One of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of being a professional poker player is the opportunity to travel the world for tournaments.
Over the years of my career, I have been fortunate enough to visit a variety of cool places, many of which I never would have seen without poker.
In this article, I’m going to talk about some of my favorite tournament destinations in the USA. I hope this list will give you the motivation to check them out for yourselves, or at least provide some suggestions for new experiences if you’ve already been.
New Orleans, LA
Top Casino(s): Harrah’s New Orleans
Yearly Poker Events: $1,675 buy-in WSOP Circuit
If you haven’t gone to NOLA, I’d suggest putting it near the top of your travel list. Easily one of my overall favorite cities in the USA, New Orleans is a unique place with a really cool vibe.
Harrah’s annual WSOP Circuit event, which brings a lot of southern gamblers to town, creates a strong live game scene during the tournament series. (The PLO cash game action is especially good.)
Away From the Table
Boasting some of the best comfort food in the country, a never ending stream of adult beverages, and live music on nearly every corner, there’s rarely a dull moment in NOLA.
One of the main things I look for when choosing a poker destination is how much fun I can have when I’m not grinding, and New Orleans is so much fun it almost becomes tempting to punt a tournament stack just to go hang out around town.
Its one of those places you can just grab a beer and walk around for hours. Between the people watching, the incredible grub and the awesome sound of jazz music, you’ll surely be entertained.
Here are some of my favorite stops in New Orleans:
- Bourbon Street
The Bourbon Street strip of bars and restaurants is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the country.
As someone who doesn’t drink, it isn’t really my speed, but it’s one of those places you should experience once in your life, regardless of your tastes. Especially during Mardi Gras, its one of the greatest spectacles in the country.
- Acme Oyster House
If you ask me, New Orleans cuisine is some of the best on the planet. Being particularly strong in the seafood department, it comes as no surprise that the best oysters I’ve ever had were in this city (see: Acmeoyster.com).
Acme serves a variety of cajun classics, including raw oysters, etoufee, jambalaya and my personal favorite, the soft-shell crab po’boy (just thinking about it makes my mouth water).
- Cafe Du Monde
A popular cafe and an all around great place to take a mid-day break, Du Monde will particularly appeal to fans of coffee and sweets (see: CafeduMonde.com).
Their specialties are coffee brewed with chicory root, and beignets- essentially deep fried donuts covered with powdered sugar.
If you’re a healthy eater, you might want to save up a few “cheat days” for your trip to New Orleans. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.
For the true foodie, it doesn’t get much better than a place like Mother’s. Serving up heaping portions of southern comfort food since 1938, there is an extremely authentic feel to this place (see: Mothersrestaurant.net).
I recommend going for breakfast, as one of their breakfast sandwiches served on a made-from-scratch biscuit should be considered the eighth wonder of the world. Additionally, they are famous for their “debris”- a roast beef and gravy amalgamation that is not to be missed.
Be prepared to wait in line, but look at it as an opportunity to build up a bigger appetite; you’ll need it.
Los Angeles, CA
Top Casino(s): Commerce, Bicycle, The Gardens
Yearly Poker Events: $10k buy-in WPT LA Poker Classic, $4k buy-in WPT Legends of Poker and many more.
Los Angeles is one of the biggest cities in the world, and this applies to its poker scene as well. Between the Commerce (home of the biggest poker room in the world) and the Bicycle Casino (which was recently renovated to add a very nice hotel), there’s a noteworthy tournament series here nearly every month.
With vast beaches, hip brunch spots, walkable shopping districts, and popular hiking destinations, as well as world class restaurants, comedy clubs, and music venues, you’ll have plenty of ways to spend your downtime, whether it be day or night.
Away from the Table
- Venice and Santa Monica Beach
If you haven’t heard of Venice beach, chances are you’ve been living under a rock. With spots like “Muscle Beach”, Venice has been a backdrop to many TV/movie scenes. Its bustling boardwalk, chock-full of street performers and artisan street vendors, has become an extremely popular destination for tourists.
While Venice certainly has its appeal, I personally prefer its neighbor to the north, Santa Monica beach, which is a bit less touristy and a bit more laid back. This area is easily my favorite part of trips to LA. It’s home to some my favorite California dining (Urth Cafe, Cafe Gratitude, Sugarfish and the original Bulletproof Coffee to name a few), one of the biggest outdoor exercise facilities in the country and the Santa Monica Pier.
- Runyon Canyon Park
California is prime for outdoor daytime activities because of its near-perfect weather for most of the year.
Runyon is an ultra popular spot for everything from hiking to dog-walking to picnicking. If you have a day off between tournaments, I highly recommend spending an afternoon here to refresh.
- The Grove
There’s certainly no shortage of shopping in LA, but The Grove is one of a particularly cool place to browse for new garb. It’s a cozy outdoor (courtyard style) mall with a nice variety of shops and restaurants- an especially great hangout for those of you who have a wife and/or kids.
There are too many amazing restaurants to review, but I’ll name a few that would be worth your time to look up during your next LA poker trip:
- Animal – This spot in the heart of West Hollywood is the opposite of veganism with some very unique dishes. Try the bone marrow. (see: Animalrestaurant.com)
- SQIRL – Simply amazing brunch. I recommend the crispy rice salad bowl. You can thank me later. (see: SQIRLla.com)
- Sage Vegan Bistro – Some people think Vegan food is bland and boring, but this place would change their minds. (see: SageVeganBistro.com)
- Wurstkuche – I don’t usually like sausage, so the fact that I’m obsessed with this place should speak volumes. Ranging from basic Italian sausage to exotic varieties like rattlesnake and rabbit, this late night spot is a must-try. (see: Wurstkuche.com)
- Osteria Mozza/Pizzeria Mozza – One of the best Italian restaurants you’ll find, conveniently attached to its incredible pizza counterpart. Like many upscale restaurants in LA, don’t be surprised to recognize some of the patrons- last time I ate here, Bruce Willis was seated one table over. (see: OsteriaMozza.com)
Ft Lauderdale/Hollywood, FL
Top Casino(s): Seminole Hard Rock, Isle Casino Pompano, Coconut Creek
Yearly Poker Events: $5k buy-in Seminole Hard Rock Open (August), $3,500 buy-in WPT Hard Rock (March) and many more.
South Florida is well known as one of the biggest travel destinations in the country, especially for those from the north east who migrate south to escape cold winters.
With a handful of tournament venues, headlined by the Seminole Hard Rock, my hometown has established itself as a mecca of tournament poker in the US (see: this really long list of events). Along with several events at the Hard Rock throughout the year, including one of the biggest WPTs, there are also great tournaments at the nearby Isle Casino Pompano and Coconut Creek Casino.
South FL tournaments generally draw big crowds and the Hard Rock recently broke the record for biggest field in Florida history, with over 5,000 entries in a $360 buy-in, $1 Million guaranteed prize pool event.
Away from the Table
- South Beach
Arguably the most popular tourist destination in the country is only a 20-30 minute drive from Hollywood.
The crowd in south beach is about as diverse as it gets, with a demographic ranging from European to Russian to South American. There are few places in the country where you’ll hear so many different languages in one day.
To be honest, South Beach is a little too crowded and commercialized for my taste, but its certainly a sight worth seeing. Not to mention you’ll find some amazing restaurants and huge nightclubs here.
Miami’s art district has been on the come up for the past couple of years, and there’s no sign of it slowing down.
This ultra-hip area is host to some of the biggest names in house music, particularly during III Points music festival and Art Basel (the world’s biggest art fair that takes over most of Wynwood and South Beach in early December). You’ll also find a plethora of innovative gastronomy here, as well as a variety of unique boutiques.
Wynwood is my jam.
- Green Bar & Kitchen
There are plenty of great dining options in the area, but healthy dining is a bit difficult to find.
For the health-conscious readers, GBK is an excellent vegan cafe with great smoothies and delicious veggie burgers (including coconut and sweet potato varieties). The avocado toast is ridiculous (see: GreenBarKitchen.com).
- Food Truck Rally
Every Monday from around 6pm to 9pm, Arts Park in downtown Hollywood is lined with food trucks, offering all sorts of yummy.
Whether you’re in the mood for a taco, a burger, a lobster roll, some BBQ or some dessert, you’ll find something to try. Or, be like me and try them all in spite of the food coma that follows.
Las Vegas, NV
Top Casino(s): Bellagio, Aria, Wynn and too many others to name.
Yearly Poker Events: World Series of Poker and countless smaller series throughout the year.
Most of you have probably been to Vegas, but I feel like it would be remiss of me not to include it in the list.
Having spent many months of my life here, including full time residency on 2 occasions, I think I can shed light on some of the lesser-known parts of Sin City.
Away from the Table
Most people associate Las Vegas with the strip and not much more. As it turns out, Vegas has much more to offer than just gambling.
- Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock is a beautiful place to hike, day or night. With trails for both beginners and frequent hikers, it’s really a great place to spend a few hours exploring and escaping the frenetic energy of Las Vegas Blvd.
If you plan to hike during the WSOP, be sure to go either early morning or late afternoon, as the mid-day heat can be dangerously brutal. Pack some snacks and lots of water and be ready to enjoy some amazing views.
Night hikes are a particularly beautiful experience, with the cool air and blue-gray sky having a very calming effect. If you go at night, be sure to carry flashlights or lamps and extra batteries just in case.
- Lake Mead
This is my favorite place in Vegas, and it kind of makes you forget what city you’re in. With plenty of boats and jet skis for rent, Lake Mead is a great place to spend a day with friends.
I assume most of you know what a lake is, so there really isn’t a whole lot else to say. Check it out.
- DW Bistro
Vegas is pretty well known for having an incredible selection of restaurants- from hole in the wall taco shops to some of the most upscale dining in the world, you’ll find it all. Over the time I’ve spent here, I’ve discovered that some of the best restaurants in town are found off-strip, and the only way you’ll really hear about them is word of mouth.
DW Bistro is one of my favorite restaurants, anywhere. I’m a big fan of unique approaches to food, including chefs who bring two different types of cuisine together. DW is a unique Caribbean-Mexican fusion, and damn do they do it right (see: dwbistro.com).
Every dish here is packed with flavor, and if you’re a fan of spicy food, you will not be disappointed. They do brunch, lunch, and dinner. It’s a bit of a long drive from the strip, but I’m telling you, this place is the nuts.
Another fusion style restaurant, Japaneiro is a special place (see: Japaneiro.com).
The chef/owner here, aside from being a super friendly guy, is extremely creative and passionate about his cooking. He always asks for and appreciates feedback as his menu constantly evolves.
The focus is on seafood, and you really can’t go wrong with anything they serve. They have a happy hour menu from 11pm-3am which makes this a prime choice for a late dinner.
The first time I was asked to go to an all-you-can-eat sushi place in Vegas, I was pretty resistant to the idea. I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to the buffet-style sushi places I’d been to before, with California rolls that had been sitting out all day. I agreed to go anyways, and to my disbelief, the sushi was actually really, really good!
It turns out Vegas has a handful of quality AYCE sushi spots (albeit a few that aren’t so great), and this is the only city I’ve ever seen them. There are a few options conveniently located near the strip, but Jjanga is the best in my opinion (with Goyemon a close second). For ~$30, you can order unlimited appetizers, nigiri, and creative rolls (see: jjangalv.com).
If you have a big appetite, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better bang for your buck, and I usually eat what would be $50-$80 worth of food at most sushi places. A great option for group dining so you can share and try different things, the only stipulation is that you have to eat everything you order, including rice.
I could eat here almost every day, and it’s my preferred option for dinner breaks during WSOP events because its fast and unless you eat a ton of rice, it won’t give you that post-dinner brain fog for the rest of the day.
So there you have it guys and gals
I hope I’ve provided a little insight about what each of these cities has to offer, and you’ll be better prepared to enjoy your next trip there.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section or tweet at me @DarryllFish, and I’ll do my best to answer them!