If you’ve never been to a San Francisco 49ers game and are traveling to the Bay Area, don’t make the mistake of thinking the team plays in San Francisco. As bizarre as that may seem, I’ve seen plenty of 49ers fans make that glaring error.
That’ll be the last mistake you make once you make it to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, to tailgate with thousands of Niners fans.
What does the tailgate scene look like at the 49ers home stadium? FUN.
You can expect to see the parking lot littered with scarlet and gold from head-to-toe. Some jerseys will be players you’ll see playing later that day. Other jerseys will be obscure like Garrison Hearst and Ricky Watters, while you’ll find a fair share of legendary Hall of Famers such as Ronnie Lott and Joe Montana.
Electric. That’s how I’d describe the vibe from a couple of hours spent in the parking lot. Fans can be seen dancing wearing giant Flavor Flav-like chains with San Francisco logos around their necks. Most tailgates have speakers blaring music, which only helps heighten the energy.
I’ve been to quite a few NFL stadiums in my life, and 49ers fans are right at the top when it comes to tailgating experiences. You won’t find the extreme experiences as you would at Orchard Park when Bills fans throw each other through tables like they’re in the WWE. The air might not have the potent BBQ scent that perks up fans, as in Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. But what you’ll get at Levi’s Stadium is the best of all worlds. Fans will welcome you with open arms, whether they have a giant tailgate setup with 20-plus people ... or it is just two fans eating out of the back of their pickup truck.
The friendly atmosphere might come as a surprise if you’re used to arguing on message boards or social media about whether the 49ers should start Player A. In real life, the tailgating atmosphere is unmatched. You’re surrounded by diehards who are dancing, drinking, and having a good time.
But, what tailgate is complete without food?
The Niners have one of the most diverse fanbases in the NFL, which means you’re getting cuisines from all over the world. My advice? Don’t stay in one tent too long because you’ll miss out on the carne asada across the way.
I’ve seen people eating your basics like burgers, hot dogs, and mac and cheese, but there’s also the other end of the spectrum as you might get lucky enough to find someone with seafood or, better yet, dessert.
That’s what makes a game at Levi’s Stadium unique. A stranger could hand you a flask full of whiskey or a Modello on your left. But, at the same time, someone on your right reminds you that the person wearing a No. 3 with Wilson on the back just became a fan of that team last decade and couldn’t point out who Shaun Alexander was if he were standing right in front of him.
Niners fans make everything fun, interesting and do so by putting their own spin on it. At Levi’s Stadium, you run into fans that cannot wait to root as if their life depended on it without regret for four hours, if needed.
You’ll have plenty of different opportunities to bond with different people. Everyone in the stadium is rooting for the same result, though: a 49ers win.
If you’re expecting the next couple of hours to be stress-free while the game is on, I implore you to watch any 49ers game ever. Picture yourself on a rollercoaster. You’re slowly going up, you know something’s coming, but you have zero idea about what’s coming next.
And that’s why we keep showing up. The unknown. What we do know is that any time you’re at Levi’s Stadium, you’ll have a great time full of memories that you’ll never forget, and you’ll leave with a full stomach. What better way to spend a Sunday, especially in January.