What to Know If You're in NOLA for the College Football Championship

In many ways, it may not matter whether you’re pulling for Clemson or LSU in the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship in New Orleans this year. While they may all be tigers, the big game is essentially in hometown territory for the Bayou Bengals, so visitors can expect to see a busy French Quarter awash in purple and gold. But don’t let that stop you: In a city known for its hospitality, you can still expect great service and good eats, even if you couldn’t identify coach Ed Orgeron’s mama out of a photo lineup.

Regardless of who your team is on the gridiron, the Mercedes Benz Superdome is hallowed ground for football fans. One of the oldest professional fields in the United States, the Dome has hosted its fair share of big games, including the controversial 2013 Super Bowl when the lights went out, and the previous year's infamous BCS National Championship, which saw a brutal (for the Tigers) matchup between the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU. You can expect Joe Burrow and company to return with a vengeance. 

History aside, however, visitors will be smart to do one thing when visiting the Superdome: Eat before you go. Despite being embedded in one of the most vibrant food cities in America, you won’t want to get caught hungry inside the Superdome. Get all the dining details you’ll need, plus additional tips and tricks to make the most of your weekend in New Orleans.

When’s the game? 

The 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship is scheduled for 7pm CT on Sunday, January 13. Taking home the trophy will be the better of South Carolina’s Clemson University and LSU, which finds its home just 90 minutes away in Baton Rouge.

Where are they playing?

The battle for the National Championship will take place inside the Mercedes Benz Superdome, which is perched on the edge of downtown New Orleans. That makes it walking-distance from the Central Business District and most French Quarter hotels. If you’re not up for that, expect to see plenty of pedicabs, which might be the best option for those looking to avoid getting stuck in gridlocked city streets.

What’s up with the airport?

If you haven’t flown into New Orleans lately, then you might notice things look a little fancier when your plane touches down just outside the city. The brand-spanking-new airport came into service in the fall of 2019, and it’s been offering sweeping views and upgraded dining options to travelers coming and going ever since. You should note that the new terminal is a few minutes farther down Interstate 10 away from the city than the old one, and the highway interchange to service it hasn’t yet been constructed, so plan both trips to take a little longer than you’ve previously experienced. 

One perk, however, is the upgraded dining options. For the first time, the New Orleans airport has names you’ll recognize like Starbucks and ShakeShack, and others that New Orleanians will recognize like MoPho, Brocato’s, and Cure. So if you end up having some time to burn, know your appetite, at least, will be in good hands.

Clemson University
Clemson University

What should I wear? 

Obviously, you’ll want to show your team colors, but don’t be afraid to get a little wild. New Orleans is home to some of the best costuming in the world, thanks to the practice it gets during Mardi Gras. Whatever outfit you’re thinking would be a little crazy, double it, then add glitter. (Just remember, like other NFL stadiums, the Mercedes Benz Superdome has bag restrictions.)

What other National Championship events are happening?

Media Day
January 11
Head to Xavier University’s Convocation Center in Mid-City to see the media frenzy that comes with college football’s biggest game. Watch as sports journalists interview student-athletes and coaches ahead of their match-up. Everything starts at 8:30am.
Cost: Free

Playoff Fan Central
January 11-13
The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on the edge of the Mississippi River in the Central Business District will be home to pep rallies, special appearances, family-friendly games, and activities and exhibits dedicated to college football history.
Cost: $8-$10

Allstate Championship Tailgate Plaza
January 11-13
It’s not college football without tailgating. And it’s not the National Championship without a pretty epic pregame show. Head into the Jax Brewery parking lot at the bottom of the French Quarter barbecuing, a zip-line, and other activities. Make sure you’re there the afternoon of January 13 when Tim McGraw and Judah and the Lion turn in a free outdoor performance. Gates open that day at noon. 
Cost: Free

AT&T Playoff Playlist
January 11-12
Need more music? Then get yourself to Woldenberg Park for live performances from H.E.R., Nas, and MAX on day one, then return the next day to see Megan Trainor, Bastille, and New Orleans’ own Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. 
Cost: Free

Extra Yard 5K
January 12
Most use a visit to New Orleans as an opportunity to expand their waistlines a bit, but get a jumpstart on those New Year’s resolutions to keep things tight by lacing up for a 5K run. And don’t worry about a hilly course: The Crescent City is notoriously flat. Register in advance. 
Cost: $35 until January 11; price increases after that

Will it be Mardi Gras? 

Well, sort of. Carnival officially kicks off January 6 with a few parades, but it’ll be some weeks before anything else gets rolling through the streets. You’ll likely see an extra bit of purple, green, and gold ribbons as you explore the city, but you’ll have to come back in February to really see the city’s Carnival fever heat up.

Where can I tailgate? 

Head to the parking lots around Poydras Street and Loyola Avenue to find the unofficial parties from fans looking to hang out before the big game. People-watching is encouraged, which is made all the more doable because open adult beverage containers are legal in New Orleans: Just ask for a go-cup when you leave a bar or restaurant. 

Where should I eat and drink?

Happily, you have found yourself in one of the best cities in the world to either sidle up to a bar or tuck into an amazing meal. We’ve got lists to help you navigate the city’s menus, but these are the best spots in the immediate vicinity of Mercedes Benz Superdome.

The Company Burger
A classic burger joint with a healthy selection of local beers on tap, this place is stumbling distance from the Dome. Stop in for some pre-game brews and a signature burger draped in gooey American cheese. Don’t forget to make a pit stop at the mayo bar.

For those looking for something a little more culinary adventure, step in here for Michael Gulotta’s take on southeast Asian cuisine with a New Orleans flair. While the hot wings and steam buns make it a perfectly reasonable pregame happy hour option, you’d also do well to stop by for the dim-sum branch between 11am and 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Pythian Market
If you’ve got a big crowd, head to this food hall for a taste of everything from poke bowls to banh mi sandwiches and perfect falafel. Grab a drink at the bar while you wait for everyone’s food to arrive, and watch the crowds heading to the game from the big windows facing Loyola Avenue.

Bar Marilou
Bar Marilou | Courtesy of Stephen Kent Johnson

Bar Marilou
Get away from the big crowds, fold yourself into a velvet chair, and grab a classic cocktail from this nifty little bar in the bottom of the Atelier Ace’s Maison de la Luz. Here, you’ll get table service, a little live music, and the chance to snack on the caviar-topped pommes Marilou.

The Rusty Nail
Lots of TVs, a massive courtyard, and local beers on tap: What more do you need while you wait for your friends lucky enough to score tickets? Maybe a $6 mule? Their selection of six -- from Moscow to Kentucky -- are discounted all day on Mondays. 

The Baton Rouge-born chain of sports bars has an outpost on Poydras Street, just a few blocks down from the Dome. Head here early to post up in a booth for the long haul; you can expect crowds here all day. 

If you want to get away from the downtown crowd -- it’s about 2 miles from the Dome, which is about 15 minutes by bike share down cycle-friendly Magazine Street -- head here for the local crowd, which will be munching on freshly shucked oysters (when available) or po-boys ordered at the counter in the back. 

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Chelsea Brasted is a freelance writer in her hometown of New Orleans, where she formerly worked for The Times-Picayune. She prefers her adult beverages in go-cups because she's rarely home and has a tendency to adopt dogs while on assignment.