The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi offered 17 days of high energy, unapologetic shows of team pride and amazing displays of athletic prowess. In other words, it was exactly like a shorter version of March Madness. When it comes to the NCAA Basketball Tournament (which kicks off March 18), it doesn’t matter if you have opening-round tickets for Dayton, a Final Four suite in Dallas or seats for any of the dates in between, you’re in for quite the thrilling ride. Even though we’ve only had a few hours to fill out our brackets, this handy tournament guide to each city’s off-the-court events and hotels will certainly help your journey be a slam-dunk.
Dayton, Ohio, March 18-19
What To Do: If you’re searching for something nearly as awe-inspiring as a beautifully executed give-and-go in the tourney’s opening round, look no further than The Dayton Art Institute’s Isabella Kirkland: Stilled Life, a collection of the contemporary artist’s most vibrant flora and fauna pieces on display through May 18.
Where To Stay: Though the Dayton Grand Hotel’s restaurant and pool are temporarily closed for renovations (they are set to reopen by June), the 184-room property has a can-do attitude among its staff and a can’t-beat location less than 10 minutes from the tip-off at the University of Dayton Arena.
Buffalo, N.Y., March 20 and 22
What To Do: We know you’ll be all business when it comes to rooting for your teams inside the First Niagara Center, so that’s why we’re suggesting you blow off some steam at one of Helium Comedy Club’s shows. Iliza Shlesinger, the only female to ever win NBC’s Last Comic Standing, is in town March 20 to 22.
Where To Stay: While the things we like about The Mansion on Delaware Avenue are abundant (Italian cotton linens, fireplaces in suites), we are beside ourselves with the cozy boutique hotel’s 24-hour butler service that seemingly handles every need before you even know you need it.
Milwaukee, March 20 and 22
What To Do: The BMO Harris Bradley Center has a few cool options on its concession menu (Cedar Crest ice cream—yum!), but for an extra special treat, we suggest heading over to The Pfister Hotel for afternoon tea on March 21 to indulge on macarons, scones and cucumber sandwiches. Keep in mind that reservations are a must.
Where To Stay: Not to be outdone by The Pfister’s finesse in the kitchen, the rest of the Milwaukee treasure is equally as impressive—especially the Well Spa + Salon, a downtown respite that features private suites and Turkish baths.
Spokane, Wash., March 20 and 22
What To Do: If you think all the flopping and whining during the games is Tony Award-worthy, you have to check out Left Overs, a 24-hour event at Spokane’s Stage Left Theater on March 21 comprised of six productions highlighting local thespians.
Where To Stay: The 1,800-plus slot machines and 37 table games are what may draw you to Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Northern Quest Resort & Casino, but it’ll be the ultra plush beds, spa-influenced bathrooms and 42-inch flat-screen TVs that insist upon you staying a couple of nights.
Orlando, Fla., March 20 and 22
What To Do: Just because you’re in Orlando for hoops does not mean you can’t cheat with a little baseball. The World Series-contending Atlanta Braves have Spring Training home games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Disney World on March 21 and 22 versus the Detroit Tigers and defending champion Boston Red Sox.
Where To Stay: Keeping with the sports theme, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Villas of Grand Cypress provides 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf for you to experience in between NCAA Tournament sessions.
Raleigh, N.C., March 21 and 23
What To Do: Both the Duke University men’s and women’s basketball teams are expected to do well this postseason. For a glimpse at the huge high-tops they have to fill, make your way to Durham to visit the Duke Basketball Museum & Sports Hall of Fame that’s filled with jerseys, trophies and even a simulator that imitates Cameron Indoor Stadium’s ear-splitting noise.
Where To Stay: While just a five-minute drive from PNC Arena, Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Umstead Hotel and Spa feels a world away—and that’s mostly because of smartly appointed rooms, Herons’ Five-Star dining and a Four-Star spa.
San Diego, March 21 and 23
What To Do: Tigers, Cardinals and Bulldogs may be running wild on the courts during the NCAA Tournament, but for a glimpse at the real things, the San Diego Zoo’s Inside Look Tour (a two-hour, behind-the-scenes adventure) is not to be missed.
Where To Stay: The Lodge at Torrey Pines is a spectacular Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star resort that consistently wins over guests with its magical vistas, incomparable golf (Torrey Pines Golf Course hosted the 2008 U.S. Open) and warm accommodations.
St. Louis, March 21 and 23
What To Do: To commemorate St. Louis’ 250th birthday in proper fashion, the Missouri History Museum is presenting the yearlong exhibit 250 in 250, a compilation of snapshots and stories from 50 people, 50 places, 50 images, 50 moments and 50 objects that helped shape the city.
Where To Stay: There are very few scenes of the Gateway City more stunning than the panoramic downtown view you get from the outdoor pool area at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis. And if you want to up the ante on the backdrop, request a south-facing room for a glimpse of the famed Gateway Arch.
San Antonio, March 21 and 23
What To Do: In the event watching all of the young men hustling on the court for 40 minutes inspires you to think about your health, Culinaria’s 5K Wine and Beer Run on March 22 could further stimulate. And if a healthier body wasn’t motivation enough, all of the libations waiting at the finish line just might be.
Where To Stay: Situated alongside the famed Riverwalk, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Mokara Hotel & Spa dazzles with its prime location—the hotel is also less than four miles from the AT&T Center—almost as much as it does with its luxurious take on hospitality.
Memphis, Tenn., March 27 and 29
What To Do: March 28’s Battle of the Birds is the long-anticipated duel on the diamond between the defending National League champion St. Louis Cardinals and their Triple-A affiliate Memphis Redbirds at AutoZone Park, which sits less than four blocks from the FedExForum’s NCAA fun.
Where To Stay: Speaking of fowl, the legendary duck march at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Peabody Memphis is but one of the numerous feathers (15 classically designed suites are certainly another) in the hotel’s cap.
Anaheim, Calif., March 27 and 29
What To Do: While you might think your star player has good interior moves, you haven’t seen a thing until you’ve witnessed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in all its glory. The stellar troupe will perform at Segerstrom Center for the Arts (about 15 minutes from the hoops excitement at the Honda Center) March 27 to 30.
Where To Stay: If the dancers’ maneuvers aren’t enough to whisk you away to a magical world, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa certainly will. Instead of Mickey and Minnie splashed all over the place, though, the décor here calls for exposed rafters and meticulously manicured lawns.
Indianapolis, March 28 and 30
What To Do: For those wondering how the collegiate talent compares to the NBA variety, you can make your own assessments on March 31, when two of pro basketball’s best teams, the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs, battle in the same venue, Lucas Oil Stadium, the college kids did the nights before.
Where To Stay: The Canterbury Hotel is a downtown property that not only offers 99 European-inspired rooms and suites, but it also provides its own convenient entrance to the basketball venue as well.
New York City, March 28 and 30
What To Do: The lads from Liverpool take over the Big Apple by way of a tribute Beatles Brunch at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill (March 29) and a comprehensive exhibition called Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles! at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (through May 10).
Where To Stay: Though location is a big sell for The Chatwal, A Luxury Collection Hotel (a mere 15-minute walk to Madison Square Garden’s b-ball action), we’re equally as enamored by the 1930s Empire Art Deco style and profound culinary experiences at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Lambs Club.
Arlington, Texas, April 5 and 7
What To Do: There will be plenty of drama on the hardwood over Final Four weekend, but in the off chance you don’t have your fill of heart-pounding moments, the eighth annual Dallas International Film Festival (April 3 to 13) will supply all the suspense, laughs and panel discussions you can handle.
Where To Stay: While about 25 minutes from the courts at AT&T Stadium, alluring Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Joule proves worth the extra mileage because of its Adam D. Tihany design touches and Texas’ first ESPA-branded spa.
Photos Courtesy of iStock and Jeramey Jannene