Musing on Pac-12 venues (still)

  Stumbled across a post on Twitter the other day that caught my eye and inspired more social-media talk: A rating by a media panel commissioned by Athlon Magazine on the best college towns in the Pac-12.

  Only today did I realize that the poll was taken six years ago. Which seems to suggest the news cycle may be longer than we think.

  Anyway, Athlon’s panel put Boulder at No. 1, and poor Pullman was relegated to the cellar. Eugene took sixth and Corvallis 10th, one spot ahead of Pullman (Los Angeles was one entry, taking third, with Seattle second).

  So, I’ll take the bait and offer some thoughts on a conference with unparalleled diversity in geography, population and cuisine. But first, it’s paramount to say that the terms here have to be defined. As in: Are we talking about places to attend school, places to visit, or places to live? The answers will vary. It’s like asking people what the most interesting event is at a track meet. I can’t see myself living in Tucson (No. 8), but it’s a damn fine place to be on a basketball road trip when you’ve had 93 days in a row of gray and gloom in the Northwest.

  I’m going to focus on Pac-12 venues as places to visit. But I can’t bring myself to rank them. I will, however, draw upon some elements I mentioned in a 2011 Seattle Times “road trip” piece when Utah and Colorado were joining the conference. (Can it really be 10 years ago?)

  Salt Lake City – It’s not exactly the definition of vibrant, yet still, I think somewhat underrated. I must admit, I struggle with their street-directional system, as in “300 West Fourth North.” And those streets are wider than Delaware. Park City – a cool, village-like enclave hard by that ski resort – is nearby, as are Snowbird and Alta.

  Boulder – Hard to top it. You can hike the Rockies, and the bar-and-restaurant scene on the Pearl Street Mall is lively. Colorado was an afterthought when the Pac-10 expanded in 2010, but Larry Scott got this one right. Maybe he should have quit while he was ahead.

  Tucson – I’m not a big fan. I wouldn’t call it soulless, but it’s on the outskirts of it. The authentic Mexican food is plentiful. You can discover nearby Sabino Canyon or hike, bike or run at Saguaro National Park East, 17 miles from town.

  Tempe – It has a definite party vibe, especially on renowned Mill Avenue. The weather – outside of summer – is wonderful. But any real college feel seems swallowed up in Phoenix’s No. 5 national population. All those reservations tend to get dwarfed when your eyes have been watering and nose running for months on Northwest winter dog-walks.

  Los Angeles – Where to begin? The traffic is miserable, but the sun shines and LA has a little of everything – beaches, the Getty museum, restaurants, clubs, the Griffith Observatory northwest of downtown. You know, College Town, USA.

  Palo Alto – People have described the campus as anything from spectacular to picturesque, but I’d call it sprawling, not anything evocative of a college town. What it is, is a great place to bike. For a long time, I didn’t realize there was such a thing as downtown Palo Alto, but have found that to be worthwhile. I don’t know if a lot of visitors ever target the place, as in, “I’m going to check out Palo Alto.” When the Hyatt Rickey’s closed in 2005 – best Pac-12/10/8 road hotel ever — the world just wasn’t the same.

  Berkeley – Good luck finding parking. If you do, you’ll happen upon its uber-liberal ethos and range of intriguing shops and eateries. Go up into the Berkeley Hills and you’ll find the topography interesting, including vistas of San Francisco to the west. The stately Claremont Hotel near the Oakland city line should be a bucket-list item.

  Eugene – Have to admit, I did a double-take a few years ago when I heard Chris Childers of Sirius Radio describe Eugene as “a dump.” And when my old haunt polled only sixth in the Athlon voting, I had to step back and reassess my old vision of the place as a leafy, liberal oasis with great bars and some good restaurants. They killed downtown in the early ‘70s when they turned it into a pedestrian shopping mall (reversing course in 2001). But you can still run on Pre’s Trail, hike Spencer Butte and explore Skinner Butte park.

  Corvallis – I have to watch my step here, having some serious OSU connections on the other side of the family. Corvallis has evolved from a seriously conservative vibe a few decades ago to a seemingly more expansive worldview. Downtown development along the Willamette River has been a boon. Next to Pullman, it has the most collegiate feel of any place in the league. For those with an outdoor jones, there’s McDonald Research Forest north of town with its massive web of roads and trails.

  Seattle – If I were a Pac-12 fan from elsewhere, I’d probably prize a visit to Seattle, notwithstanding its traffic hell and perpetual drip. People rave about the experience of grabbing a charter boat to a football game, and you can eat and drink well here. There are lots of funky neighborhoods, tourista destinations in the Pike Place Market and Space Needle, and ferry excursions are always an option.

  Pullman – At the other end of the spectrum, if I were a Pac-12 fan from elsewhere, I might covet a trip to Pullman, simply for the fact it’s so different from just about anywhere else on the list — as long as you’re prepared to drive a while. The campus is cozy and fetching, the football stadium is virtually in the middle of campus, people are welcoming and there seem to be bars enough to service the student population and the city. True story: Back in the day, when Playboy Magazine’s football All-American team was a thing, the brains behind it was a fellow named Anson Mount. For some reason, as an undergrad, I sat down and typed out a letter to Anson Mount, asking if it was true that Playboy had once named WSU the No. 1 party school in the country. He wrote back to the effect that if he had a buck for every college boy who had written him asking that question, he’d be on a beach in Bali instead of penning a response to my question. Still, I’m guessing you can find a party there if you’re looking for one.