While football players around the nation tighten up the chinstraps on their helmets for the upcoming season, fans are dusting off their grills and writing down their grocery lists for tailgating.
During the fall season, fans transform football stadium parking lots into battle camps, a place where they rally the troops and build camaraderie.
The sport’s culture of tailgate parties is not a hostile or tense environment but a good-natured pregame ritual that involves plenty of food, drink and festivities.
Just like sports, it takes experience to be good at tailgating. And rookie tailgaters should look to New Orleans native Joe Cahn as the person they should look to for veteran guidance.
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Cahn, 67, has more than 18 years of tailgating experience. In 1996, he sold his business, the New Orleans School of Cooking, and his house and bought a motor home to tour and tailgate with fans across the nation. He has traveled to all 31 NFL stadiums, more than 123 college stadiums and nine NASCAR tracks.
Here, according to Cahn, are the top five tailgating destinations in Northern California:
The Coliseum in Oakland is a good place for football fans because of the variety of food that the tailgaters offer, Cahn said. Gear heads will appreciate the variety of muscle cars that fill the parking lot on game day. The RV area is also something that made Cahn’s experience unforgettable, he said.
There is a certain stigma attached to Raider fans who are part of “The Black Hole.” According to Cahn, who has spent time mingling with them, the fear that they are associated with is often exaggerated.
“I find the Oakland fans, the vast majority, to be great wonderful hosts no matter how strange they look,” he said. “It is sort of like Mardi Gras meets the bikers’ world, but the more outlandish their costume, the nicer they are. You can’t be bad because you can always be pointed out. (They’ll say), ‘It’s the guy in the black shirt with the skull in his arm and a pirate ship tattooed on his head.’”
49er fans have a lot of tailgating history from Candlestick Park, which they called home from 1971 to 2013. The team moved to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara last season, but Cahn said the tailgating experience has stayed the same.
“People have the tradition from Candlestick, and they just bring it over there,” he said. “May be a new stadium, but the tradition is still there.”
Like any major move, the fans went through some challenges last season, such as figuring out what area they would be in at the stadium.
Going to Niners tailgating parties is great for people who enjoy the finer things in life. Wine is readily available for those not into beer.
The tailgating experience outside Memorial Stadium is different from any other football venue in Northern California. It’s not as much about cooking as it is about tailgating, Cahn said.
For people looking to have a good time outside of the parking lot, Berkeley is the place to be.
Fans in some parts of downtown Berkeley are parking on the street and having their own tailgate parties farther away from the campus itself. Fans around the campus and the stadium also hold tailgate parties.
“(It’s a) community party,” he said. “They have exhibits. There’s an area where the kids can play. There’s a little something for everybody.”
For tailgaters looking for a scenic experience, Stanford is a great place to check out. The eucalyptus groves next to the stadium offer a picturesque experience to the fans, Cahn said.
“Not only do you smell eucalyptus, but you smell burgers, too,” he said.
Aside from the good view, fans can also find plenty of places to get food near stadium. It is a great place where tailgaters can try the “sampler” approach to tailgating.
“You can actually just bring a sheet and sit and enjoy,” Cahn said.
Tailgaters from the Sacramento area have to drive hours to get to the Bay Area. It’s usually at least a 90-minute drive without traffic to get to a stadium.
For fans who are not up for the long trek, Sacramento State is a great tailgating destination. Though the tailgating scene in Sacramento State is not as well-known, Cahn said that it rivals some of the bigger schools in the nation.
“It is not a school as big as the major schools, but it’s every bit the devoted fans, and every bit the tailgate and the social atmosphere that people go to. ... People can tailgate very easily,” Cahn said.