This is a little early but if you are planning a trip to the game you are probably leaving early next week so here is a guide you can use to plan ahead if you are just winging it.
Here are a couple of rules. South Bend sucks except for on game day. The area surrounding South Bend in Michigan is actually very cool and interesting as you head towards the lakeshore. Keep in mind that except for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana is not a tourist destination.
The part of Michigan which borders the lake is actually a four season tourist destination. If you are staying close to South Bend head to Michigan...and avoid Indiana.
If you are coming to the game you are welcome to tailgate with us in the parking lot before the game, or at least stop by and introduce yourselves. A number of us are going to be hitting the South Bend area on Friday afternoon and leaving on Sunday morning. We will be having a Husky Tailgate in the North (White) parking lot with the traveling staff from Dawgman, and some very serious Dawgman regulars who are making the trip to the Midwest.
Where exactly are we going to be in that big grey area to the North of campus? We really don't have a clue till we get in there but we plan to bring some helium and purple balloons to mark the spot. Another thing we could do is caravan in to the parking lot at the same time so we can all park and pre game together. We will have our cell phones, texting, and email going on so it shouldn't be too hard finding us.
What to do in Chicago/South Bend
This is my third trip to watch a football game in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus. With the exception of a classic pep rally the night before the game South Bend is pretty boring (some say terrible) unless you bring your own fun or know the area. The majority of Husky fans stay in Chicago on Friday night and return Saturday night after the game via train (South Shore Line), bus (Charters), or car. South Bend is home of the College Football Hall of Fame which is worth a visit if you have time. The campus is well worth a walk through on game day. The Monogram Club has built seven bigger than life Heisman Trophy replica's into the stadium which is pretty cool. They also have the real ones on display on campus.
If you are staying in Chicago you need to head directly to the old "Viagra Triangle" which is Rush Street on the North side of Downtown (The Loop). Some of Chicago's best restaurants and bars are in this area. You owe it to yourself to have a steak at Gibsons/Hugo's, Ditka's, Morton's, Sullivan's, Gino and Georghetti, or the Chicago Chop House while you are in town. Most bars stay open and packed till four in the morning on the weekend so even if you come back late from South Bend on Saturday there are still plenty of things to do.
Chicago is a complete blast and has a much safer downtown environment to hang out in than good old Seattle. You need to spend at least a day here enjoying the food, (Chicago Pizza, Chicago Hot Dogs, Prime Aged Steak), the Lakeshore, Millenium Park, Michigan Avenue, Navy Pier, Wrigley Field, and the Museum District. Everything is a short walk or a cab drive from your hotel. (Make sure your hotel is downtown). I know the Cub's won't be playing in October but Wrigleyville where Wrigley Field is stilla cool place to hang out to get that Cub's feel year around.
Driving to South Bend from Chicago
One thing you always have to take into account while driving to South Bend is that it is located in the Eastern time zone so you lose an hour going to the game since Chicago is in the Central time zone. The game kicks off at 3:30 PM EST so if you want to get a parking spot you need to leave quite early in the morning to get there even though it is a late start. The Irish faithful arrive loud, early, and ready to go. If you are staying in downtown Chicago you can make the drive to South Bend in as little as 90 minutes. Don't count on that for game day. Give yourself a full three hours to get in from Chicago and pull into your parking space.
After the Game
After the game, depending where you park, you are not going to be able to get out of the parking lot for quite some time. At Notre Dame they enjoy the total experience win or lose. So be prepared to hang out for at least an hour or two after the game. Nobody leaves right away and they just pack the cars in. The stadium seats 80,000 these days and every seat is full.
If you are looking for a hotel in the South Bend for after the game forget about it. Rooms are booked up years in advance for ND football weekends. St Joseph, Mi, New Buffalo, Mi, Sawyer, Mi, and Michigan City, In, are spots we have found with plenty of rooms open on Saturday nights. Those towns are 30-45 minutes away from the stadium and are located on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Of the four towns on the lake my favorite by a long shot is New Buffalo. New Buffalo is very scenic being on Lake Michigan and there are a lot of great restaurants and bars in the immediate area to hang out at. One of my favorites is the Stray Dog Tavern. Great food, great beer, great deck, great view, and really cool t-shirts to take home. The town even has a large Native American casino on the outskirts you can lose your money at.
Located a mile or so North of New Buffalo are the small lakeside towns of Chikaming Township, Union Pier, Harbert, and Lakeside. There are a lot of quaint restaurants, shops, bed and breakfasts, and good priced boutique hotels in this area. The Lakeside Inn is a classic. It right across the street from the beach and the beach on this side of the lake is marvelous. Timothy's is a great restaurant close by where I just happened to have gotten engaged. The Gordon Beach Inn is another cool place to stay at.
Michigan City, Indiana has plenty of hotels and teams usually stay there because there is no room in South Bend and even if there was the prices are jacked sky high. It isn't much of a town. Even though Kim Grinolds and Chris Fetters hated it they liked the Steak and Shake located across the street from the Holiday Inn which might have changed affiliation and is now a Clarion
If you do happen to end up staying in one of those small towns it actually puts you in the Michigan Wine Country. Don't laugh....there are around 30 wineries in the area that are fun to visit, yes they have tasting, and wine tours. Michigan actually produces some decent wines and there is some very active craft distilling going on because of the abundance of fruit in the area. You wouldn't think that you could get great Grappa in Michigan but the Grappa here rivals the stuff in Italy.
The Round Barn Winery is my favorite winery in the area. I think they make the best wine in SW Michigan plus they also have a great craft distillery and brewery on the same premises. If you are over there on Friday pick up a couple of growlers of beer for the game! The beer is awesome! They also make a Vodka from grapes called Divine which is pretty popular.