I wasn't in Tuscaloosa for the Penn State/Alabama game last year, but by all accounts your fans were very amicable hosts to our fans, and I'd like to do my part in returning the favor. I'm a PSU Alum (2006) whose very biased opinion is that Penn State is the greatest place in the country to watch a college football game. Since I spent four years on campus (and have taken dozens of trips back ever since), I figured I'd offer my thoughts on some good places to visit, eat, and drink while in Happy Valley.
As far as tailgating, parking, and all of that fun stuff goes, unfortunately I don't really have any great advice for you, my friends and I usually reserved the partying for after the game, but I'm sure others would be able to pass some advice your way. I do know that recent flooding has impacted the parking situation a bit, so my best advice there would be to arrive as early as possible (and also, DO NOT buy parking on the spot, its $40 if you do. You can stop by the Athletic ticket office Friday until 4:30 and pay $10, or buy on StubHub. If that doesn't work out, I'd suggest parking off campus and finding a shuttle, I'm pretty sure you can do so at Walmart).
In any event, here's a few thoughts about some PSU establishments that you may consider to be worth your time:
PLACES TO STOP BY:
- The Penn State Creamery: The Creamery has been a football weekend tradition to since 1896. It’s located near East Halls dormitories on Curtin Rd, but beware, the line gets VERY long. Peachy Paterno is perhaps its most famous flavor, named after the eponymous head coach.
- The Lion Shrine: The Nittany Lion Shrine is perhaps the biggest photo op on campus. The statue was dedicated in 1942, and it’s been tradition for PSUers to "guard the shrine" during homecoming ever since some unruly Syracuse fans dumped paint on it in the 60s.
- Penn State All Sports Museum: If you’ve got some time before the game, the All Sports Museum located in Beaver Stadium is worth a look. It’s free and it’s got rare photos of Penn State’s storied athletics, and also includes John Cappelletti’s Heisman Trophy.
- Hetzel Union Building (HUB)- A nice place to take a break on your way to the stadium, the HUB’s got some fast food, a nice lounge area, an art gallery, and a PSU gift shop at the Student Book Store
- Walmart- Obviously not a bastion of cultural activity, but the Walmart on Atherton Street (or its sister location on Benner Pike) is probably the easiest place to get all of your necessary tailgating supplies.
Sit Down Restaurants
- The Tavern: IMHO the best place to get dinner in State College. Opened in 1948, this downtown PSU restaurant is a bit pricy compared to the other options, but it’s well worth it. My personal favorite dish is the seafood lasagna, but their menu changes daily. There’s a bar attached to the restaurant called the Adam’s Apple, known for their signature drink "the Original Sin".
- The Corner Room: Another signature Penn State establishment downtown, the Corner Room has been serving PSU students and alums since 1926. They’ve got a great Sunday brunch buffet, and their cheesesteaks are the best I’ve had outside of Philadelphia.
- The Diner: Another PSU tradition, this one dating back to 1929, the Diner isn’t quite as classy as some of the other restaurants, but it serves some decent diner food and is most famous for its Grilled Sticky Ala Mode, a delicious grilled sticky cinnamon bun served with vanilla ice cream.
- Faccia Luna Pizzeria- Located a few minutes outside of downtown on Atherton Street, Faccia Luna is a great Italian restaurant with a great beer selection. Their vodka sauce is the best I’ve ever had.
- Mad Mex- Located in downtown, they’ve got some pretty decent Mexican food (I’m a fan of the Los Wingos Buffalo Chicken Wrap, even if it doesn't quite qualify as Mexican fare) and great beer and tequila selections (their margaritas are DEADLY and are often cheap on special late in the evening).
Honorable Mention: Spats Speakeasy Café, Herwigs, The Deli
- Canyon Pizza: This actually isn’t my favorite pizza joint in downtown State College (I’m a fan of College Pizza; Gumby’s, Bell’s Greek Pizza, and Brothers are among the many other options), but it’s the most popular among the students and it’s an entertaining place to be at 2AM. If Penn State manages to win, I wouldn't venture there right after the game, students have been known to gather there en masse and cause a ruckus after huge wins.
- Are U Hungry: If you’re hungry and have no regard for your health, this is the place to go, they stuff their "Fat Sandwiches" to excess (for example, a "Fat Bitch" gets you a cheesesteak/chicken finger/mozzarella stick sandwich)
- Pita Pit: If you’re counting calories, the Pita Pit might be a better option for you, you trade the carbs for some healthier food, but it’s still pretty darn good.
- DP Dough: This is definitely one of my personal favorites, they have about 40ish customizable calzones to choose from.
- Philly Soft Pretzel Factory: If you’re looking for a snack, you can’t beat a pretzel from the Philly Soft Pretzel factory, it’s the cheapest, quickest snack option you’ll find
http://lionmenus.com/index.aspx - A good guide to the various restaurants in and around State College
There's probably 15-20 bars in downtown State College, and all have their pluses and minuses. These are my personal favorites (Mad Mex was already mentioned above, but it belongs on this list as well):
- Zeno’s: THE place to find great beer in State College. I don’t know exactly how many beers they’ve got, but it’s got to be over 100, ranging from local favorites like Yuengling, Victory, Weyerbacher, and even PSU-brewed Ottos, to rare imported Belgians. I'm a bit of a beer snob so it's my kind of place, but if you're just interested in downing a bunch of Miller Lites or Yuenglings I'd suggest avoiding this place and going to one of the many other bars downtown.
- The Saloon: They’ve gotten a bit better with crowd control here, but it still gets crazy packed on a Saturday night. Still, it’s worth it for the cheap drink specials. Their signature drink, the Monkeyboy, is perhaps the most (in)famous at Penn State, it’s a pitcher of all sorts of mixed liquors and flavoring that’s oftentimes on special for $7. Usually there’s a decent cover band playing as well.
- Gingerbread Man: A more chill place and popular amongst the frat crowd, they’ve got some good food options and their Hurricane pitcher is one of the better drinks in town.
- Bar Bleu: A real neat place, they’ve got a ton of TVs, some good food to eat, and their Fishbowl drinks are probably my favorite of all the bars’ signature drinks (if you order a "Blackout" Fishbowl you’d better be prepared for the consequences).
- Lion’s Den: It’s not the nicest place, but features a fun crowd and probably the cheapest drink specials in town.
Honorable Mention: The Rathskellar (popular among the alumni), Inferno (one of the newer places), Bill Pickle’s Tap Room, The Phyrst
http://www.statecollege.com/bartour/ - shows the bar specials for the various bars downtown
That's what I've got. Keep in mind this is just in my humble opinion, I'm sure someone else would say "no way, place X sucks, go to place Y instead", so take it for what its worth. Enjoy your visit to Happy Valley, and best of luck to the Tide (though not too much luck :-P). WE ARE....PENN STATE!