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  • Writer's pictureMeg Minard

Pechanga Arena – San Diego Gulls

Photos by Meg Minard and Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

Pechanga Arena 3500 Sports Arena Blvd San Diego, CA 92110

Year Opened: 1966 Capacity: 12,920


Gulls in San Diego

The San Diego Gulls are members of the American Hockey League (AHL) and skate their home games at the 50+-year-old Pechanga Arena, known by locals as The Sports Arena. Built in 1966, the arena also hosts three other sports teams: San Diego Seals (box lacrosse), San Diego Sockers (indoor soccer), and the San Diego Strike Force (indoor football). It is also home to other entertainment such as concerts, Disney on Ice, boxing events, Harlem Globetrotters, and more. A busy and popular Kobey’s Swap Meet is held every weekend in the parking lot of the arena.

The team began operation in 2015 after relocating from Norfolk, VA. It is the sixth hockey team to play at the arena, the fifth with the name ‘Gulls.’ The hockey team’s parent club is the nearby NHL Anaheim Ducks, roughly an hour and a half drive between the two. This close distance allows player call ups/downs relatively easy for the teams and players.

Although an older facility, the game day staff, operations, and team put on an entertaining evening of hockey.

Food & Beverage 4

The arena has a surprisingly vast number and variety of concessions, though at California prices. Be sure to walk the entire concourse before making your selection.

Pizza Port serves cheese and pepperoni slices ($9.50 a slice) as well as a few of their craft beer selections. Nicolosi’s (Italian) meatball heroes or mac and cheese ($13.50). Rockin Baja Lobster sells lobster bites and fries, tacos, burritos, and a variety of fries ($7 – $18).

Melissa’s Field of Greens offers a healthier option with Caesar or Southwestern salads ($15.25). Phillys & Fries has Philly cheesesteaks, nachos, fries ($7 – $13.50). Arena Grill has the staples of hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, nachos, vegan burgers, and sausages ($7 – $14.25). Milkshakes and ice cream ($7 – $10), caramel apples, and frozen dipped bananas are for sale as well.

Several breweries line the concourse including Elysian Brewing and Goose Island. Beers are a hefty $16.25. Cocktail stands are also in abundance. The Stella Artois Lounge is a premium entertainment area available for rent and/or membership and includes a posh bar and other VIP features.

The one thing missing at the arena is tables to eat any purchased food. Instead, fans bring their refreshments to their seats.

Atmosphere 4

Although old, the arena serves the hockey team very well.

The seating area is comprised of two levels of average width cushioned seats but no cup holders. Fans enter the middle of the seating area and walk up or down to their seats. The second level is about 15 steps up. No handrails are available for the top nine rows in the lower level. Those uneasy with steps should get seats in row nine as that’s the top row when walking in. Every seat has a decent view of the action on the ice. Ushers have a puck in play sign but disappointingly do not always use it.

It’s comfortably warm for an ice rink. A sweatshirt and/or jacket is all that is needed. The music is acceptable; not painfully loud which is a welcome element in sports these days.

Closed captioning is not available. A suitably sized scoreboard hangs above center ice. It shows the game action video, the period, shots on goal, penalties and time left, and the score. Two small dot matrix boards are located above the seating area behind the goals.

Besides the game, other activities include puck shuffle, chuck a puck, pee wee hockey, t-shirt toss, etc. Gulliver, a mascot dressed up as a seagull, roams the stands.

Neighborhood 4

The area directly surrounding the rink is bland. But within just one to three miles, plenty of choices for eating, drinking, and merriment are available.

Ocean Beach Pier is just three miles from the venue and is where visitors can watch the surfers (or surf themselves), walk along the beach, go swimming or sunbathing in the warmer months. Or, stroll the neighborhood shops, restaurants, and brewpubs. It’s a great place to visit. Sea World San Diego is a little over two miles and Historic Old Town is just a mile, both worth visiting.

A plethora of places to eat and drink are within a few miles. We recommend the Long Story Irish Pub (though finding parking may be difficult), Euphoria XIX Grill (family-owned and operated), and Cocino de Barrio (Mexican). Within walking distance of the arena are staples like Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, Broken Yolk, and Buffalo Wild Wings (though we do not recommend this Broken Yolk and BWW).

For the hop head, plenty of breweries are close by: Modern Times Brewery, Deft Brewing (European style brews), and if visiting Ocean Beach check out Ocean Beach Brewery (serves food) or Kilowatt Brewing. Many, many more than those are within five miles of the rink.

A Wyndham Garden Inn is across the street from Pechanga Arena and a Ramada Inn is a block and a half away. I stayed at the Ramada. Though basic, it is clean and safe. Many more hotels in a variety of price ranges are in the area so pick your preference.

Sports fans can attend other games in the area during hockey season including the NLL Seals, MASL Sockers, and during the latter part of the season, the AFL Strike Force. The University of San Diego is two to three miles from the arena so you may be able to catch a Toreros baseball, basketball, football, or other athletic games.

Fans 4

Fans boo the opposing team when they take the ice. They get excited and loud when the Gulls score a goal and even more excited when they think a fight is about to start or a t-shirt is about to be tossed into the seating area.

Visitors will see multiple Gulls jersey designs in the stands.

The Gulls have the largest following of the three teams playing at the arena now. And, they’ve ranked one of the top three in AHL attendance since their opening, averaging 8K – 9K a game dropping to a little over 7K in the 2021-2022 season.

Access 4

Getting to the arena is easy. It is right off the I-8 and I-5 Interstates in the Midway District of San Diego, a tad over a mile from Old Town San Diego and a little over three miles from the San Diego Airport. Plenty of parking is available in lots surrounding the venue for $15. The box office is on the north side of the building (Kurtz Street side). ADA parking is on the north side of the arena. Handicapped and wheelchair seating is available along the inner walkway.

Public transportation is available but can take close to an hour with multiple changes if coming from the airport. Check the San Diego MTS trip planner to see if this is an option from where you are. If not, Uber and Lyft drop off and pick up is on the south side of the venue near the gas station and Chick-fil-A.

Attendees must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test and their ID prior to entry. Even with that, it is easy and painless to get through the checks, security and scanning of the ticket. Clear 12” x 6” x 12” stadium sports bags are allowed. Fans can walk the entire concourse. The concourse can get crowded between periods and after the game when a full crowd is on hand.

Tickets are only available through AXS – an online ticket provider. Fans purchasing tickets at the box office must download the AXS app to their phone to get their tickets. Hard copy tickets options are not offered.

Return on Investment 3

The Gulls do provide an excellent game day experience even with beer prices ($16.25) being higher than the parking price ($15).

The price of tickets varies based on date and opponent. They can run from $19 upper level to $119 lower level on the ice. Generally, most seats in the lower level run from $29 – $60 which is much higher than other AHL teams in California and Arizona, though lower than the parent club in Anaheim.

Friday home games are $2 Bud Light Nights. Military and First Responders get discounted rates at all games. The team offers College Night games where students can purchase tickets for $15. And season tickets, mini plans, and groups get discounted ticket prices.

Food prices are high but this is San Diego; visitors from out of town will need to remember to pack a bit more of that legal tender when heading to this city.

Have a beer at one of the many local breweries before or after the game at half the price. If time and your location permit, consider using public transportation.

Extras 2

The one retired number hanging from the banners is #20 Willie O’Ree who played for the WHL (Western Hockey League San Diego Gulls in the late 1960’s early 1970’s and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Photos on the concourse walls portray famous events and entertainers who performed at Pechanga Arena over the years. It is definitely worth the effort to stroll the concourse looking at and reviewing these historic events performed here.

Final Thoughts

The venue has a lot of history on display and is a throwback to an earlier time when arenas were designed to be functional fan facilities. Prices are high for an AHL game but the fan game day experience is memorable.

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