When the new Stanford Stadium was opened in 2006, their play on the field did not match with the beauty of their new home. Since that time, Stanford has become a top Pac-12 powerhouse and a legitimate player in the national scene. From a 1-11 season in 2006 to three straight BCS appearances from 2011-13, which included a Rose Bowl win, Stanford Stadium has seen the gamut of success and failures in its brief history.
Construction of the new Stanford Stadium started just moments after the last game of the 2005 football season, with spectators still in the stands to watch the demolition of the playing surface. This new renovation reduced the seating capacity from 85,000 to 50,000 and removed the track. See Stanford Stadium in its previous layout here.
The original Stanford Stadium, built in 1921, saw big events such as World Cup matches (including the US Women’s National Team’s semi-final victory over Brazil in 1999), presidential nominations and Super Bowl XIX, which was unique as it was essentially a home game for the San Francisco 49ers.
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".
All the staples are available inside Stanford Stadium but there are lots of specialty stands around the concourse that are more noteworthy. When it comes to standard ballpark fare and specialty items, expect a high-price consistent with Stanford and the Bay Area.
The Cardinal BBQ stand offers "humanely raised, antibiotics free" Niman Ranch Ribs ($12) and Rocky Junior Chicken Plate ($12). Both plates are served with potato salad and corn bread.
Sidelines Gourmet Sausages serves jumbo sausages ($11) on a warm pretzel bun which include varieties like German Bratwurst (with apricot chutney or sauerkraut), Spicy Polish (with chili or sauerkraut) and Sweet & Spicy Italian (with grilled onions and peppers). This stand also sells three different gourmet jumbo pretzels: feta & spinach, cheddar cheese and mozzarella pizza.
Stadium Axe & Palm serves a variety of gourmet burgers. The Big Game ($12) is a 1/2 lb bison burger, The Axe ($9) is a 1/3 lb all beef patty, The Fountain Hopper ($9) is Alaskan salmon burger and the Farm Burger ($9) is a black bean burger. Also available is The Immortal ($10) which is chicken tenders served with waffle fries. Sweet potato fries are available for $6.
Soft drinks in a commemorative plastic cup is $6 and bottled water is $5.
What really sways this score to the higher end of the spectrum are the popular gourmet food trucks parked in the fan center, outside the gates, before the game. I'd highly recommend (particularly if you aren't tailgating already) to check out the party in the adjacent field. All the Bay Area staples are there: "An the Go", "Wow" and "Twisted".
It's clear that when designing the new stadium the viewing experience was a central concern. I haven't found a bad place to take in the game. The nice thing is that at only 50,000 seats it's an intimate experience, all things considered. One thing to consider is that the east stands look directly into the sun for late afternoon games while the other side of the stadium sits in the shade of the press and luxury boxes.
Typically it's baseball parks that have the ability to pull on one's aesthetic heartstrings with their quirkiness and majesty. I must say however that Stanford Stadium is quite the visually appealing sight to behold. It sits in a grove of redwoods and is built into the ground with a hillside all along the backside of the seating. Once inside, the sight is of the great green expanse, contrasting with the red seats, all cupped together by the white pillars and palm trees that stand high above the field, looking down on the action.
One of the great things about attending a game at Stanford Stadium is the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band. It's fun to see the personalities of these students allowed to come through in a goofy way in such a macho environment. They are crazy and like to have a good time. On a related note, I love the Stanford tree mascot. Many think it's a joke to have a dancing tree as a mascot but I ask you, aren't all mascots a little weird?
Though some parts of the nation suffer from oppressive heat in the summer and bitter cold in the winter, California doesn't have that issue. Palo Alto and the San Francisco Bay peninsula have some of the most temperate weather in the country. Nearby Redwood City was even voted "Climate Best by Government Test." Though we can never guarantee weather, a trip to Stanford Stadium is one of the safest bets for a comfortable, beautiful outdoor experience.
The university covers a lot of land and two zip codes and is separated from downtown Palo Alto by the El Camino Real. The downtown area is an affluent area with beautiful, safe streets. There is a bunch of shopping, bars and restaurants that are sure to meet anyone's fancy.
The Patio is a great place to go before or after the game. Lots of Stanford fans go there when the team is out of town as well. The Patio has an extensive menu and the quality is much better than your typical sports bar. They have a few domestics on tap, a cider and 3 or 4 craft beers to go along with a full bar and at least a dozen televisions showing college football from around the country.
Rudy's Pub is a good option right next to the Caltrain Station. I prefer the layout of The Patio better but Rudy's has a better tap list and is very convenient next to the station.
Dinner options in Palo Alto include: Pampas for steak, Tamarine for Vietnamese, Darbar for Indian, Garden Fresh for vegan, and Cafe Pro Bono for Italian.
Most impressive about the neighborhood has to be the natural beauty of the expansive Stanford campus. Without a doubt you can make an entire afternoon walking around the campus. There's plenty to do along the way but you'll also come across some impressive athletic venues such as the Avery Aquatic Center, Sunken Diamond and Maples Pavilion.
Fanbases are a reflection of the individuals that make up the community. To that end, Stanford fans are much different than the rabid "football is life" fanbases of the South. That's not to say they are not passionate or intense, they just may have prioritized football in a different way. What's unique is that I have come across on several occasions an immigrant or international student who is lending their ear to a friend teaching them about the game. This being the Bay Area and close to the Silicon Valley, many people from all over the world learn the game at Stanford Stadium and that is something decidedly different than many places.
The student section is near the southwest corner of the endzone and are called the Red Zone. Again, this student section is made up of the unique students that attend the university. Many of them proudly wear "Nerd Nation" t-shirts. They are loud and provide a great advantage for the Cardinal.
Undoubtedly, Stanford fans tend to carry the white collar label, particularly in comparison to their neighbors in San Jose and Berkeley. Unrelated to the fans' passion and support for the Cardinal but of note is the different types of tailgates. Of course the stereotypical tailgates are prevalent but there are also some interesting tailgates that include white tablecloths and real stemware.
Though Stanford sits conveniently on the San Francisco Bay peninsula between the major 280 and 101 freeways, the surface roads leading toward the stadium can be a nightmare. Every street leading to parking areas are one lane roads and busy intersections can take several minutes to queue through.
When entering the venue be sure to check signs as there are as many entrances you can't use as there are that you can. Many gates are reserved for students, season ticket holders and special sections.
The most accessible aspect of Stanford Stadium are the vast array of entrance tunnels, plenty for the flow of traffic. Fortunately they have solved some of the issues that bogged down traffic flow on the concourse and the experience is much better now. Still, if you tend to get claustrophobic you can access the seating by climbing the steps to the upper concourse which is spacious and outdoors.
My advice, take Caltrain if possible if you're unfamiliar with the surface streets. Train stations are scattered along the peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose and the Palo Alto station is just a ten minute walk away.
Ticket prices are constantly fluctuating based on demand. Most of the seats are swooped up by season ticket holders and mini-plans. There are general admission seats available and are usually $15-$20. You can certainly find them cheaper on secondary markets, particularly early in the year. However, these prices jump all over the place. The Stanford website advertises standing room only tickets to the Oregon game for $90 and corner/endzone tickets to the Cal game for $75.
Food is expensive, and parking is expensive (if you have a pass) but you can certainly see the game economically by eating prior to the game and taking the train. A day spent on the Stanford campus coupled with an elite college football team is well worth the ticket price.
Setting, aesthetic and level of play all positively enhance the experience. The band and student section remind one of the beauty of college sports and specifically, of the culture of Stanford and the Bay Area as a whole. The grassy areas high above both endzones allow room for kids to play and throw the ball around, creating a fun environment for those families with children.
One drawback in my eyes was a lack of historical significance. I'm a sucker for memorabilia or insignia representing important moments in the school's football history.They do have a some banners around honoring the former All-Americans from the program but I would prefer more acknowledgment of the team's success, particularly the successes of late.
There are few more beautiful and comfortable settings in all of college football. A day at the Stanford campus is always worthwhile and the top national program certainly enhances that. I prefer to attend early season games when the weather is perfect and tickets are less expensive but Stanford Stadium is a great place for big games and looks great for those nationally-televised night games.
Construction of the new Stadium Stadium started just moments after the last game of the 2005 football season, with spectators still in the stands to watch the demolition of the playing surface. This new renovation reduced the seating capacity from 85,000 to 50,000 when many seats with obstructed views were removed.
Stanford Stadium now features a two tier seating structure with luxury boxes along one of the sidelines. Seating has filled the space where a track would have been in the old stadium, creating a closer view and more intimate environment.
Surrounded by the gargantuan redwoods of the Stanford campus, there may not be a more beautiful scene in which to tailgate. The stadium isn't even visible from some main roads because these trees will act like a shield, safely keeping the stadium within it's natural walls.
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