Tips, traditions and advice from an Wisconsin insider on the best way to tailgate at a Badgers game this college football season.
When should you get there? Covering this team now for nearly five years, I’ve walked to Camp Randall Stadium three hours before an 11 a.m. kickoff, and I’m seeing people already grilling while drinking beers and Bloody Marys. It really depends on how much of the experience you want to get. People arrive early for those morning starts, but some turn it into an all-day extravaganza from dawn until dusk if it’s an afternoon or evening tilt.
For those that have to take care of some priorities beforehand, I’d say about three to 3.5 hours before kickoff is a safe bet. Find your parking spot and get the grill going if said lot allows you to—lots that are farther away from the stadium are more conducive to that. If you don’t have your own tailgate, that allows you to either take an extended walk down to beautiful State Street (warning: it’s about a 20-minute plus walk to the stadium) or stroll up and down around Regent Street for particular bars’ tailgating events. You also can just roam around the stadium where there are usually house parties up and down Breese Terrace and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Where you should park? There are definitely spaces available, but it can be difficult depending you arrive downtown for the game. You can check for particular parking garages in and around downtown and campus that have special event rates (some lots have shuttles available for a fee to get you to the stadium). Of course, the closer you are, the more you’ll have to pay.
According to UW, parking for a single game (not season) is "available for purchase from lots with availability on a first come, first served basis on the day of the game only,” with those lots being confirmed for use once the season begins.
Check out around the neighborhoods close to the stadium, though—specifically, right off of Regent Street in the Vilas Neighborhood and west going towards Madison West. Again, the closer you are, the more you’re going to pay and you’ll likely want to get there earlier. Right after graduating from Wisconsin, I lived in a house just a couple blocks from the stadium, and we had a group of annual tailgaters pay us in cash and delicious steaks. I don’t know if they were farmers or guardian angels, but for a kid making minimum wage out of school, they knew the way to our hearts...through amazing beef we had no clue how to cook properly.
What should I wear? For your standard Wisconsin fans, you have to start off with anything Cardinal and White. Shirts, caps, anything Badgers-apparel based. These bibs are a staple of a lot of college kids these days, so those stick out often in the crowd. There are plenty of places to acquire attire, including the University Bookstore, Bucky’s Locker Room and the Under Armour store on State Street.
If you’re a fan of an opposing team, I’m guessing you’ll wear your program’s respective gear. Most Badgers fans are pretty well mannered in that they won’t yell or curse at you. But no matter what team you’re cheering for, definitely prepare for colder temperatures if you’re going to a late fall game.
What should I bring? Bring cash for parking, food, drinks and potential cover charges for bars’ tailgating events. Also, ensure you have an appetite, especially if you plan on having your own party with your set of friends and family or wanting to jump between other events. Of course, remember your driver’s license to show you’re of legal age to drink, which will likely happen if you’re tailgating in the state of Wisconsin. Read up on Wisconsin’s carry-in policy with what you can or cannot bring into the stadium. Pretty standard, but note the “clear totes” rule as well.
Best thing to eat at a typical tailgate? A brat! There is just something about a brat from the state of Wisconsin (my personal favorites are Klement’s or Usinger’s), battered in beer and onions and served with some amazing condiments. It honestly does not matter what time of the day it is—8 a.m. or 5:30 p.m. on gameday—it always hits the spot.
If you go to an actual restaurant for a tailgate or pregame festivities, they may have cheese curds. For those out of state fans getting a taste of them for the first time, give them a try. [Insert Wisconsin stereotype here]
What traditions set Wisconsin tailgates apart from others? Maybe the one tradition that pops out the most is that the students are always late to the game itself, which draws groans from many older fans on social media. Perhaps the kids enjoy their parties a hint too much, as our writers at B5Q reminded me of seeing some multiple story beer bongs, for what it’s worth.
Get downtown early enough, and you’ll see members of the UW Marching Band, notably the tuba section, walking up and down the streets blurting out some tunes before they perform at Union South.
Speaking of Union South, the Badger Bash Tailgate Party takes place there and provides some family-friendly activities. It starts about 2.5 hours before kickoff and includes a performance by the marching band 90 minutes before kickoff.
Overall, the atmosphere really stands out. The first thing I notice walking to the stadium is the smell the brats and other meats searing on everyone’s grills—while the beers and other spirits flow. Camp Randall Stadium is situated in a unique feel. It’s located on campus, but within a square mile of it, you’ll have a mix of homes owned by families and rented by college students, and then the bars where the public tailgates take place. Breese Terrace, the street adjacent to the west side of the stadium, is essentially shut down each home game for the crowds, with the houses on it usually sporting some sort of lawn games and tailgating.
Any other tips or things I should know before I go? Here’s a pro tip: If you’re going to a late October or November game (or any game that’s going to be below 45 degrees and the sun’s not shining in your section), bring some hand warmers/foot warmers and dress warmly. That’s a trick I use when covering home games. The carry in policy also states you can bring in blankets if you see fit.
If you’re visiting from out of town and everyone is of age, check out the Regent Street bars for those tailgating events. You’ll likely see some pregame shows from local sports radio taking place down that mile-stretch of street. While you’re down on Regent Street, grab some Greenbush Bakery donuts. Best ones in the city, in my opinion, and I frequently go there before covering practices.
If you get to State Street or University Avenue area at some point before or after the game, pop over at State Street Brats, Vintage Spirits & Grill, Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry and/or Ian’s Pizza.