The last 4 teams in contention for the Super Bowl in the NFL are playing today, so I’ll take the opportunity to introduce you to the 4 American cities in question. I also share my impressions based on my visits in 3 of the 4 cities. As I have visited 47 states, I have a pretty good knowledge of the United States as a destination.
It’s such a diverse country, and there are so many interesting cities. Many places have nothing to envy to the 66 other countries I have been to, except for the culture shock of course.
Spending weekends in North American cities is one of the easiest ways to travel more for people who believe (wrongly) that it’s time they lack to travel more, and not money.
Here’s a primer on the 4 cities that hope to see their team make it to the Super Bowl.
San Francisco vs. Philadelphia
In terms of football, the 49ers visit the Eagles at 3 PM (Eastern). Hard not to root for a rookie quarterback who could be the first ever to go to the Super Bowl!
In terms of travel, it’s really tight, but I think I have to pick San Francisco too, just because it’s more unique as a city!
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is an iconic city on the Pacific Ocean, at the end of a peninsula (the city is surrounded by water on 3 sides). It is one of the most popular cities in the country, and has long been the most important city in the American West!
The 13th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. (but the 5th when the nearby San Jose metropolitan area is included; the 49ers stadium happens to be there, it’s really close), the greater San Francisco Bay Area is the hub of Northern California.
San Francisco is very different from Los Angeles (more populated) in the southern part of California, the most populated state. San Francisco and nearby Silicon Valley are known as the center of the tech universe and one of the wealthiest cities in the United States.
The city apparently experiences several quality-of-life issues, but I really enjoyed the experience during my solo visit for a few days in 2017.
It is a very compact city that is easy to explore on foot. In fact, of the major American cities, it’s the 2nd most dense after New York. You can always use their streetcars, they’re an SF classic.
One of my highlights was to go see the famous Coit Tower in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood. The tower itself is classified as a National Historic Landmark of the United States, but it’s mostly that it’s overlooking the city and offers a great 360 degrees view.
On one side you can see the famous Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge (or you can just see the base of the bridge towers because of the very common fog).
On the other side, you see the Bay Bridge from the picture above and the whole downtown area with its impressive skyline.
Finally, you see the whole main part of the city with its hills as far as the eye can see.
As an architecture fan, San Francisco is a very cool city.
The Painted Ladies of Alamo Square are probably some of the most famous small buildings in the world.
The city is obviously known for its hills, and Lombard Street is the most extreme example, with a descent in numerous curves.
Basically every street has some level of incline.
The city was the heart of the 1960s hippie/counterculture movement, especially the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.
Pier 39 is another iconic spot in the city, with its many sea lions.
The oldest Chinatown in the Americas is located in San Francisco. The first Chinese immigrants came in part for the California gold rush.
It’s where the name of the 49ers team comes from by the way: 1849 was the peak year of the rush.
As for the San Francisco food scene, this Asian influence made me very happy. But the city is also known for many seafood specialties because of its location, which isn’t my thing personally. San Francisco also has Ghirardelli chocolate, that’s definitely my thing.
Of course, San Francisco is a big city and some places look like any other big city, but there is still something really unique.
There’s enough to keep you busy for quite a few days, but many also like to combine a visit to SF with a roadtrip, depending on the time available. The road from San Francisco to Los Angeles along the coast is one of the most famous roadtrips, but the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1) continues north too!
If you have more time, my roadtrip from Crescent City (the northernmost city on the California coast) to northern Oregon, to drive along the entire sublime coast, was one of my favorite roadtrips ever.
But then, in the case of my trip to San Francisco, I got a 1-day car rental because I try to do that as often as possible, to at least see something other than a city, even if it’s not too far. To see the surroundings. I drove around Silicon Valley, since I had never been there.
It’s one of the few times I drove and looked down on the clouds, or almost.
Philadelphia is one of the most historic cities in the United States, located in the northeast about halfway between the largest city (New York) and the capital (Washington, DC). It is the city where the United States was born!
The 7th largest metropolitan area in the US, Philadelphia is also very cool. Definitely a great destination for a long weekend, or in combination with the 2 cities I just mentioned, which are just 2 hours away!
Philadelphia definitely has its own distinct culture from these 2 cities, perhaps a bit more like Boston because of the well-preserved historic element. It’s huge, with the same population as the greater Toronto area, so there are obviously a ton of urban attractions for all tastes!
The 3 tallest towers in Philadelphia are in the top 10 outside of NYC and Chicago (which dominate the ranking) in the US.
I went once with my girlfriend in 2016 and once solo in 2019 and enjoyed it both times.
I love the history, and it’s everywhere in Philly.
The famous Liberty Bell across from Independence Hall is a popular attraction obviously. This whole area here is great.
It would make sense to think that the Eagles’ team name came from this. The eagle is the symbol of America’s patriotism. The United States was born in Philadelphia! But the name comes from the symbol on one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal acts, legislation that the team’s owners really liked!
The City of Brotherly Love is a great place to just walk around and take in everything it has to offer.
You can go see the steps from the Rocky movie, but I also recommend checking out City Hall, a majestic building.
There are quite a few beautiful buildings from the 1800s.
As for the Philadelphia food scene, if you like Philly cheesesteaks, needless to say, the best ones are there!
I didn’t go to any sports games when I visited, but the city is known for its passionate and intense fans. All 4 professional teams play in the same sea of parking lots just south of downtown, with subway access, so it’s easy to get to.
Aside from the other metropolises, world-famous Atlantic City is an hour and a half away from Philly on the coast (and you can get there by train or bus for just US$20 roundtrip if you don’t want to get a rental car).
Cincinnati vs. Kansas City
In terms of football, the Bengals visit the Chiefs at 6:30 PM (Eastern). I’ve been collaborating with Louisiana State University’s entrepreneurship department in my spare time for the past few years, so I have to root for Cincinnati and their quarterback who led LSU to the national championship in 2020.
In terms of travel, I really loved the city of Cincinnati but it wins a bit by default, considering I never got to visit Kansas City even though I’ve been to dozens and dozens of American cities.
Cincinnati is actually considered the 1st typically American city, in the sense that those on the east coast were founded by European settlers while Cincinnati was the 1st to be founded further inland by the generation that was truly born in the US with less purely European influence.
The 30th largest metropolitan area in the United States, Cincinnati is located in the southern part of the state of Ohio, on the border with Kentucky. It’s at the crossroads of midwestern, southern, and even eastern influences. And initially, it was the gateway to the west as well in the early days.
The city is hardly ever one that people think to visit, but I was invited to a convention there and stayed longer. I was quite honestly really pleasantly surprised by the vibrancy of downtown.
Usually just walking around on my own like a grown-up is my way of discovering a city, but the convention offered us a free Segway tour (that forced us to wear yellow helmets and vests). It was the first time I’d ever tried a Segway, it’s something very strange. We got to go on the famous Cincinnati bridges.
Cincinnati was developed with much less European influence than the eastern cities, but there was still some. And it was mostly German in the case of the Queen City.
You can see that easily in the name of one of the coolest neighborhoods, Over-the-Rhine. It was very lively.
Where there is a German influence, there is a strong microbrewery scene.
The city was once dubbed “the Paris of America” because of its emphasis on architecture and beauty.
I was able to go to the Reds baseball stadium for the convention kickoff party. Even though baseball is far from a sport I personally enjoy, being able to explore a stadium like that was interesting.
The football stadium is right next door also on the Ohio Riverfront.
I was able to see it from the outside but also from above, since at the time I was working for a large international consulting firm that has offices all over the place, so I was able to go to work from there to extend my stay.
I’m tired of seeing all the zoos in the cities I visit with my girlfriend who is a huge animal fan, so I didn’t go to the Cincinnati Zoo, one of the most famous in the world (the site of the tragic death of Harambe the gorilla).
The zoo had a rare white Bengal tiger, but that’s not where the name Bengals comes from by the way. The name was originally inspired by an oven brand, Bengal Stove. That doesn’t make for such a cool story. Imagine the Toronto Frigidaires…
As for the Cincinnati food scene, the city is known for Cincinnati Chili (from Skyline or Gold Star if you want the classics) but I apparently have ADD, which explains my aversion to certain textures, and this particular food was not for me at all.
I also went on a roadtrip to Kentucky, which allowed me to go to a college football game in Louisville (their quarterback Lamar Jackson, another promising young NFL quarterback, won the Heisman Trophy for best player that season) but also to visit the impressive Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest cave system in the world.
And while in Kentucky, might as well check out how they make bourbon! It’s their most famous export, except maybe for fried chicken known as KFC in every part of the world except where I’m from (where the government protects us from English acronyms).
So I went to the Jim Beam plant in Clermont (it’s less than 2 hours from Cincinnati) and also returned to the awesome city of Nashville, which is just 2 more hours away!
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City is right in the middle of the country, in fact, it’s the closest major city to the geographic center of the continental United States (its 3-letter airport code is inspired by the term Mid-Continent). One of the city’s nicknames is Heart of America.
The 31st largest metropolitan area in the U.S., many mistakenly think that the city is located in the state of Kansas (a logical assumption, I admit). It’s actually on the Kansas border, but on the other side!
Even without having been there, I’m sure the stereotype of the boring Midwestern city is inappropriate, as are most stereotypes and prejudices for that matter. In fact, my visit to Omaha, another plains city just a little north of here, confirmed this (it was a really nice city). That roadtrip took me to St. Joseph, Missouri, less than an hour from KC, but it was already a very long one and we couldn’t go further.
Kansas City is probably even less visited than Cincinnati, but after 67 countries, there is still not a single place I regretted having been to! There is always something to see everywhere, it’s just a matter of staying the appropriate amount of time everywhere!
Coincidence: like Cincinnati, Kansas City also has a nickname related to Paris. It’s Paris of the Plains, because of the big boulevards this time. In fact, it’s one of the cities with the highest number of large landscaped boulevards in the world! And it has lots of parks and greenery.
The city has another nickname, City of Fountains. It has a lot of fountains.
In fact, the fountains at the baseball stadium, located right across from the football stadium, are the largest private fountains in the world. For some strange reason, soccer is super popular there particularly (it’s by far the smallest city in the 16 cities in North America that will host 2026 World Cup matches).
By the way, the Chiefs’ team name and its controversial native connotation come from the man who was the mayor of Kansas City when the team moved from Dallas. His nickname was “chief,” and he apparently enjoyed impersonating Native American culture.
As for the Kansas City food scene, I know I would love the famous Kansas City barbecue, as a big fan of meat and barbecue specifically.
In terms of interesting roadtrips nearby, it’s sure hard not to be pessimistic. The city is still surrounded by the flattest possible plains. But there is the Ozarks region and its natural beauty 2 hours away (from the eponymous Netflix series) and also, the city of St. Louis is a 3-hour drive (I enjoyed St. Louis many many years ago).
Want to get more content to discover awesome destinations?
There are a lot of very interesting places to discover without having to go very far and therefore without having to take a full week off, which allows you to travel more! In addition to this preview of the 4 remaining cities in the NFL, I’m going to share with you a lot more content about my many travels around the world, including the United States of course.
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Featured image: Montage of the 4 cities (photo credit: Flytrippers)