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Ranking The 5 Best Christmas Game Day Road Trips

Last Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Hip-hip hooray, it’s Christmas vacation.

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us, which for sports fans means the gift of games. Christmas is on a Monday this year, which means a full weekend slate of NFL, NBA, college bowls, college basketball, and hockey for sports fans to consume.

If you’re looking to get off the couch and take a last-minute weekend sports holiday, you’re in luck.

The Game Day has meticulously combed through the schedules and created a metric-based algorithm to pinpoint the 5 top regions that will provide an amazing sports-centric Christmas vacation.

Hint, it’s not very cold in our top location but there’s a massive NFL game taking place there - we know, you’re shocked.

Methodology

We ranked nine metropolitan areas that will host at least three major sporting events between Dec. 23-26.

They are:

  • Chicago
  • Dallas/Fort Worth
  • Denver
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • New York/New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • Northern California
  • South Florida

Cities were ranked 1-9 for the following weighted criteria:

  • Overall cost (travel, tickets, concessions)
  • Quality of games
  • Weather
  • Potential side trips
  • Convenience
  • Miscellaneous travel

The city with the lowest average score was deemed the best. All times listed are local.

Rankings

9. Dallas/Fort Worth: 7.66

The Schedule:

  • 12/23 James Madison vs. Air Force, Fort Worth, 2:30; San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks, 7:30
  • 12/26 Texas State vs. Rice, 4:30

There are three games in North Texas, including one featuring Victor Wembanyama. But the two bowl games are really meh, and the dearth of alternate attractions drag down the city’s scores.

8. North Carolina: 6.33

The Schedule:

  • Dec. 23: Detroit vs North Carolina State (NCAAB), noon; New York Islanders vs Carolina Hurricanes (NHL), 7 p.m.; Denver Nuggets vs Charlotte Hornets (NBA), 7 p.m.
  • Dec. 24: Green Bay Packers vs Carolina Panthers (NFL), 1 p.m.

There’s beaches, mild weather, and four sporting events in The Tar Heel State over Christmas weekend. But the games are spread out between Raleigh and Charlotte — which are about 170 miles away — and they also aren’t great.

7. Chicago: 5.83

The Schedule:

  • Dec 23: Villanova at DePaul (NCAAB), 3 p.m., Cleveland Cavaliers at Chicago Bulls (NBA), 7 p.m.
  • Dec. 24: Arizona Cardinals at Chicago Bears (NFL), 3:25 p.m.
  • Dec. 26: Atlanta Hawks at Chicago Bulls (NBA), 7 p.m.

Chicago will be dressed up for Christmas, and it’s a super-convenient city if you love mass transit. But the games are downright dreadful, and the weather is likely to match.

6. Denver: 5.33

The Schedule

  • Dec. 23: Arizona Coyotes at Colorado Avalanche (NHL), 7 p.m.
  • ‘Dec. 24: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (NFL), 5:15 p.m.
  • Dec. 25: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets (NBA), 12:30 p.m.

One of the trendiest cities in the country, Denver features a superb Christmas Day game between the Warriors and reigning NBA champion Nuggets. Unfortunately it just narrowly missed out on the top-five due to its lack of other attractions and the potential for frigid temps.

5. Northern California

Overall Score: 5.16

The Bay Area isn’t the sports haven it once was. But with three excellent games, relatively tame weather, and an exceptional city like San Francisco in which to stay, the region makes a superb spot for a holiday sports getaway.

Schedule: 3

  • Dec. 23: Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors (NBA), 5:30 p.m.; Minnesota Timberwolves at Sacramento Kings (NBA), 7 p.m.
  • Dec. 25: Baltimore Ravens at San Francisco 49ers (NFL), 5:15 p.m.

Overall Cost: 9

The Bay Area cost of living is notoriously expensive, and downtown hotels match that perception. Plus, the Dubs are a hot ticket, and the potential Super Bowl preview in Santa Clara will set you back.

Side Trips: 4

Technically, I listed two side trips in the games above, since Sacramento is about 80 miles east and the Niners play roughly 40 miles to the south in Silicon Valley.

But San Francisco is arguably the best city in the U.S., with exceptional dining and legendary attractions like Alcatraz, Golden Gate Park, and Lombard Street, plus Fisherman’s Wharf and the various piers on the water.

None of that even mentions Oakland, a robust city in its own right, or college towns like Berkeley and Palo Alto. Plus, wine lovers are only an hour south of Napa.

Weather: 4

Sure there are winds that come off the bay, but the weather in the Bay Area is mild by winter standards. San Francisco’s average December high temp is about 60 degrees, and the lows dip into the 40s at night.

Convenience Factor: 5

San Francisco has a robust transit system, and unlike Southern Cal, the people in the Bay Area actually ride BART, which will take inhabitants anywhere across the Bay. You can even take mass transit down to the 49ers game as long as you leave enough time.

If not for the fact the 49ers play 40 miles away, the convenience factor would be far better-scored. Still, getting to the Warriors game is a breeze.

Miscellaneous Travel: 6

Concession costs will set you back at Levi’s Stadium as well the mental toll of getting there if you choose not to drive — and if you drive, parking will also set you back.

If you choose to trek to Sacramento by car for the Kings game, the concessions will drop substantially, though it’ll still cost you about three hours in driving to get there.

4. Los Angeles

Overall Score: 4.33

Southern California is idyllic, though potentially more expensive than even the Bay Area. But with a loaded slate of highly entertaining games, and a billion other things to do in the region, LA makes a great spot for a sports getaway weekend.

The Schedule: 2

  • Dec. 23: Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Clippers (NBA), noon; Buffalo Bills vs Los Angeles Chargers (NFL), 5 p.m.; Seattle Kraken vs Anaheim Ducks (NHL), 5 p.m.; Calgary Flames vs Los Angeles Kings (NHL), 7:30 p.m.
  • Dec. 25: Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers (NBA), 2 p.m.
  • Dec. 26: Charlotte Hornets vs Los Angeles Clippers (NBA), 7:30 p.m.

The slate is highlighted by the Celtics vs Lakers game on Christmas Day at Crypto.com Arena, but the Cs are playing in that building two days earlier against the Clippers as well.

It’s entirely possible to hit both Celtics-Clippers and Bills-Chargers, which could be a game dripping with AFC playoff implications. SoFi Stadium is only a 10-mile ride from the home of the Clippers and Lakers, though you should always plan to leave extra time thanks to the legendary LA traffic.

Overall Cost: 8

LA is famously expensive, but there are five airports in Greater LA. Generally, flights in and out of LAX are the cheapest and most abundant.

Reasonably priced hotels can be found on third-party sites. Tickets, especially for the Christmas Day game between Boston and the Lakers, are going to set you back though.

Side Trips: 3

Not only are there a million things to do in both LA and neighboring Orange County, but the schedule makers even built in an off day on Christmas Eve. You can go to any of the legendary beaches — Santa Monica and its iconic pier is my personal favorite.

If theme parks are more your speed, you can hit either Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm in Anaheim or Universal Studios in LA. There’s hiking to the Hollywood sign or Griffith Observatory, or art lovers could hit the Getty Center, which is free.

Plus, San Diego is only about two-and-a-half hours away and features the best zoo in the country.

Don’t forget to get tacos — or hit In & Out Burger — especially if you’re not from California.

Weather: 2

It can get chilly at night, which means layering is a thing. But with average high temperatures of about 70 degrees in December, Southern California beats most every other region in the United States.

Convenience Factor: 4

There are commuter trains that are cheap and will take tourists from Hollywood and parts north as far south as Long Beach. The trains are even cheap, with unlimited rides for two hours costing less than $2.

Plus, there are Amtrak lines that will take tourists from Santa Barbera to San Diego — stopping in LA and Anaheim.

The problem is no one takes the trains and instead driving is the most popular mode of transportation, which is why the convenience factor gets docked compared to other cities.

Miscellaneous Travel: 7

Food prices at SoFi Stadium and Crypto.com Arena are extraordinarily high.

Plus, even though there is the option to take transit places, generally you’ll need to either drive or Uber to almost any sporting event, which adds up both wallet-wise and mentally, due to the traffic.

3. Las Vegas

Overall Score: 4.16

Online sports betting has cut into the allure of a Vegas weekend getaway. But it’s still Vegas, and sports fans could have a once-in-a-lifetime sports trip even without the really good slate of games in town that weekend.

Schedule: 6

Dec. 23: Arizona vs Florida Atlantic (NCAAB), noon; Duquesne vs Santa Clara (NCAAB), 2 p.m.; Utah vs Northwestern, Las Vegas Bowl (NCAAF), 4:30 p.m.

The Arizona-FAU is exceptional — maybe even a Final Four preview — and Utah-Northwestern is a nice game too.

Overall Cost: 4

Flights are relatively inexpensive, especially for those coming in from the west. Hotels are abundant and can be had for cheap on third-party sites.

Game tickets aren’t bad either. The only drawback is the Duquesne-Santa Clara is somehow completely sold out, but you can do the two marquee games very easily.

Side Trips: 1

Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the United States. There are shows, casinos, dining of all shapes and sizes, as well as an unparalleled list of attractions. Plus, Hoover Dam is only about a 45-minute drive away.

With online sports gambling now standard practice in half the United States, a trip to Vegas isn’t quite as alluring for sports fans. But even if you didn’t want to attend any of the games listed above you could have a sports-filled vacation there given the vast array of sportsbooks on both the Strip and Old Vegas.

Weather: 3

Sure, Vegas is renowned for its weather, but the winter can be legitimately cold. High temps only average about 60 degrees in December, and lows can be below freezing at night.

The cold weather could be an alluring factor if you’re chasing a getaway that’ll still give you a holiday feel. But if you want a warm, sunny getaway, pick somewhere else.

Convenience Factor: 7

Vegas is highly walkable, but things look a lot closer than they actually are, especially on the Strip. Fortunately, the weather is generally good, there are many indoor paths to navigate the city, and consuming drinks outdoors is legal in Vegas.

There isn’t a viable public-transit option in Vegas outside of buses, which means if you’re staying outside Las Vegas you’ll need to drive in. Ubers can add up quickly, especially to and from the airport, which is only eight miles away but can cost $25 or more if there’s surge pricing.

There’s only one airport into Vegas too, which limits some of the flight options.

Miscellaneous Travel: 5

Parking is astronomical at Allegiant Stadium, and beer will set you back at the home of the Raiders too, even though concessions are relatively manageable.

Nevada does not have a state income tax, but things will add up quickly in Vegas, especially as you start placing bets.

2. New York City

Overall Score: 4.0

New York at Christmas time is the stuff movies are made of. Consider the fact the Rangers and Knicks are two of the best teams in their respective sports, plus the exceptional volume of games within 10 miles of Manhattan, and you have a haven for sports fans despite the potential for inclement weather.

Schedule: 4

  • Dec. 23: Mississippi State vs Rutgers (NCAAB), noon; Milwaukee Bucks vs New York Knicks (NBA), 12:30 p.m., Detroit Red Wings vs New Jersey Devils (NHL), 7 p.m.; Buffalo Sabres vs New York Rangers (NHL), 7:30 p.m., Detroit Pistons vs Brooklyn Nets (NBA), 7:30 p.m.
  • Dec. 24: Washington Commanders vs New York Jets (NFL), 1 p.m.
  • Dec. 25: Milwaukee Bucks vs New York Knicks (NBA), noon

In terms of volume, you can’t beat it. Where else can you potentially attend four sporting events in a span of three days — in four different sports — and not have to drive at all?

Bucks-Knicks on Christmas is a whale of a game, but they play two days earlier if you don’t want to hoof it to MSG for a noon tipoff. If you’re willing to take the subway or PATH train you can see the Nets and Pistons in Brooklyn or the Devils and Red Wings — or an underrated SEC-Big Ten matchup between the Bulldogs and Scarlet Knights on Saturday in Newark.

You might also see Aaron Rodgers’ return from an Achilles injury, though you also are just as likely to sit out in the cold and watch two terrible football teams.

Overall Cost: 7

You might spend an arm and a leg to see the Knicks or Rangers, but tickets to Brooklyn or New Jersey are extremely cost-effective — especially for the Commanders-Jets game Sunday.

It’s worth it to shell out for a hotel in Manhattan, since being in the city makes transit cost and times much cheaper. Fortunately, there are a million hotels in Manhattan and good deals on third-party travel sites.

Side Trips: 2

There are a million things to see in New York City, and most of them are free. What’s best is if you stay in Manhattan, you don’t need a car — as long as you’re willing to ride one of the subway trains that’ll take you anywhere within four of the city’s five boroughs.

You can check out the windows on 5th Avenue in Manhattan — but don’t forget Macy’s at Herald Square — then the lit-up tree at Rockefeller Center. If you’re feeling like you have some money to burn for something that isn’t sports-related, go to the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.

But there’s still Broadway shows and iconic landmarks like Central Park — you can ice skate at multiple public rinks within the city. Plus, the city is dressed up with decorations everywhere too that create myriad photo-ops.

Weather: 6

The weather is a true wild card. It’ll never be warm like Miami or LA, but it can be pleasant — think low-50s and sunny — in New York even though the city’s reputation is that of cold.

The wind can be an issue, but it rarely snows in December in Manhattan except in movies, though dreary and soaking rain could wash out outdoor plans.

Plus, spending that much time in cold-ish temps has a way of draining some, especially since the subway can also be cold, but there are plenty of public bathrooms and you can get warm in stores or indoor attractions like museums.

The weather is not that bad and can be magical for those coming in from out of town for Christmas.

Convenience Factor: 1

Every sporting event listed can be navigated by train — even the ones in New Jersey. If you’re trying to take Ubers or taxis, the cost is going to add up quickly. But taking trains isn’t hard, even if it isn’t the standard mode of transportation for most travelers.

Plus, there are three airports that are accessible by mass transit too.

Miscellaneous Travel: 4

Concessions at MSG and Barclays Center are astronomical, though the food is well worth the price. But beers at both venues are outrageous as well, as is parking — though the subway mitigates much of that hassle.

New York sports fans are famously unfriendly, but the good news is there is a bar for almost every pro and college sports team in Manhattan. That means if you feel home-sick while spending the holidays in NY you can find the bar for your team and mingle with like-minded people even though you’re in a different city.

1. South Florida

Overall Score: 2.83

The only potential hiccup here is the cost for game tickets, which isn’t prohibitive for everyone. But everything else is reasonable, and you absolutely cannot beat the weather.

Schedule: 1

  • Dec. 23: Vegas Golden Knights vs Florida Panthers (NHL), 3 p.m.
  • Dec. 24: Dallas Cowboys vs Miami Dolphins (NFL), 4:25 p.m.
  • Dec. 25: Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat (NBA), 8 p.m.

These are three off-the-charts compelling games, with a Stanley Cup Final rematch, a potential Super Bowl preview, and a meeting of two of the top-four teams in the East.

Overall Cost: 4

The ticket costs are outrageous, but like the game in Santa Clara, the Cowboys-Dolphins game is a potential Super Bowl preview. Sixers-Heat, in downtown Miami, is a marquee Christmas Day NBA game, which you’re going to pay for as well.

Flights into and out of the two airports in Miami aren’t too bad. Hotels can be found outside the city of Miami, especially on third-party travel sites, for a reasonable price.

Side Trips: 3

Aside from the litany of exceptional beaches and the superb nightlife of South Beach, Miami is also only a three-and-a-half hour drive from Disney World — or shorter if you stay north or west of the city.

Weather: 1

Average highs are in the mid-70s with lows in the mid-60s in December. That is ideal conditions, especially if you’re coming from the north.

Convenience Factor: 4

There are two separate airports, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, for fans flying in to consider, and each offers a plethora of flights from across the country. Travelers have a light-rail option throughout downtown Miami, mitigating driving through the hectic urban area especially if they want to attend the Heat-Sixers game.

The only logistical hangup is the necessary driving to/from Sunrise for the hockey game, since it is 35 miles north. Plus, Hard Rock Stadium is about 20 miles from downtown.

Miscellaneous: 2

A hot dog is $4 at Hard Rock Stadium, and the average cost of a beer is $5. Parking is $25, which is extremely reasonable for an NFL game.

You can park for free at Amerant Bank Arena, the home of the Panthers, if you’re willing to walk from the adjacent Sawgrass Mills Mall — it’s only about a half-mile away. Plus, you don’t even need to park at the Heat game if you take the Metrorail from the airport to Kaseya Center.

There are high-end concessions at each venue too. But if you’re trying to go on the cheap, South Florida offers that option.

Author

Pat Pickens

Pat Pickens is a seasoned sportswriter who has covered pro sports since 2013 for various websites, including The New York Times, NHL.com, Bleacher Report, Sportsnet.ca, USA Today, the Associated Press and many others. His debut book, titled "The Whalers" about the history of the NHL's Hartford Whalers, was released in October 2021.

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