Follow Mizzou football on trips to three SEC towns

2012-01-22T06:00:00Z 2012-03-02T00:38:10Z Follow Mizzou football on trips to three SEC townsBY AMY BERTRAND • abertrand@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8284 stltoday.com

Missouri football fans aren't exactly known for traveling en masse with their team. But that may change now that the school has joined the Southeastern Conference.

MU fans now have a chance to visit such storied stadiums as Tennessee's Neyland, one of the largest in the country, to plan a family trip around a game in Gainesville, Fla., or to explore the Columbia, S.C., back country with a river adventure. Though hotel rooms are filling fast at home and away, fans still have time to book a trip.

We did a little digging into the three new towns MU will visit. Here are some options for where to stay, what to eat and what to do while you are in town.

SOUTH CAROLINA (SEPT. 22)

MU's first visit to an SEC school will be to another Columbia, this one in the river country of South Carolina. Get there a day early to explore those rivers by canoe or kayak. Lake Murray, located in nearby Lexington County, has boat and Jet Ski rentals available at several marinas. Or try one of the city's museums: the EdVenture Children's Museum, the Columbia Museum of Art, the South Carolina State Museum or the No. 1 attraction in the state of South Carolina, Riverbank Zoo and Gardens (columbiacvb.com).

Kim Jamieson, of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism, suggests Pawley's Front Porch (pawleys5pts.com) or Rockaway Athletic Club (1-803-256-1075) for some of the best burgers in town. Or try Doc's BBQ (docsbarbeque.com), not far from the Williams-Brice Stadium, for fried green beans. Pearlz Oyster Bar (pearlzoysterbar.com) is known for good beer and good oysters.

We found a couple of hotels near the stadium worth a look. The Hampton Inn Columbia-Downtown Historic District has rooms for $239 a night, and the Hilton Columbia Center has rooms for $279 a night; both require a two-night stay (hamptoninn.hilton.com). We found rooms from $134 at the Clarion Hotel on Gervais Street (clarionhotel.com).

FLORIDA (NOV. 3)

Visitors to Gainesville, in northern Florida, are going to want to take in the region's famed wildlife. Paynes Prairie offers glimpses of gators, bison and horses. It is a state park, about 15 minutes outside of town, and has trails that are perfect for walking in November (floridastateparks.org/paynesprairie). The Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History is the world's largest center for the study of butterflies and moths (flmnh.ufl.edu/butterflies).

Anna Mikell of Visit Gainesville says hotel rooms are still available all over town, but most properties have a two-night minimum. The Comfort Inn West (soon to be Comfort Inn University; gainesvillecomfort.com) has a rate of $219 per night. The Cabot Lodge's rate is $239 (cabotlodgegainesville.com), and it hosts a complimentary cocktail hour each night.

For a bite to eat, Mikell recommends Satchel's Pizza, which is an attraction in and of itself. "You can eat in a Ford van and check out the junk store Lightnin' Salvage while you wait for your table." The restaurant takes cash only, but it has an ATM and donates all of the ATM fees to local charities (www.visitgainesville.com/food-drinks/satchels-pizza/).

TENNESSEE (NOV. 10)

The closest of the destinations is Knoxville, about 480 miles from St. Louis. Arrive a couple of days before the game and take in the Vol Navy: 200 boats of all shapes and sizes make up this floating tailgate party on the river approaching Neyland Stadium.

Kim Davis of Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corp. suggests visiting Volunteer Village a few hours before the game. You'll find activities for adults and children, including live entertainment, inflatables and appearances by the school's mascot, cheerleaders and band.

While in Knoxville, you may also want to visit the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains, Knoxville's Market Square or the Knoxville Zoo (knoxville.org).

For dining, Davis recommends the ribs from Calhoun's on the River (coppercellar.com). This local favorite also serves Southern-fried catfish, grilled steaks, chicken and seafood. "The restaurant is the perfect spot to enjoy views of the Vol Navy on University of Tennessee football home game days," Davis said. For food with global flair, she suggests dinner at Cafe 4 in the hip Market Square (cafe4ms.com).

For places to stay, check out the Maplehurst Inn (1-865-851-8383), which includes a free buffet breakfast, free parking within walking distance of campus and free Wi-Fi for $225 a night, if you mention this article. The Econolodge Inn & Suites East (1-865-932-1217) is offering a 20 percent discount for game weekends. Rooms start around $85.

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