Photos by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14
Valley Children's Stadium Bulldog Ln Fresno, CA 93740
Year Opened: 1980
The Biggest Show in Town
Editor's Note: The stadium name changed from Bulldog Stadium to Valley Children's Stadium in July, 2022.
They were the underdog BCS Buster before being the underdog BCS Buster was cool. Before Boise State, before Northern Illinois, before TCU and before UCF there was Fresno State. Boasting the motto “Anybody, anytime, anywhere,” Fresno State challenged the likes of Southern Cal, UCLA, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, and Virginia, and often won. Bulldog Stadium in Fresno gets its fair share of big name opponents with a bigger-than-average-mid-major program.
Bulldog Stadium opened in 1980 as Fresno State football’s home stadium, as well as the host of the now defunct California Bowl. Current capacity is 41,031, which easily makes it the biggest show in town in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California. Fresno is the 5th largest city in California at over 500,000 people, so there are plenty of fans in the area to draw from. The sunken bowl stadium is known to be one of the louder mid-major stadiums in the country, and with good reason.
Food & Beverage 4
Bulldog Stadium is packed with different food options, mostly located at either end zone. All of your normal food options can be found around the concourse, but the north end zone is where the unique variety can be found. There you’ll find soft serve ice cream, foot long corn dogs, funnel cake, chili dogs, polish sausage, garlic fries, monster taquitos, deep-pit barbeque and absolutely delicious nachos. Most of the food falls in the $5 to $7 range, so it’s all reasonably priced. Bottled water or soda cost $3-$4 with refillable souvenir cups costing $6 ($3 per refill). Alcohol is not sold in Bulldog Stadium.
Bulldog Stadium isn’t exactly a premier college football stadium in the country, but for a mid-major it’s got a lot of positives. Upon first approach it appears to be a much smaller venue, but this is because it’s sunken into the ground with lighting that extends horizontally over the field as opposed to straight up. This gives Bulldog Stadium its unique character. It also means you enter the stadium from the top and descend into the bowl as you approach your seats.
The tailgating scene is impressive and the fans are much louder than their numbers. It’s not going to rival the elite programs in the nation so a fifth star would be unattainable, but the scene more than holds its own against any mid-major program in the country. The party outside the stadium is very organized with large tents and plenty of food…and of course plenty of beverages.
There are plenty of activities going on during the game that involve a lot of fan participation. The band and the student section are also very involved, so the atmosphere overall is very festive. I can only imagine how much better the atmosphere is when the stadium is completely full. On the occasion of my visit, the Bulldogs were off to a rocky start for the year, so although the crowd was loud, Bulldog Stadium was only at about 75% capacity.
Three stars seem about right for an area that gets mixed reviews across the board. Fresno itself is somewhere I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time, but the area immediately around campus is on the fringe of Clovis. Clovis is a quiet community northeast of Fresno that has plenty of hotel and dining options. Because of the distance from the ocean, things are more reasonably priced in the Fresno/Clovis area than they are in the coastal California cities.
For dining options, the clear favorite is the Dog House Grill just south of campus. The tri-tip sandwich there is a California delicacy. There are also several excellent Thai and Mexican options in the immediate area. Further north in Clovis is the Sequoia Brewing Company where you can find craft beer and good food on tap. Of course, it’s college football, so you probably could also just partake in the excellent tailgating in the area.
The “Red Wave” may not be able to compare with the Michigans or Alabamas of the world, but for the size of the program they are more than strong enough to warrant a solid rating. The tailgate extends for blocks around the stadium, where locals are cooking up chimichangas and sausages. Once they arrive at the game they may not fill the stands, but they are loud regardless. There is a bit of an issue with fans arriving late, but despite that they clearly rank in the upper echelon of non-power conferences.
I teetered between 3 and 4 stars on this one and settled on a high 3 stars, mostly because of the inability to sell out for a big Friday night game. But those that come are passionate and loyal, so the stars earned are well deserved.
Again, this falls just about average. Fresno State is located between the Yosemite and Sierra Freeways in northeastern Fresno. There are no major interstates in the immediate area, but Route 99 cuts through the San Joaquin Valley several miles to the west and is the only real way into and out of Fresno. There is some congestion around the stadium due to the tailgating scene and some closed roads, but nothing that will take particularly long to navigate.
Parking around the stadium ranges from $5 to $20 depending on distance, but if you’re willing to hike you can find off-campus street parking about a mile from the stadium either south of Shaw Avenue or to the north in the residential neighborhoods.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets to a Fresno State game can vary considerably in price depending on the opponent. Low range is around $20 with the upper range reaching between $50 and $70. Food prices are mid-range with a wide variety, but parking is a bit on the pricey side if you aren’t willing to walk. So overall, it’s right in line with what you should expect to pay for a solid college football experience.
While the experience overall is strong, there’s not a whole lot of frills to award extra points. The unique stadium lighting? The extra food options? Overall, I’ll add points for the Red Wave and general hard-nosed attitude of the Fresno State fans.
Bulldog Stadium is a pretty solid venue from top to bottom. So next time you’re in Fresno throw on a red shirt and head to campus to join the Red Wave for some football.