For as long as there has been a National Football League, there has been football in Chicago. There has been a running back who must perform great and heroic feats to get the offense into field goal range. There has been a linebacker who plays like fans imagine they would handle themselves in a fight. And there have been grills, vast acres of grills, cooking meat on cold Sunday mornings.
Because the Chicago Bears and Soldier Field have been around for so long, it’s easy to forget they spent most of their respective histories apart. The Bears played for decades at Wrigley Field, where the south end zone was up against a dugout and the north end zone was the left-field wall. (“That last guy really gave me a good lick,” said Bears legend Bronko Nagurski, after shaking off two defenders and running into the wall.) Only in 1970 did the Bears depart, having outgrown the seating capacity of the Friendly Confines.
Soldier Field was built as a multipurpose civic venue in 1924. It was dedicated in honor of World War I veterans two years later, with 110,000 fans in attendance for the Army-Navy football game; 123,000 watched Notre Dame against USC a year later, and 104,000 saw one of the most famous bouts in boxing history, the “long count” between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney.
Religious revivals, rock concerts, soccer games, stock car races, and other events occupied the stadium in the years that followed. Though college football was (and still is) played there, Soldier Field wasn’t designed for any specific purpose other than holding huge crowds of people.
By the time the Bears arrived, Soldier Field was 47 years old, and even by the standards of the early 1970s, it wasn’t a great venue for professional football. (In his history of the team, Richard Whittingham described the melancholy that set in among Bears fans after the move to Soldier Field, noting the low angle and distance of the seats from the field, and the winds that swallowed the roar of the crowd.) Battles commenced almost immediately between city, state, and team over facility updates, and continued with increasing acrimony over the next 30 years.
Nobody imagined that the conflict would be settled by the arrival of a giant spaceship.
Opened in 2003, a controversial renovation placed a futuristic steel-and-glass saucer between Soldier Field’s iconic colonnades. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin called the renovation “a monumental eyesore” and “the monstrosity on the midway”, and the National Park Service stripped its landmark status, declaring that Soldier Field “no longer retains its historical integrity.”
Over time, positive evaluations did emerge; Peter Richmond, writing for ESPN’s Grantland website, compared the new Soldier Field favorably to faux-retro stadiums in New York, praising it as “…a complete success, an integral art of the second-city's first-city architectural status.”
While that debate won’t be settled here – or anywhere – the new interior of Soldier Field offers a terrific gameday experience, led by intimate views of the action from anywhere in the stadium and the company of a diehard fan base. Bears tickets are hard to come by, but a trip to Soldier Field is worth the effort for any football fan.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Soldier Field subscribes to the theory that one should focus on doing a few things very well. Hence, most of the food is classic Chicago fare: cheeseburgers ($9 double, $7 single), hot dogs ($5 regular-size from vendors in the stands, $7 jumbo-size from concession stands), Polish sausages ($8.25), Italian beef ($9), and barbecue ($8 for boneless rib, pulled pork, pulled chicken, beef, and hot links sandwiches). Kids are mostly stuck with the adult sizes, which adds some expense to a family visit.
Hot dogs and 'Ditka Dogs' (8 inch beef or chicken sausages) are from Vienna Beef, while Polish sausages and bratwurst are from Bobak's, both of which are good local providers. The hot dogs served by vendors are hot, fresh, and juicy, no worse for the travel.
With the focus on the meat, other items receive more half-hearted execution. There's a vegetable wrap ($8.50) and a veggie burger ($9), BBQ chicken and mozzarella & pesto flatbreads ($10), and basics like pizza (mostly thin crust, but deep dish is available in a couple places), mediocre popcorn ($6), lousy nachos ($6.50), peanuts ($5), and passable soft pretzels ($4.50 regular, $6 Bavarian). Bottled water is widely available ($4.75/$6.50) and soda products include 7up, RC, and Dr Pepper ($5 small, $8 large).
The options don't vary much from stand to stand or between the upper and lower concourses, though there are a few exceptions. For BBQ, there are more options at the Robinson's Ribs stand near section 122 and the red cart at the northwest corner of the upper concourse. On cold days, take note: hot chocolate isn't listed on the overhead menus, but it's available from several concession stands.
If you have access to the United Club, options include delicacies like meatball platters and fancy chicken tacos ($10), and everything is made/cooked to order in front of you by people wearing chef's hats.
A vast infrastructure exists to funnel beer to Bears fans - mobile carts, crowd vendors, and every concession stand (many of which offer "combo deals" with food, which are actually just the prices of the two items added together, without a discount). Figure on $8.50 for a large draft beer and $11 for premium drafts. Miller Lite, Blue Moon, and Leinenkugel's are the most easily found. Glasses of wine ($8) and Mai Tais ($10) are also available.
Game production is handled very well. There are large but unobtrusive video screens at the north and south ends of the stadium, which integrate neatly into their surroundings. The public address announcer is a tad mellow, but it's refreshing that the team doesn't treat fans as if they are constantly in need of distraction by rock 'n jock medleys, demands for noise, etc.
Soldier Field is very well staffed. There are plenty of attendants throughout the stadium, and they seem to have a uniformly positive, welcoming attitude. While waiting in line for food or beverages on the 100 level, check out the wall displays of Bears greats, team records, key moments, and other history tidbits. It's a nice touch.
Either before the game or at halftime, it's very much worth heading up to the concourse between the 300 and 400 levels, on the west side of the stadium, for a walk between the colonnades. This is the part of the stadium that retains the most of the stadium's original historic character, and there are no refreshment stands, banners, or anything else to distract you.
The bond between veterans and Soldier Field was established in the wake of World War I and continues to the present; even amid the hubbub of game day, the Memorial Water Wall (north entry into the stadium) and the Doughboy statue (near Gate O) stand apart, and a walk through some of the quieter areas of the upper concourse will reveal little-known tributes like lines from an anti-war poem by Gwendolyn Brooks.
A visit to the Doughboy also offers a nice refuge from the cold. There are performances in that area of the stadium before the game, but aside from a pro shop for team merchandise, there isn't much else to attract crowds, so it's not crowded.
At the beginning of the season, you are surrounded by lush, rolling acres of greenery and the opalescent blue of Lake Michigan, steps from the stately pleasures of the Museum Campus and a short walk from the center of Chicago. Bring a picnic, and have fun!
At the end of the season, you are marooned in a vast, barren wasteland, battered by sub-arctic winds and far from shelter. Bring a huge thermos of hot coffee, and good luck.
There isn't really a neighborhood to speak of, until you cross Michigan Ave. and reach the condo towers of the South Loop. There's fast food around the Roosevelt CTA station. Eleven City Diner (1112 S Wabash) serves a good Jewish breakfast to go, and Bongo Room (1152 S Wabash) and Yolk (1120 S Michigan) are popular brunch spots.
Kitty O'Shea's (720 S Michigan), inside the Chicago Hilton, is the default post-game bar. It's better than the average hotel bar and a welcome sight in cold weather. A little further away is Buddy Guy's Legends (700 S Wabash), a blues club with live music and a cover charge.
Bears fans are focused on football. This isn't a stadium where people go to see-and-be-seen, especially because nobody looks good in the kind of winter gear required to spend 4-5 hours sitting or standing by Lake Michigan in December.
In terms of interest in the game, there's no difference between fans on the lower 100 level and the upper decks. Wherever you sit, you're just as likely to be surrounded by people who are engaged in the game and care about the team. You'll see plenty of season tickets that are held by entire families and have been for generations. The end zones can be a bit rowdier than the rest of the stadium, but not in a way that should concern casual visitors.
A huge portion of the crowd wears jerseys. As befits one of the NFL's oldest teams, the jerseys on display cover several decades of Bears history, and an informal count didn't favor any particular player or era (divided, roughly, between vintage heroes like Butkus and Ditka, the Super Bowl team led by Walter Payton, and players from the present day).
Bears fans have been conditioned by decades of defensive excellence (and offensive ineptitude) to consider sacks and takeaways the highest form of the football art. As a result, there's a sense that everyone in the stadium is paying rapt attention while the Bears are on defense. Fans make as much noise for good defensive plays as they do for touchdowns. And then they become visibly tense when the Bears have the ball. They know this team.
You would be unwise to drive to Soldier Field. If you must, plan ahead. Tickets to most parking garages are sold exclusively in advance (and may sell out); expect to pay from $50 to $106 for parking close to the stadium, and $21 to $32 in lots at McCormick Place, 31st St. Beach, or the Millennium Park Garages in the Loop. Free shuttles are available from the remote lots. In a pinch, without a reservation, nearly any garage in the Loop (preferably south and close to Michigan Ave.) will suffice.
For tailgating, try to buy an advance ticket for the Waldron Deck (upper level), just south of Soldier Field, or arrive very early for the cash lot at McCormick Place (Lot B). You may want to search the secondary ticket market for a parking pass for one of the tailgating lots.
Public transit is a much better option. The CTA Red, Orange, and Green Lines stop at Roosevelt & State, and connections to the Brown and Blue Lines are a couple stops away. It's not a short walk, but only in the worst of winter is it an unpleasant one. You'll be joined by thousands of Bears fans, though the path is wide enough for all, creating a cheery atmosphere after a win.
Metra suburban trains arriving at Ogilvie or Union Station in the Loop are met by an express bus to Soldier Field, and several suburbs run direct PACE express buses on game days. While the CTA #128 Soldier Field Express and #146 Museum Campus buses also run to the stadium, you may want to bail after a certain point and walk the rest of the way, due to traffic. Buses arrive and depart from the northeast corner of the stadium.
Chicago's new DIVVY bike share program might be the best way to reach Soldier Field from downtown or the Loop. You can rent a bike ($7 for unlimited rides for 24 hours) and take a leisurely ride along the lakefront to the stadium; dock at McFetridge Drive, across the street from the north entrance to Soldier Field (or by the Roosevelt CTA station), and then grab another bike from the same dock for the ride back.
The entry/exit ramps and concourses are very wide and keep crowds flowing nicely, even right before and after the game. Restrooms are kept clean, although they do appear to lag a couple decades behind the rest of the facility.
Access for fans with disabilities is good. The wide entry ramps and concourses make it easy to get in and move around the stadium with limited mobility, and there are enough elevators for movement between levels without long delays.
It is ridiculous that the team based in Chicago has the second smallest seating capacity in the National Football League. (And that's only after Oakland artificially reduced the capacity at O.co Coliseum.) Bears tickets sell out as soon as sales open. If there were 10,000 more seats in Soldier Field, those tickets would be sold, too.
The official ticket prices, as sold by the team, aren't bad at all. Prices don't vary all that much between the top of the 400 level ($104) and the 50 yard line on the 100 level ($190). If you can buy from the team, it's a pretty good deal. Due to the limited supply, however, it's all but impossible to avoid the secondary market. Resellers regularly ask $250+ for 400 level tickets, though you should aim for $150. Even choice parking passes are resold for wildly inflated prices.
Wherever you wind up, sightlines are excellent throughout the stadium. The only seats worth avoiding are the back rows of the 100 level sidelines, which are slightly obstructed by the overhang of the upper deck; the very back of the 300 level north end zone, where the energy lags a bit; and the upper 400 level for a cold weather game, which is exposed to winds from the lake (since there is no 400 level on the other side of the stadium), and is far and away the coldest place in the stadium. Even in pleasant weather, it's a long, steep walk up to the top of the 400 level.
Sections 148/149 abridge the tunnel through which the Bears enter the field, and good views of the pre-game fireworks extend from there to Section 141.
Available to attendees in suites, the United Club is quite nice - freshly made food with smaller lines, additional drink options, and a pleasant, spacious area to hang out before and after the game. (Or during the game, if need be.) It may be the best value among Chicago teams in terms of suites.
The Bears own Chicago. In the third-largest city in the United States, with teams in every league of significance and plenty of fervent college loyalties, Chicago sports fans unite behind the Bears alone. (The Bears own Chicago so completely that they ran their only competition, the Cardinals, out of town, and the universities all stick to basketball.) That's worth a bonus point.
"Bear Down, Chicago Bears", the team's fight song, is also worth a bonus point. It's played after every scoring drive. If you can't get swept up in singing along with 60,000 fans about the 'T' formation, there is no helping you.
A bonus point goes to the connection to veterans in the stadium's name, which has - to the city and team's enormous credit - taken precedence over what would be among the most lucrative corporate naming rights in any sport. Soldier Field is imbued with the honor of more than a century of veterans, from World War I to the present day. It's a cliché, but some things are more important than money.
The history of Soldier Field, independent of the Bears, is worth a bonus point. The first Special Olympics were held at Soldier Field, and it was a host site for the 1994 World Cup. Ski jumps were held from the roof (several times). Johnny Cash, Jay-Z, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and U2 have played Soldier Field. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke there. Very few stadiums in the U.S. even approach that kind of legacy...
...even if Soldier Field doesn't look much like it did during those historic events. Setting aside the debate over whether the 2003 renovation was an act of architectural desecration or a forward-thinking integration of old and new...for better or for worse, Soldier Field is utterly unique. No matter how many stadiums you visit, this is one that will stand out from the rest. That's worth a bonus point (and a lively conversation with other fans).
Since construction for renovations began in 2002, Chicago's Soldier Field has been a target of architectural controversy. Described by many as a resembling a UFO that landed on the old Soldier Field, the futuristic look has slowly gained at least partial acceptance from Chicagoans.
Although it did not become the permanent home to the Bears until 1971 (nearly 47 years after it opened), it is firmly seen as the home of the Bears. Soldier Field has hosted boxing title bouts, college football, soccer, and concerts, along with many more events over the years.
Today, fans can enjoy great seats throughout the stadium with views of the city, lake, and museum campus.
I'm a Bears fan, but I absolutely hate his field. I will NEVER pay to go again. The seats are terrible and unless you have extremely expensive seats and are sitting right on the field you can't see anything. I see more watching it on TV then I ever have at the stadium. Don't waste your money go to another stadium to see the Bears play! The training camp is great in Bourbonnais, IL only place I will go other then Green bay to see them play!
I recently attended a Bears game at Soldier Field and found it to be a great experience. The stadium has a unique look that blends the classical look of the surrounding museums with a modern feel due to the stadium expansion. I found there to be good access to concession stands, souvenir stands, and restrooms. Although there areas were generally crowded during peak times like before the game and half time. The food and beverages were quite expensive, but they do have plenty of options to a lot of classic Chicago foods. If you want to save some money, I would recommend eating before or after outside the stadium as there are ample choices. The areas around the stadium are loaded with other attractions and restaurants making it easy to spend the day in the area. The one drawback is the lack of easy access to the stadium. If you do not park at the stadium, then you must cross to the stadium at Roosevelt St or at the 18th Street pedestrian bridge. Overall I had a great time and look forward to going back to another game!
I've been to the stadium a few times over the years and just went back for a game a few weeks ago. Amazing views from the stadium, both downtown and the lake. My main complaint is the fact that a beer costs $8.50. A craft beer, maybe, but we're talking Coors/Miller/Bud products. On a lighter note, the hot dogs are to die for. Nothing too fancy, just a quality all beef hot dog and the grilled onions are a must! I've been told that there is not a bad seat in the stadium either, nice when trying to decide where to sit.
The people, atmosphere, food and architecture are all top notch!!
Field condition sucks
Looks wierd on the outside, great on the inside. Gets really loud when it matters
The look of the stadium from the outside leaves a lot to be desired simply because of the way the new stadium clashes with the old design. The inside of the stadium is fantastic with all the things a fan wants. It has great seats and they all have good sight lines. The jumbo tron is great and there are plenty of vendors and bathrooms.
As for some of the negative reviews...get a clue. Poor field conditions ? Were you playing ? Then the other negative review where the guys name is Chicagopacker fan and he hates the Bears stadium, shocking.
Its a great place to see a football game
Expensive but worth it, although the fans were disappointing as they were not fully into the game against a division rival. The current team is not playing Bears football and the fans are not buying into the concept. Food is typical. The aesthetics and location are what make Soldier Field so unique, the Roman design is fantastic and the views of the lake and the skyline are wonderful. North End Zone seats get the sun in afternoon games, but are warmer than those in the South End Zone. Make sure to visit the history of the Bears on the West side of the stadium.
Expensive ticket but as a Bears fan from England i was expecting it and i budgeted for it.
Amazing atmosphere for the first game of the 2013 season vs the Bengals and a great result as well.
The stadium couldnt be easier to get to and is an easy walk from downtown Chicago. The food and beer was nothing special but was ok for a stadium. i would recommend and would also go again.
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