MARCH MADNESS is upon us. For those who don’t follow college b-ball or live on earth, the term describes the adrenaline-fueled excitement of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, which runs from March 14 to April 3 and the NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament that goes from March 15 to April 2.
Arguably the single biggest show in sports, March Madness trounces the Super Bowl by virtue of being played over multiple nights. And with its huge fan base, multitudes tune in. Basketball purists love college games for the passionate young players and the David-versus-Goliath upsets that open a floodgate of cheers and tears.
The last weekends draw visitors to the final playoff cities (this year in Las Vegas, Kansas City, Mo., New York, Louisville, Ky., Houston and Dallas) that go all out, catering to locals and visitors with sports-themed festivals, museums and menus.
Tickets for the games sell out well in advance but are often available (for a price) on the resale market; last-minute tickets arise as fans of defeated teams morosely head home.
The Game: T-Mobile Arena, Western regional, March 23 & 25
Slam-Dunk Diversions: Forgo online betting via Fan Duel and Draft Kings. Instead, join the excitable crowds at one of the many Vegas bricks-and-mortar sportsbook venues and yell your head off during March Madness. Our tip: Grab a ticket for the Hoops & Hops viewing experience at the hip Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’s Belmont Ballroom.
And One: The new downtown Circa Resort & Casino Las Vegas boasts the world’s largest sports book with a 180-ft, 78-million-pixel screen that can show 19 games at a time. Plunge in at its outdoor Stadium Swim, which accommodates up to 4,000 wet and wild wagerers.
Chow Choices: Take a break from the ballers and slip into dressy attire for dinner at one of the 21 eateries at the Wynn Las Vegas. Choose from classic joints such as Sinatra, its menu featuring osso buco, or Mizumi, where you can gaze at its Japanese garden with its koi pond and 90-ft waterfall while consuming ocean-fresh sushi.
Score! Head home with a sporty bespoke jacket from menswear boutique Stitched, a favorite of dapper athletes.
The Game: Madison Square Garden, Eastern regional, March 23 & 25
Slam-Dunk Diversions: Since the city last hosted a regional final in 2017, the Midtown West neighborhood around the Garden has changed: Hudson Yards is a short walk away with the Edge, an outdoor sky deck, and Mercado Little Spain, José Andrés’’ food market that’s jammin’ with jamón.
And One: Pay a visit to one of the legendary street courts in the city and, depending on the weather, see a pickup game at Harlem’s Rucker Park or “The Cage” at West 4th St., in Greenwich Village.
Chow Choices: Before there was basketball there was Keens Steakhouse, which opened in 1885. An 8-minute trot from the arena, it’s known for its slabs of mutton and big Cabs. Also nearby: Irish gastropub Mustang Harry’s, a lively place to whoop it up.
Score! Footloose and fancy-pants: The downtown store of online sneaker mother ship Flight Club stocks thousands of cool and colorful pairs to bounce in.
The Game: T-Mobile Center, Midwest regional, March 24 & 26
Slam-Dunk Diversion: Local sports fans just celebrated a Super Bowl win by the hometown Kansas City Chiefs, but b-ball gets props too at the College Basketball Experience, the nation’s singular museum devoted to the collegiate game. Bone up on legendary players and coaches or attempt a ‘beat-the-clock’ shot on the interactive court.
And One: Take a tour at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Missouri’s historic 18th & Vine Jazz District.
Chow Choices: KC is a ‘cue town, so burnt ends are a must-try at Jack Stack Barbecue or the new Harp Barbecue. Or go big at Corvino Supper Club and Tasting Room with the chef’s ten-course seating.
Score! A jar of the killer Night of the Living BBQ Sauce ($6.49) is worth the ten-minute drive to former-gas-station Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que.
The Game: KFC Yum! Center, Southern regional, March 24 & 26
Slam-Dunk Diversions: Calling all superfans: KFC Yum! Center in Kentucky is America’s largest-capacity stadium, built primarily for college basketball play. This downtown arena, next to the Ohio River waterfront, has been a cornerstone of the city’s successful urban renewal. Must-sees within walking distance include the distillery tours behind the meticulously restored iron-front facades on Whiskey Row. The local sandwich is the “hot brown,” a slab of roast turkey drenched in Mornay sauce, still served at the Brown Hotel, the institution that created it.
And One: Nearby the arena stands the Muhammad Ali Center, which explores the boxer’s superlative career, civil rights activism and Muslim faith.
Chow Choice: Upscale Porcini in the historic Crescent Hill neighborhood has pleased fans with its Northern Italian dishes for 30 years. Ask for its special anniversary “throw-back” menu that celebrates the restaurant’s all-time favorites.
Score! Essential reading for basketball fanatics: “I Said Bang!: A History of The Dirt Bowl, the Crown Jewel of the Most Basketball-Obsessed City in America,” tells the story of how an annual summer tournament helped build a community.
The Game: NRG Stadium, Final Four, April 1 & 3
Slam-Dunk Diversion: Parking lots the size of Texas maroon the NRG Stadium, so jump in your car and join the fun at the official NCAA Fan Fest, a 20-minute drive away at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Its Discovery Green will host free open-air concerts throughout the Final Four weekend.
And One: Indulge your love of the NBA—or baseball, for that matter—while in this sports-loving town. The hot NBA ticket? Houston Rockets versus the Los Angeles Lakers on April 2 at the Toyota Center. Or catch World Series baseball champs, the Houston Astros, when their season opens on March 30.
Chow Choice: Classic bro steakhouse Pappas Bros., stands out as a premier wine spot in a burgeoning wine town. Go big—11 pages of its encyclopedic wine list are dedicated to magnum-sized and up bottles.
Score! Sneakerheads swear by A Ma Maniére, a hip shop that has a collaboration with Air Jordan on an exclusive line.
PLUS, DON’T MISS: Dallas
The Game: American Airlines Arena, Final Four, NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament, March 31 & April 2
Slam Dunk Diversion: Expand your playing field: All three NCAA women’s divisions will be having their championships in Dallas on the same weekend, a team-up happening for only the second time in the event’s 41 year history. The Division II and Division III games hold the court on April 1, also at the American Airlines Center.
And One: Title IX turns 50 this year. Celebrate female athletes at the Tourney Town fan festival, or at the “bounce,” where thousands of kids dribble from City Hall to Tourney Town. An NCAA Title IX 50th Anniversary Showcase exhibition in the AT&T Discovery District displays trophies, videos, uniforms and other memorabilia from women’s college athletics programs.
Chow Choices: Dine like a WNBA star at Monarch, a modern Italian restaurant opened in 2021 on the 49th floor of a redeveloped 1960s skyscraper, serving wood-oven-roasted tiger prawns, Texas Wagyu carpaccio, caviar service, or a Japanese A5 kagoshima filet for $220. The Monarch Old Fashioned cocktail with Michter’s 10 year rye for $200 raises quite a glass to women in sports.
Score! Give your sneakers a rest with cowboy boots from Wild Bill’s Western store, a 50-year-old institution founded by the son of a leather-tooler.