The 15 best travel destinations for youth sports | Youth1

The 15 best travel destinations for youth sports

Cities across the country aim to attract travel teams with state-of-the-art facilities or special amenities. But only a handful of locations offer the full package: Competitive tournaments; great sporting traditions; and multiple options for families to have fun and to enjoy memorable meals.


That’s how we picked these truly great youth sports travel destinations. After surveying the entire country, we found more than a handful of cities that qualify.


Here are the 15 most sports-friendly travel destinations for youth teams in America.



The cultural capital of the South and a city that’s produced its fair share of great athletes, Atlanta is home to the East Cobb Baseball Complex, a mecca for youth baseball stars. East Cobb hosts some of the country’s biggest amateur tournaments, including the Perfect Game invitationals in June and the Triple Crown US Nationals in July.


Just a half hour north of Atlanta is the LakePoint Sporting Community, a 1300-acre sports facility spread across the foothills that run through northern Georgia. LakePoint hosts a couple of hyper-competitive basketball tournaments each spring: The Tip-Off Classic in March and the LakePoint Showcase in early April.


And anyone who goes to Atlanta should stop by the College Football Hall of Fame, which bills itself as “a complete immersion into all things college football.” College football is a religion in the South, and thousands upon thousands make the pilgrimage here each year.


One more site to check out: The Georgia Aquarium is one of the best aquariums you will find. If you can, check out the Journey with Gentle Giants, where you can all go swimming with whale sharks and manta rays.


Once everyone has worked up an appetite, we recommend checking out Mary Mac’s Tea Room, which has served the best Southern cuisine down in Midtown for more than 70 years.




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Blaine, Minnesota

In the northern suburbs of Minneapolis, Blaine is home to the National Sports Center, the largest amateur sports facility on the planet. More than 4 million visitors come through every year to participate in or watch the 100-plus competitions it hosts annually, which include some great hockey tournaments. These include the Rush 3V3 Hockey Festival in February and the USA International Hockey Cup in the summer.


Minnesota’s other great treasure is its nature. So, if you go, definitely make some time to go hiking. recommends the Lake Harriet Loop, an easy three-mile trek that features a couple of beaches along the way.


Another good option for getting out is at Boom Island. Rent some kayaks and head out there for a great afternoon.


And for dinner, you can’t do better than Pizzeria Lola, a pizza place founded by “a Korean immigrant, inspired by the pure love of food, joy and her mother’s own delicious cooking.” We recommend the Lady Zaza pie, with a base of red sauce and topped with homemade kimchi, Korean sausage, serrano peppers, scallions, sesame and soy chili.



Branson, Missouri

Long famous as a vacation destination, as of 2016 Branson is home of Ballparks of America, a park where youth athletes can play ball at five different replicas of America’s most iconic stadiums. The Chicago Field has an outfield wall covered in ivy, and Boston Park has an 18-foot-tall Little Monster.


The new facility is already attracting major tournaments, including the Babe Ruth League’s Cal Ripken Major/70 12-Year-Old World Series in August.


Make time for a trip to White Water at Silver Dollar City, a water park spanning 13 acres that features a half-million-gallon wave pool and a speed slide called KaPau Plummet that drops you 240 feet nearly straight down into a spiraling loop, then the splashdown.


For some intense fun on land, check out Xtreme Racing Center, where you can challenge each other to a lap or two in karts that reach up to 40 mph.


And just a few minutes southwest, you’ll find the crystal clear Table Rock Lake, which is rich in hiking and camping opportunities.


For dinner, check out Danna’s BBQ, which is every bit as tasty as what is served in KC or Memphis.



Canton, Ohio

An hour south from Cleveland, Canton’s big draw is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the youth sports infrastructure that has grown up around the Hall makes the city an excellent tournament destination, as well.


For starters, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Academy opened in the spring of 2016 to offer youth football players some of the most elite training opportunities in the country. The academy’s four-day training curriculum for youth athletes consists of on-field training, character development and leadership training, and evaluations from NFL coaches.


And inside the Hall of Fame Village, the National Football and Youth Sports Complex features two turf fields and one championship-grade grass field that will host dozens of football, soccer and lacrosse tournaments (Including the Ohio Boys 5th and 6th grade lax championships) and camps throughout the year. Organizers expect to host 200,000 players and families for the 2018 season.


Several big camps including National Underclassmen and Blue-Grey Football have already found a home at the Youth Sports Complex.


Once you’ve worked up an appetite, we highly recommend stopping by Mission BBQ on the north side of the city for their brisket.



Cocoa Beach, Florida

Due east from Orlando on the Atlantic coast is Cocoa Beach, Florida, home of the Cocoa Expo Sports Center. Here, you will find MLB-level facilities for baseball players, including 17 different baseball and softball fields and a 35,000-square-foot indoor training facility.


Its weekend baseball tournaments attract the best youth baseball teams in the country. Cocoa Expo also hosts the state’s only Cooperstown-Style softball tournament, a national invitational that begins in July.


Don’t skip out on the beach sports, though. In the heart of Cocoa Beach, you will find Ron Jon Surf School, where you can learn how to surf from some world-class instructors.


For something inspiring, the team at Fin Expeditions leads groups out every day on kayak tours through the Thousand Islands Conservation Area, where you can spot manatees and dolphins.


And if you happen to be in town at the right time, definitely make it out to watch a rocket launch at Kennedy Space Center.


When it’s time to dine, we recommend The Tiny Turtle, a very chill family-run Caribbean food restaurant right off the Minutemen Causeway.



Hoover, Alabama

Just south of Birmingham is Hoover, Alabama, home of the Hoover Met Complex. The Met Complex’s Finley Center features a 155,000-square-foot indoor event center, 11 basketball courts and 17 volleyball courts. Nearby, the 10,000-seat Met Baseball Stadium hosts the SEC baseball tournament every year.


Of course, Alabama has long boasted more than its fair share of sports programs. The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame should be on your itinerary if you want to immerse yourself in the state’s rich sports culture.


A half hour drive northeast, you will find Ruffner Mountain, which has 14 miles of hiking trails open to the public.


Another half hour up the road from Ruffner Mountain, you’ll find the famous Landmark BBQ, which the people of Birmingham will tell you is absolutely worth the drive.



Los Angeles, California

From youth basketball all the way up to the Dodgers, Angelinos love their sports. And with year-round great weather, LA is an excellent youth sports travel destination.


Mercadel Basketball in Orange County hosts some of the West Coast’s most competitive youth basketball tournaments, including the Super 64 showcase in February and the Heatwave Classic in July.


The Next Level Sports Complex in Garden Grove is open every morning bright and early at 6:00 so athletes can compete on the complex’s 11 basketball courts, 14 volleyball courts and four turf fields.


The LA Galaxy Soccer Center is one of the best places in California to practice soccer. There are tournaments and leagues that run year-round, and youth pickup games take place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.


LA is also a legendary basketball town. American Roundball Corp. has been organizing tournaments and leagues since 1974, and its roster of former youth athletes is impressive. That list includes Baron Davis, Shawn Kemp and Jason Kidd.


You won’t run out of places to eat in LA, but if you get the chance stop by Mel’s Drive-In, which has been an institution in LA for 70 years. The original location has long been demolished, but the West Hollywood location is certainly full of history in its own right.




Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach is basking in a brighter glow these days because the Palmetto State has become the championship capital of NCAA sports.


It helps, too, that the Myrtle Beach Sports Center opened in 2015, providing a 100,000-square-foot space where athletes from around the country can come improve their games. The National Travel Basketball Association hosts many of its biggest boys and girls tournaments here.


Not far away, you’ll find the Ripken Experience, a world-class youth baseball complex that hosts two-day, three-day and weeklong baseball tournaments that features some of the country’s future baseball stars.


A city-owned facility, the Grand Park Athletic Complex is an incredible space for outdoor sports like baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse. USSSA and WFC hold some of their most prestigious youth baseball and youth softball tournaments here.


In the evenings, we suggest heading up to North Myrtle Beach for shopping and dining. Our two suggestions for dinner in North Myrtle Beach:


  • Benny Rappa’s Trattoria, an Italian restaurant that, despite the white table linens, is laid-back enough that everyone will feel at home.

  • Tidewater Grill, an independent restaurant with an amazing fried shrimp dinner.


Orlando, Florida

The world’s capital of family entertainment, Orlando can also boast its status as home of the Seminole County Sports Complex, which features 15 world-class lighted athletic fields. Prospect Wire hosts some of the southeast’s biggest baseball tournaments here.


Over at Walt Disney World Resort, you will find ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, which covers more than 270 acres and hosts competitions in 70 different sports for athletes of all ages. This is also the home of the Pop Warner and the AAU National Championship, as well as the Atlanta Braves’ spring training facility.


Later, head over to Aktion Parks’ Orlando Watersports Complex, one of the best places in the country to learn wakeboarding or waterskiing. Beginners and professionals are all welcome.


Orlando has several great options for a group meal. A couple of standouts are The Metro Diner up in Altamonte Springs, a perennial winner of local awards for best breakfast spot and best family dining, and Antonella’s Pizzeria, recently named best pizza place in Central Florida.




Overland Park, Kansas

Just outside of Kansas City, Overland Park is home to the Overland Park Soccer Complex, a unique place to work on your soccer skills in the United States. The best travel teams play tournaments in Overland Park regularly.


Also in Overland Park, Blue Valley Recreation has some of the best facilities in the Midwest, and hosts excellent youth basketball, softball and baseball tournaments. Two big youth sports events here are skills competitions: The MLB’s Pitch, Hit & Run competition in the spring and the NFL’s Punt, Pass & Kick in the fall.


Home of the 2015 World Series Champions Kansas City Royals, Kauffman Stadium offers daily tours that will take you into the dugout and through the Royals Hall of Fame.


And just between the stadium and Overland Park is the Kansas City Zoo, which at more than 100 years old is easily among America’s best zoos.


But if you make the trip to Kansas City, don’t forget the main reason you’re here: KC-style barbecue. We recommend Jack Stack BBQ, which has a handful of excellent locations throughout the KC metro area.




Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg, Tennessee

The gateway to one of America’s most-visited national parks, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the adjacent cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg have welcomed millions of visitors every year for decades.


Start at Rocky Top Sports World, an 80-acre campus in Gatlinburg that features seven outdoor fields, a championship-level stadium, 10 basketball courts, 17 volleyball courts and team rooms where everyone can huddle up before a big tournament game.


A couple of noteworthy tournaments are the FC Alliance Premier Cups for boys and girls youth soccer teams in the spring and the Tennessee Miracle Fall Classic for basketball teams at the end of August.


Pigeon Forge has its own Ripken Experience facility, which features six lighted synthetic turf fields. As with the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, this site plays host to endless tournament opportunities throughout the year


Head just a few minutes east from downtown Gatlinburg, and you’ll find yourself on the Appalachian Trail, America’s premier hiking route. The trail runs more than 70 miles through the Great Smoky Mountains park.


And for some pure, unbridle fun, head over to Dollywood’s Splash Country, consistently voted one of the best water parks in America.


Finally, a good breakfast goes a long way when you’re on the road, so we recommend starting the morning off at one of the seven Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin restaurants in the Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg area.



Round Rock, Texas

Just north of Austin, Round Rock has emerged as the Sports Capital of Texas, which organizes many of the best youth sports tournaments in the Lone Star State. One of its premier facilities is Old Settlers Park, which features acres upon acres of space to play sports. There is even a regulation cricket field here, in addition to


  • an 18-hole disc golf course,

  • ample fishing,

  • two lighted football fields,

  • seven soccer fields,

  • 12 lighted tennis courts,

  • two sand volleyball courts, and

  • 3-plus miles of paved trails.


For the best views of Austin, climb to the top of Mt. Bonnell, which towers 775 feet above the city and offers excellent panoramas of America’s live music capital.


And for dinner, you’re really spoiled for choice in and around Austin. The area has earned its reputation as a food capital in America. So, we’ll recommend a couple of places to grab a midday snack, instead:


  • Sprinkles Cupcakes — The famous cupcake bakery that was founded in LA opened up its first Austin location in early 2017.

  • Bougie’s Donuts — On the south side of Austin, down in Sunset Valley, you’ll find some of the best donuts you’ve ever had in your life.


Sandusky, Ohio

An hour west of Cleveland, Sandusky initially made a name for itself with its Cedar Point theme park, a mecca for roller coaster fans around the world. Today, the park also features the nearby Sports Force Parks at Cedar Point Sports Center on the shores of Lake Erie. Here, there are youth baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse tournaments that take place year-round.


If you go, don’t miss Lake Erie Shores & Islands, where you can rent bikes and tour the coast, head over to the water park, go fishing, rent a kayak or Jet-Ski, and even climb some incredible lighthouses for spectacular views.


Until recently, dining options in Sandusky were fairly limited — with some exceptions. One of those exceptions was Berardi’s, a family-style Italian restaurant that first opened in 1939. A relative newcomer worth checking out, too, is The Bates Farm Kitchen, whose chef sources ingredients locally and serves breakfast all day.



Spartanburg, South Carolina

On the other side of the state from Myrtle Beach, Spartanburg is home to the Upward Star Center. At this 60-acre complex that features


  • six basketball courts,

  • 12 indoor volleyball courts plus four sand courts,

  • a half dozen locker rooms,

  • six soccer fields,

  • and four indoor batting cages.


Nearly every weekend, the Upward Star Center hosts competitive youth sports tournaments at the local, regional and national levels.


Nearby, you can also visit the Glendale Outdoor Leadership School for group training exercises that will teach student athletes important life lessons about healthy living, teamwork, environmental stewardship and how to grow into leaders.


For all of the great parks and outdoors opportunities the Spartanburg area provides, it’s also worth mentioning that Climb Upstate has an excellent indoor climbing facility just next to the Upward Sports Center.


Two restaurant recommendations for Spartanburg:


  • Check out Wade’s Restaurant, just north of the Wofford campus, for incredible Southern cooking.

  • And as with Kansas City above, you can’t visit South Carolina without trying the local barbecue. Your best bet is Carolina Barbecue on the northwest side of town. There, the kitchen hickory-smokes its BBQ for at least 14 hours.


Westfield, Indiana

A northern suburb of Indianapolis — one of America’s great sports cities — Westfield, Indiana, is home of the 400-acre Grand Park, which welcomes nearly 800 thousand visitors each year.


Numerous tournaments take place here to showcase the best talent in the state, in the Midwest and in the country. These include the Indiana Fire Juniors Grand Park Cup and Bullpen Tournaments’ Amateur Baseball Championships.


One of college basketball’s great gyms, Hinkle Fieldhouse, is nearby, as well, and it’s open to the public every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.


No trip to Indy is complete, however, without a stop at two of America’s best sports museums:


  • The NCAA Hall of Champions in the heart of downtown has dozens of interactive exhibits that tell the stories of the NCAA’s 24 different sports. Be sure to check out the retro 1930s gymnasium and the virtual sports simulators.

  • The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, at the site of America’s most famous race track, features 36,000 square feet of exhibits that will teach you all about the history of motorsports in the US, including IndyCar, Formula One, NASCAR and all other types of racing.

To cap off a perfect trip to Indy, you need at least one good meal in one of the city’s legendary steakhouses. One newcomer to that scene, Charblue, founded by former Indianapolis Colt Gary Brackett, is worth a long look because, really, can you go wrong with a place that has filet, duck ham, Maine lobster and swordfish on the menu?


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