of kings, been dethroned?

It’s time to find out.


The ‘Cold But Friendly People’ Division

19. Minnesota

 Why you should go 

  • These are the NHL’s nicest and arguably most educated fans
  • Of all the buildings constructed around the turn of the century, this one has held up the best
  • The Mall of America is great fun
  • Delta will get you here on a direct flight
  • If you’re lucky, you might get Mike Russo’s autograph before or after a game

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • It’s Minnesota in February (this season)
  • St. Paul is darling and quaint, but there isn’t a ton going on there
  • That flight is indeed direct, but it’s typically quite expensive

Bottom line

I used to really dislike going to the Twin Cities for reasons I can’t even articulate. Usually I just found it kind of boring in Minnesota. Over the years, my opinion has changed. I love the arena, “Minnesota Nice” is very real and, as a bonus, the hotels are really cheap. Have a pregame drink at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub. Mingle with the friendly locals. Enjoy the quality shops. And enjoy Xcel Energy Center, one of the great hockey buildings in the world. Just wear a heavy jacket.

The ‘Big City’ Division

18. Boston

Why you should go

  • Boston is one of America’s finest cities
  • Great restaurants, especially if you’re the seafood type (my mom is the only person I know who doesn’t like seafood, so this should speak to you)
  • It’s easy to get there (direct flights) and it’s a fairly easy city to navigate
  • If you’re into history, you won’t find a better city
  • If you’re bored in Boston, you haven’t been trying very hard to find entertainment, because it’s everywhere

Why you shouldn’t go

  • TD Garden is a real dump … I hate that place
  • As you can tell by my rankings, weather is a big deal for these trips, and Boston in the winter isn’t cozy
  • You won’t be dealing with the world’s most humble population

Bottom line 

It’s one of those cities you have to visit. If you get a chance, I’d recommend it. Here’s the thing: When I make this list, I’m considering you, the people. This isn’t my personal list of my favorite cities. There are some cities on this list — Boston, New York — that I don’t particularly like, but I realize the majority of people do like them. Boston does have a lot to offer and should be experienced. It’s just not my cup of tea. (I just made a Boston Tea Party pun. Time to move on.)

17. Los Angeles

Why you should go 

  • Do you like when it’s 78 and sunny?
  • Do you like direct flights?
  • Do you enjoy people-watching?
  • Does a nice cocktail while overlooking the Pacific Ocean strike your fancy?
  • Do you like rental car companies that are always out of your selected vehicle and, thus, always upgrade you to a convertible?

Why you shouldn’t go

  • Many surrounding areas are great in southern California, but downtown L.A. is kind of gross
  • While not as bad since COVID, L.A. traffic remains problematic to even the most patient of people
  • They like the Kings in L.A., but if it’s a hardcore hockey vibe you’re looking for, this isn’t your town
  • I don’t have proof, but LAX might actually be hell on Earth … in retrospect, I hate it more than Philadelphia International, which is saying something

Bottom line 

I love the southern California swing, though L.A. is inferior to Anaheim. If you’re going to do this trip, though, you’re almost certainly going to do both, which is the way to go. Just be prepared for this portion of the trip to be a bit more logistically annoying.

16. Dallas

Why you should go 

  • It’s a great American city with much to see
  • The JFK Museum is a marvel and never gets old
  • The Downtown area is quite nice and worth your time
  • Great flying situation with two decent airports and many direct flights
  • The weather is usually above average

Why you shouldn’t go

  • Some people don’t like Texas, and Dallas is in Texas
  • Like L.A., it’s not a traditional hockey market, which can be a turnoff
  • The building isn’t bad but it’s way too big, so you don’t really feel like you’re at a hockey game

Bottom line

I’m surprised I have Dallas this low on the list. If it were my personal favorite city list, it would be a few notches higher. I’ve always liked it here quite a bit. The hotels are super affordable and plentiful in and around downtown. My advice: Stay downtown, see the JFK museum, and go find yourself a nice steakhouse. You’ll agree that it was a day well spent. Definitely a fun trip and highly recommended. It’s so easy and cheap to get there, too.

15. Chicago

Why you should go 

  • Chicago may have its drawbacks, but a better downtown area you’ll never, ever find
  • For my money, it’s America’s finest producer of good food and restaurants
  • Unlike many big cities, people in Chicago are typically very warm and friendly
  • You get to see Connor Bedard play hockey
  • Cheap, direct flights are in high abundance
  • The Penguins play there on Feb. 15 … in other words, take your significant other to Chicago for Valentine’s Day and get a hockey game out of the deal

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • United Center kind of stinks
  • The arena is located in a part of town that isn’t very nice — if you think PPG Paints Arena is surrounded by nothing, oh man, you should see this area
  • Chicago in the middle of February isn’t for the faint of heart

Bottom line

If they played ice hockey in July, Chicago would be a top-five trip. Downtown Chicago in the summer is spectacular, America at its best. Being there in the winter certainly hurts this trip. That said, I still recommend it. If you’ve been to Chicago, you probably like it. If you haven’t been, you should go. Just make sure you stay downtown. It’s worth the extra money.

The ‘Non-Traditional Market’ Division  

14. Anaheim

Why you should go 

  • As noted above, the weather in SoCal is pretty much perfect at all times, which is some kind of a welcome relief in the winter
  • Orange County is still close to L.A. but doesn’t come with the brutal traffic
  • Everything in this area is surprisingly affordable
  • Honda Center is literally a couple of miles from Disneyland, which I’ve heard is great fun although much smaller than Disney World
  • Pittsburgh is about to get direct flights to John Wayne Airport, which is a great place and, more importantly, isn’t LAX

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • Honda Center is charming but not a great building
  • The Ducks are fun to watch but still pretty dismal
  • Getting there can be expensive

Bottom line

Do the southern California swing and thank me later. It’s great. You’ll love it. One note: When choosing a hotel, stay in Anaheim for the entirety of the trip. Rent a car or take an Uber when you want to see different things in L.A. (the Griffith Observatory, for instance, is great, and I strongly recommend checking out Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica), but make Anaheim your home base. It’s less hassle, cheaper and just a better experience.

13. Carolina

Why you should go 

  • It’s a toss-up between Raleigh and Minnesota for friendliest road fans
  • There are so many Yinzers living in North Carolina, you’ll feel like you’re at home
  • It’s turned into a fun hockey town
  • The weather is always so nice
  • With all due respect to Kansas City, Nashville and St. Louis, my personal favorite BBQ city is Raleigh

Why you shouldn’t go

  • Can be a little pricey to fly there
  • While you can drive, it’s a pretty lengthy trip, around eight hours
  • Even though it’s a college town, I wouldn’t say the nightlife is off the charts

Bottom line 

I strongly recommend Raleigh. On a personal level, it’s a favorite. Everyone is friendly. There’s not much traffic. The weather almost always cooperates. The arena is nothing special, but the fans are cordial and the staff is super friendly. It’s usually a good game, too. I think, especially for families with kids, Raleigh is a really cool and safe trip.

12. Florida

Why you should go 

  • You’re 30 minutes from Fort Lauderdale, so by God, enjoy the beach
  • One of the more underrated arenas in the league
  • Tons of cheap, direct flights to Lauderdale every day out of Pittsburgh (remember, never fly to Miami International, a truly dismal airport experience)
  • The Penguins play here in December, so, you know, the weather will be nicer in Florida than in Pittsburgh
  • It’s Florida, which means you’re going to see something wild

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • It’s Florida, which means you’re going to see something wild
  • The arena is a bit of a drive from the beach, and traffic can be a bear
  • Florida hotels in the winter aren’t cheap
  • The atmosphere isn’t great for hockey, unless Brooks Koepka is in attendance

Bottom line 

Always a blast. The Florida swing is a favorite of mine, and the Penguins typically play entertaining games there. The weather and the laidback atmosphere are great. There’s something to be said for swimming at the beach all day, then walking to your hotel room, taking a shower, getting dressed and going to a damn hockey game. It’s a strange sensation, but a good one.

11. Tampa Bay

Why you should go 

  • The Penguins and Lightning are two very important teams and seeing them play is always a treat
  • Amalie Arena is great in-game and for pregame and postgame fun
  • Tampa nightlife is very underrated
  • People from the Midwest migrate here, which means it’s friendlier than Fort Lauderdale, which has a heavy New York/Boston influence
  • The Gulf of Mexico showcases some lovely beaches
  • Excellent airport

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • Hotels are insanely expensive in Tampa … simply outrageous
  • The traffic here is pretty outrageous, too

Bottom Line 

I’m a Tampa guy. I give it the slightest of edges over Lauderdale, though both are good fun. Tampa is a great, laidback city. Much fun to be had. And it’s usually a great hockey game when these two teams play. Strongly recommended.

10. Seattle

Why you should go

  • It’s exotic, and who doesn’t like that?
  • It’s one of those cities that isn’t really like any other city, which is a good thing
  • Climate Pledge Arena might be the NHL’s best … I have it ranked No. 2 behind only Detroit … just an amazing venue
  • Alaska Airlines has a direct flight — Flight 412, how cute is that — to and from Seattle, which is great
  • Seattle is going crazy for this team, so the atmosphere is excellent

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • Everything about Seattle is wildly expensive
  • It’s a miracle if you see sunshine in the winter
  • Downtown is OK, but nothing all that different than what you find in other cities

Bottom line 

I haven’t had enough time in Seattle to truly make up my mind about the place. But there is something very cool about it, and I’m telling you, the arena is special. If you’re going to Seattle, you might as well take in the game in Vancouver as well. The Pacific Northwest is very beautiful and worth a trip if you’ve never seen it.

The ‘Cool Building’ Division 

9. Calgary

Why you should go 

  • The Saddledome is the only old building left, and it’s awesome
  • Calgary is what Denver and Pittsburgh would be if they had a child
  • The mountains surrounding Calgary are beautiful, and you’re a close drive to Banff, which is one of the most beautiful places on Earth
  • Great hotel situation downtown, with the Calgary Marriott Downtown receiving my highest endorsement
  • Flames fans are cool with Mario, Sid and the Penguins because they hate Gretzky, McDavid and the Oilers

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • The weather, while not always bad, can be an adventure
  • Getting there is a nightmare

Bottom line 

Calgary is great — one of my favorite cities. There’s a lot to do, downtown is really nice and walkable, and I find the people there to be extremely friendly. But seriously, go for the Saddledome. Breathe it in. Aren’t you tired of all of these new buildings? Take a step back in time. It’s great.

8. Arizona

Why you should go

  • Mullet Arena
  • It will be 80 and sunny the whole time
  • Scottsdale and its never-ending nightlife is right down the road
  • If you like to golf, this is your place
  • It might be your last chance to see the Penguins play here

Why you shouldn’t go

  • It’s very expensive in the winter, and tickets can be hard to come by because of the arena’s small capacity
  • The Coyotes aren’t a must-see team

Bottom line

If you can afford it, go. I haven’t enjoyed covering a game that much in a really long time. You basically feel like you’re in the Penguins’ practice facility in Cranberry, only you’re watching a live NHL game. Plus, the game is in January, which is the perfect time to be in Arizona. There’s a chance the Coyotes will be playing elsewhere after this season. Strongly recommended trip. It’s terrific.

The ‘Cupless’ Division 

7. New York Rangers

Why you should go 

  • It’s New York City, the cultural center of the universe
  • Games at MSG are absolutely wonderful, a must-experience venue
  • Little Italy
  • I could be wrong, but I think you’ll manage to find something fun while you’re in Manhattan
  • The Penguins play here only once this year, on April 1, so the weather might be taking a turn for the better
  • These two teams hate each other, which is good fun

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • For all of its great fun, New York isn’t for everyone and can be over-the-top obnoxious
  • Tickets aren’t cheap, nor are hotels, nor are flights

Bottom line 

It’s NYC. You love it or you don’t. I’m not a fan, in the sense that I wouldn’t ever want to live there, but I admit I enjoy being there a couple of times a year. And if you’ve never been to MSG, you really need to, for hockey or otherwise. No place in the world is anything like it. Tip: If looking to save hundreds on hotels, stay in New Jersey and take the train into the city.

6. Toronto

Why you should go 

  • It’s the hockey capital of the world
  • The Hockey Hall of Fame is a must and never, ever fails
  • You want to support Kyle Dubas upon his return to Ontario, right?
  • The Leafs are oozing with star power and are fun to watch
  • It’s only a five-hour drive, and there are daily direct flights to Toronto
  • The culture and food options in Toronto are probably second to only New York in North America

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • Most expensive tickets in the league
  • The traffic in Toronto is worse than L.A. (really)

Bottom line

I had to reach. There’s really no reason not to go, so long as you can afford the obscene ticket prices. It’s truly a great city. It’s beautiful, there’s so much to see and do, and the traffic, while annoying, isn’t enough to scare anyone away. Go see the Penguins and visit the Hall of Fame before the game. Leave yourself a few hours while there and thank me later. A truly great road trip. (The Penguins play here on Dec. 16, and Toronto around the holidays is fun.)

The ‘American Royalty’ Division 

5. Nashville

Why you should go 

  • Do you like to drink? If so, this is the city for you, as everyone else will be drinking
  • Do you like music? You’ll love it here, even if you aren’t a big country music fan
  • Downtown is small and very easy to get around
  • The weather is almost always very nice
  • Cheap, direct flights from Pittsburgh
  • Tons of great hotels, and prices have finally started to drop as the number of hotels has risen

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • If obnoxious drunks trigger you, in all seriousness, stay away
  • Bridgestone Arena is nothing special

Bottom line 

Nashville isn’t for everybody, but if you’re looking to party, you’ll do very well. My advice: Stay downtown, visit the Johnny Cash Museum, and drink responsibly.

4. Denver

Why you should go

  • If you’re the outdoors type, you’ll fall in love with Denver’s spectacular mountains and adventures
  • The people are exceedingly friendly, and whether that’s natural or aided by substance, friendly is friendly
  • Downtown Denver is just a gem: Safe, great restaurants, great shopping
  • Watching Nate MacKinnon and Cale Makar play in person never gets old
  • Half of the crowd will be from Pittsburgh, so you will not be alone
  • There are direct flights on multiple airlines
  • The hotel situation in Denver is fantastic

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • … I can’t really think of a good reason

Bottom line 

Denver is special. If you’ve been there, you know. I’ve literally never met anyone who didn’t like Denver.

The ‘Canadian Royalty’ Division 

3. Vancouver

Why you should go 

  • It’s one of the world’s most beautiful and diverse cities
  • The food options are unbelievable and seemingly top-notch in every imaginable cuisine
  • I’m no outdoorsman, but if I were, I’d love it there because of Vancouver’s famous hiking trails
  • Geographically speaking, it’s probably the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen — the mountains and water blow me away every time I’m there
  • Lots of wonderful hotels, and the shopping is elite

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • It takes forever to get here
  • It’s not cheap
  • Public transportation isn’t a particular strength, nor is the weather

Bottom line 

Go. Save your money and go. It’s the NHL’s most exotic city, a truly special place unlike any other. Stay downtown and enjoy living the dream.

2. Montreal

Why you should go 

  • A hockey atmosphere unlike any other
  • The Bell Center has held up beautifully over the years and provides the greatest in-game atmosphere in the sport
  • Saint-Catherine Street might be North America’s greatest playground
  • The food is second to none and includes my favorite steakhouse in the world, Gibbys (it’s in Old Montreal, and you’ve been ordered to go)
  • The hockey vibe in Montreal is different than in any other city
  • If you don’t speak French, it’s OK (neither do I); pretty much everyone in Montreal speaks English
  • A number of good hotels, with my recommendation being the Montreal Marriott Chateau Champlain

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • It’s always, always under construction, and when I say it, I mean the entire city
  • Its famous vibrancy has felt a little bit off in recent years

Bottom line 

The king is dead. The king is dead. Long live the king. What’s this? Montreal isn’t No. 1 anymore? How could this be? No one, I assure you, loves Montreal more than I do. But as my good friend Billy, who lives in Laval, told me a couple of years ago, “Even the Bank of Montreal is headquartered in Toronto now.” I feel like Montreal has lost a smidge of its mojo. Here’s hoping it comes back. It’s a special place you have to experience in your lifetime.

The ‘One and Only’ Division 

1. Las Vegas

Why you should go 

  • Do I really need to get into this? It’s Vegas
  • If you like to gamble, this is your Valhalla
  • There is so much to do that isn’t gambling-related
  • Carrot Top is still going strong, and you can find me at his show the night before a game
  • You get to see the champs in person
  • The atmosphere at T-Mobile Arena is really something
  • Lots of direct flights to Vegas, and you won’t struggle to find a nice hotel
  • Thousands of Yinzers will be joining you
  • The restaurants are spectacular
  • The weather is great
  • It’s not cheap but not outrageously expensive

Why you shouldn’t go 

  • You don’t like to have fun

Bottom line 

We have a new champion. I never thought the day would come, but I have to say, being in Vegas for hockey is the best of every world. This city is completely in love with its hockey team, and that enthusiasm adds something to the trip. Most of you reading this, I presume, have been to Vegas. Whether you’ve been or not, I give the highest of recommendations to seeing the Penguins there in January. Vegas is filled with regrets, but you won’t regret this choice.

(Photo of Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

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