Whether it's sailgating in Husky Harbor in Washington or huddling in tents at the Grove in Mississippi, a college football tailgate is an affair like no other. But having an authentic experience on a Saturday before kickoff can be an overwhelming experience, from finding a parking space, to wearing the right shade of a school's colors, to following along with age-old traditions. Don't fret—we consulted experts across many of the Top 25 schools to source the best advice for enjoying a tailgate for their respective teams.
Below, you'll find tips and tricks on where to park, what to wear, when to arrive, what to eat and drink, where to find the must-see sights and traditions and much more.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Kelsey Hendrix, a producer at Sports Illustrated, was a student at the University of Alabama from 2008-12 and attended every home game during those four years. As an alum, she goes back at least once a year to go to a game, and of course, a tailgate. There's no denying her expertise when it comes to Crimson Tide festivities.
When should you get there? Fans starting setting up tailgate tents on The Quad at 6 p.m. the night before the game. But the real action starts 4-5 hours before kickoff.
Where you should park? Parking around campus can be tricky. Most lots on campus are reserved for students and/or season ticket holders with special permits. I recommend parking downtown along University Blvd between 19th Ave to 28th Ave. Parking on the street is free on the weekends, with no time limit. There’s also a parking deck downtown called The Tuscaloosa Intermodal Facility, which is free and offers a shuttle to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Be aware that all roads around the center of campus close three hours prior to kickoff, so if you arrive later than that, you’ll have to drive around the heart of Tuscaloosa to get to your parking destination.
What should I wear? Crimson, white and houndstooth, of course! In the South, it’s common to see fans dressed to the nines as they walk into the stadium—pearls, sundresses, ties and even high heels. When I first started at UA, I was told something along the lines of: “Your team dresses for you, so you should dress for your team.” So don’t be afraid to have fun and rock a houndstooth skirt or a bowtie with embroidered script A’s on it. But above all, be comfortable and cool, because it’s hot down in T-town until late October or November. Forgot to pack your color-coordinated gameday attire? Don’t worry! Shops like JCG Apparel, Alabama Express, Expeditions and The Shirt Shop are piled high with every Alabama-themed piece of clothing and accessory you could imagine.
What should I bring? A shaker, a clear bag, a pair of sunglasses, an Alabama face sticker, a personal-size fan and an Alabama koozie. Alabama abides by the SEC “clear bag policy,” which sets a limit on both the size and type of bag that can be brought into the stadium.
What are the best thing(s) to eat at a typical UA tailgate? Tailgating can be an all-day event, so a lot of tailgates have menus for each meal of the day. My favorite tailgate in Tuscaloosa does breakfast burritos until 11 a.m., then pulled pork sandwiches and hot dogs until 3 p.m., and sliders or nachos until kickoff. For first-timers, I would recommend picking up some grub from local BBQ hotspots like Big Bad Wolves (parked on the patio of The Houndstooth Bar) or Dreamland BBQ to bring to the tailgate. Or you can always stop by the east side of The Quad and try a few different dishes from the local food trucks parked on 6th Ave.
What traditions set Alabama tailgates apart from others? Someone new to tailgating at Alabama should definitely walk The Quad to check out all of the tents and traditions of the University. The Elephant Stomp takes place on The Quad on the steps of Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library. Fans can join along as the Million Dollar Band plays favorites like “Yea, Alabama” before heading into the stadium. But don’t limit yourself to The Quad, though! Take a stroll around campus to see sites like Denny Chimes and the President’s Mansion before heading up the Strip to grab a Yellowhammer at Gallette’s. And then be sure to stop by the Walk of Champions where, two-and-a-half hours before kickoff, the members of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team make their way off of the team buses and into Bryant-Denny Stadium. The small path in front of the stadium is home to championship plaques and stones, as well as life-size statues of National Championship-winning coaches.
Any other tips or things I should know before I go? Come ready to yell “Roll Tide” all. day. long. And be sure to brush up on the lyrics to “Yea, Alabama,” “Dixieland Delight,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and “Rammer Jammer.” You’ll likely be hearing those tunes more than once during your three-plus hours watching the Tide dominate at home! But don’t head out right after the game. If it’s a Tide victory, the party is only just getting started. All tailgates on The Quad will be forced to shut down about 90 minutes after the game, but fans can head to The Strip or downtown to bars like The Houndstooth, The Bear Trap, Gallette’s, Innisfree or CopperTop for a celebratory drink (or three)! Plus, it’ll help you avoid the traffic on I20/59 that starts about 30 minutes before the end of the game. If you’re looking for general gameday info, you can go here.
Planning on going to a game to see the Tigers this year? Former Clemson student and president of Central Spirit Elizabeth Marks offers her expert tips and advice on how to make the most of your Clemson tailgate.
What’s the best way to get to the stadium and where should you park? There are a couple different techniques when it comes to getting to the stadium. The best option would probably be buying a parking pass and driving in or riding in with someone who has one. You can also utilize the free parking at Kite Hill and make the trek across our hilly campus or park downtown for between $20-$40 in support of the local church ministries. There are also buses coming in and out throughout the day, but there is typically a wait to get home after the game.
How early before kickoff should you get there? People typically arrive between four and six hours ahead of kickoff, depending on the time of kickoff. Parking lots open at 6 a.m. for 12 and 1 p.m. kickoffs and 8 a.m. for all other kickoff times. There are some fans that are in their tailgating spot at 8 a.m. no matter whether kickoff is 12 p.m. or 8 p.m. Clemson tailgating is an event in and of itself, so it is important to not feel rushed to get into the stadium. Enjoy yourself and stay a while!
What should you bring? There are some definite essentials at any Clemson tailgate. Food is very important; especially when you are responsible for feeding college students that consider tailgates their meals for the entire day. Chick-Fil-A nugget trays and Bojangles boxes are a few favorites. Make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen, because it is likely to get hot in the early games of the season. Corn hole boards, a tent to provide shade and define your space and chairs are also great things to have. Many people bring TVs and generators to watch other games before or after the Tigers play.
What’s the tailgating culture like at Clemson? It reflects the feeling of a family reunion. There are tailgates all across campus everywhere you look, involving families with young children, college kids, Clemson alumni who haven’t missed a game in 50 years, and fans of the opposing teams. Tailgating at Clemson is a family affair, perhaps not always in blood, but in Southern hospitality and friendship.
How should you dress? Wearing orange is a crucial part to a game day in Death Valley. In Central Spirit, the premiere sports organization on Clemson’s campus, we often go “all in” by painting up in the front row of the student section or wearing orange overalls to wave the flags on the field. I personally would recommend some orange overalls—you can get them dyed by Judge Keller’s in downtown Clemson. Fans also dress up in dresses and orange blouses for the women and button ups, polo shirts, khakis, and bowties for the men. Of course, for the first few games, a tank top or t-shirt and shorts is sometimes your best option to keep cool!
What traditions set the school apart? Tiger Walk is the players’ entrance into the stadium to warm up, which takes place in the P-3 parking lot. It happens two hours before kickoff as fans crowd around and high-five players as they walk in. Tiger Band plays a mini-concert, including Tiger Rag, in the outdoor amphitheater 90 minutes before kickoff. During Homecoming, one of the Clemson traditions put on by Central Spirit, there are massive floats towering 30 feet tall on Bowman field to admire, take pictures with, and explore.
What are the best things to eat at a typical Clemson tailgate? Our Southern location often determines the menu available at our tailgates. There is likely to be lots of sweet tea and fried chicken (especially when we play our rival, whose mascot is a chicken). Boiled peanuts are sold on the side of the road on the way into Clemson and often eaten at tailgates. South Carolina barbecue is also a typical delicacy, especially if it’s from the Smokin’ Pig in Pendleton—even if it’s not at your tailgate, you should stop by and grab a bite. It’s worth the wait!
What’s the number one reason for college football fans to make tailgating at Clemson a bucket-list item? I’ve tailgated other places, and all schools have a different feel and approach when it comes to tailgating. The atmosphere of Clemson tailgating is so unique. The hospitality is unlike any other school, and you will feel welcomed and at home from the moment you step onto our campus, even if you happen to be wearing colors other than orange. You will see Clemson fans decked out in orange of all ages and an evident feeling of family, also seen in our game atmosphere. The love of Clemson football brings tailgaters together.
Anything else to know? Make sure you have plenty of time to see campus, eat, and find your seat before the Tigers run down the hill. You wouldn’t want to miss “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football” or miss out on seeing our beautiful campus! Smoking is prohibited on Clemson’s campus, except in a select few locations, to allow for a welcoming environment for all. Also, Clemson upholds a clear-bag policy, meaning all bags must be clear if they are larger than a small purse or clutch. They will not let fans in with anything larger than a small purse if it is not clear, so I would recommend purchasing a clear bag, which are available in most stores downtown as well as places like Walmart and Academy.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Wear scarlet and grey and eat buckeyes. Butch Moore, President of the Buckeye Boosters Organization, gives his advice for a Columbus tailgate.
What’s the best way to get to the stadium? Because the University is so big there are plenty of ways to drive in and find a parking area, but the walk definitely needs to be the path the team takes to the stadium. You walk through the Jesse Owens Plaza and right underneath the huge Rotunda at the closed end of the stadium. Once you walk inside the entire stadium is in front of you.
Where should you park if driving? If you have a pass we prefer the WEST Stadium parking lot. You have a spectacular view of the stadium, you are on the (as Keith Jackson used to always welcome the TV crowd), “The banks of the Olentangy” and if it’s a night game the stadium lights make it look amazing.
How early before kickoff should you get there? While some wait in line at 5A, you definitely want to be there 3-4 hours before most games and before a BIG game you need to be there all day—we say Ohio State football and Ohio State tailgating is an “event” and it’s an all day event.
What should you bring? If you come to our tailgate, nothing! We supply everything right down to the porta john! Catered trays of food items to people grilling out can be seen everywhere but the final item should always be BUCKEYES (Peanut Butter dipped in chocolate that actually look like a real Buckeye) for dessert—think Reese’s Cups.
What’s the tailgating culture like at Ohio State? Inclusive. We have literally been tailgating in the exact same spot, with the exact same families, for more than 25 years. If you forget a wine opener, or need extra ice everyone knows everybody so you just borrow from a friend. And we love when fans from the visiting team (yes, even Mi##igan) stop by.
How should you dress? Scarlet & Grey. Unlike some traditions in the south, we don’t really dress up in jackets or dresses. It’s shorts and shirts early in the year and of course in November you need to dress and stay warm.
What traditions set the school apart? There are many but for first timers there are a few you shouldn’t miss: The SKULL SESSION—where the band marches from the stadium to St John Arena and puts on a concert to get everyone fired up. The team arrives during the concert and the place goes crazy. While there is no cost, finding a seat is next to impossible. The band is HUGE at Ohio State. The players leave the ‘skull session” and walk through a tunnel of fans to the stadium. Once the concert is over make sure you are in your seat early as the Band performs their entrance to the field from the closed end-—it gives you chills. And of course there is NO greater tradition than “Script Ohio”!
What’s the number one reason for college football fans to make tailgating at Ohio State a bucket-list item? It’s a tough ticket so while 100,000 people attend the game, most estimate that there are MORE than that number who never go in! People watch the game on TVs and just continue to party. We have a general rule at our tailgate—if OSU gets ahead by three touchdowns or more we are back open—and everyone who attends knows the rule. Unlike some stadiums that are partly built into the ground, Ohio Stadium is SO massive just the look of the structure and you realize something big is about to happen.