25 Best College Football Tailgate Experiences, Ranked
Millions of fans show up at college stadiums each year to watch their favorite team battle for supremacy.
A good percentage of those fans are there for other reasons — to mingle with fans and partake in the tailgating experience.
Each college has its own signature way of doing it, some more unique than the others.
Here are the 25 best.
Honorable Mention: Army-Navy
The battle between the two service academies is perhaps the best — and politely petty — rivalry in college football.
With a laundry list of extraordinary mascot thievery to its name, the Army-Navy rivalry reaches epic proportions leading up to the game, which is typically played in Philadelphia, the host city for 87 of the 118 Army-Navy games entering the 2018 version.
The experience has the feel of a Thanksgiving weekend with a traditional family football game played by brothers.
That is why the City of Brotherly Love makes for a great setting.
The "battle" is often referred to as the most respectful game in the world.
The Harvard-Yale rivalry dates back to 1875, so there must be some knowledge of how to tailgate at the contest known as "The Game."
Yale leads the series 67-59-8 (what happened with the ties?).
Tailgating is a refined traditional event, but The Game is more known for its pranks.
The most famous practical joke was in 2004, when Yale students got the Harvard student section to raise placards that read "We Suck." The prank went viral and was featured on several news shows as well as "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"
#24: University of Southern California
Trousdale Parkway, the on-campus pedestrian street at USC, is the main drag for tailgating. It is where you can mingle with celebrities who have graduated from the school (Will Ferrell and Miranda Cosgrove) or who have adopted USC as his or her own (Snoop Dogg).
Fraternities and sororities typically team up for epic parties.
About an hour before kickoff, the marching band puts an extra pep in everyone’s step as it makes its way down Trousdale to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
#23: Ohio State
No tailgate list would be complete without the university that brags about being The Ohio State University.
Ohio State is steeped in tradition, including everything from Skull Sessions (pep rallies) at St. John Arena, The Best Damn Band in the Land, the wearing of scarlet and gray, the seriousness about competing for a national championship, and the spelling out of O-H-I-O.
Tailgating at the University of Oregon means enjoying one of the most idyllic places in the nation. Scenery includes mountains and sparkling waterways.
The walk to Autzen Stadium would make Henry David Thoreau proud.
The Moshofsky Center (The "Mo"), the Ducks' indoor practice facility, is the place to be, holding 5,000 fans for tailgating before, during and after the games. It’s like a sports bar mecca.
Food choices range from Pacific Northwest hippie vegan fare to your typical barbecue, chili, sausages and breakfast burritos. And the craft beer is outstanding.
Memorial Stadium, nestled near downtown Lincoln, Neb., gives fans a chance to bar hop before games, a nice convenience considering the alcohol restrictions on campus.
The downtown experience is electric. The town becomes the third-largest city in the state on game days.T
The Unity Walk by the players is also memorable.
But over the past few years, tailgate backyard parties have become an epic adventure for students.
Auburn’s official tailgate spot is called The Loveliest Village on the Plains, so it must be a nice place to tailgate, right? And it is.
Loaded with friendly fans, this village is a great place to visit, even if you are wearing opposing team colors. Well, things can get kind of sketchy when Alabama comes to town.
The real thrill of visiting Auburn for a game, though, is the Tiger Walk, which Auburn claims to have been the first to do, and Toomer’s Corner, where fans roll toilet paper after a victory.
#19: North Dakota State
Bison home games are like homecoming — for every home game.
As the saying goes, "the strength of the bison is the herd," and fans exhibit the pride in tremendous ways, so much so that ESPN's "College GameDay" makes the trip to Fargo on a regular basis.
Food selections include deer, buffalo or moose, delicacies hard to find anywhere else on this list.
#18: Red River Rivalry
The Red River Rivalry pits Oklahoma and Texas against each other at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas every fall, and coincides with the Texas State Fair.
Unlike the typical tailgate atmosphere, fans roam the fairgrounds in crimson and cream or burnt orange gorging themselves on delicious fried food, which includes outrageous delicacies like fried corn dogs, fried funnel cakes, fried pickles, fried Oreos, fried sticks of butter, fried beer and fried soda.
And you will often cross paths with band members, cheerleaders and former players as you walk around the fairgrounds.
With two of the most passionate fan bases from two of the most tradition-rich football programs in America coming together, the atmosphere is electric as the stadium gets split 50/50 for the game.
#17: Georgia vs. Florida
The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party lives up to its name.
Fans decked out in blue and orange or red and black pitch tents and set up grills on parking lots, underpasses, grassy lots, nooks, crannies and every imaginable spot within walking distance of Everbank Field in Jacksonville.
For this tailgate occasion (usually in late October or early November), an average of 150,000 fans arrive for game day and many never make it into the stadium, choosing to party throughout the game along St. John’s River.
#16: West Virginia
Want to experience what it’s like at a West Virginia game — before, during or after the contest? Check out the video of Mountaineer fans singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” after the 2018 season-opening 40-14 rout of Tennessee in Charlotte.
At an actual tailgate in Morgantown, it’s a good bet that you’ll get to taste some form of venison and some home-cooked moonshine.
#15: University of Alabama
With no professional team to contend with, Tuscaloosa revolves around college football. "Roll Tide" is ingrained in your psyche — and your eardrums — as you stroll through The Quad on game day.
A huge grassy area just north of Bryant-Denny Stadium now allows fans to set up shop. Once inside the stadium, be ready to sing along to “Yea, Alabama,” “Dixieland Delight,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and “Rammer Jammer.”
Tailgating on The Quad shuts down about 90 minutes after the game, but The Strip and downtown Tuscaloosa have plenty of bars to celebrate a Tide win, including places like The Houndstooth, The Bear Trap, Gallette’s, Innisfree or CopperTop.
One of the best parts of tailgating at Clemson is the Tiger Walk. Before every game, the players walk from the parking lot into Memorial Stadium, giving fans a chance to greet their team.
The Clemson experience is all about what has been described as “the most exciting 25 seconds in football,” when the players finish the Tiger Walk and assemble on the top of a hill above the east end zone.
Then, after rubbing Howard’s Rock, a cannon fires and the team storms down the hill to the field.
Madison consistently is described as the best college town in the country and the gameday experience is more about the house parties and awesome sports bars like State Street Brats and The Kollege Klub. The friendly Midwesterners who do have tailgates on their front lawns and backyards are open to visitors whether you’re a Badgers fan or an opposing team’s fan. Brats and cheese curds are the food of choice. As far as the game, Camp Randall Stadium rocks when House of Pain’s song “Jump Around” is cued up, sending the student section into a frenzy.
The best part about tailgating at Iowa games is that the tailgating doesn’t stop with kickoff.
School officials allow tailgating to last for hours after the game ends, which is a good thing, especially when the Hawkeyes win.
The other signature piece of Iowa tailgates is the Big (Bleeping) Turkey Leg, began by the recently retired Chuck Ford and continued by a plethora of others.
#11: South Carolina
Cockabooses are the signature piece of tailgates at South Carolina.
Twenty-two train cars sit on an inactive railroad and provide fans an opportunity to “railgate.”
You can eat and drink in luxury in these decked out vintage rail cars.
Neyland Stadium sits next to Tennessee River, where the "Vol Navy" assembles for a daylong party.
Approximately 200 boats dock along the Tennessee River in an annual tradition that officially began in 2002.
People will jump from boat to boat to experience different sailgates as music blares across the waterway. “Rocky Top” is the go-to song.
#9: University of Washington
Tailgating on boats? Count me in.
Husky Stadium and the idyllic campus of UW sit alongside Lake Washington.
Husky Harbor can dock about 150 boats, and “sailgating” has been a norm since the 1950s.
Approximately 8,000 fans partake in sailgating for each home game.
Once you dock the boat, be sure to visit the College Inn Pub, which is situated within an English Tudor Revival building constructed in 1909 and is a short walk to campus.
#8: University of Michigan
Michigan Stadium can hold 115,109, the most in America.
Fall games allow visitors to take in the changing of the leaves. Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club fairways make an ideal spot for tailgating — and partying.
Better yet, the course is a chip shot away from the stadium.
And if you decide to go on homecoming weekend, you’ll be lucky enough to experience the annual Michigan Mudbowl, a Greek tradition first staged by Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
#7: Penn State
Happy Valley is hours away from a major metropolitan area, so a city emerges on game days.
Beaver Stadium becomes a virtual snowfall when fans wear white during White Out games (usually against rivals like Ohio State or Michigan).
The student section becomes “Zombie Nation” when the techno song “Kernkraft 400” is blasted on the loud system.
The vibration from the students jumping became such a concern at one point that stadium officials tried cutting back the number of times the song was played throughout the game, replacing it with The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Blur’s “Song 2.”
After student complaints (and engineering studies deemed the stadium safe), the song was brought back.
Parking is an annoyance, but The Longhorn Tailgaters, located at the corner of Congress and 17th street, and the Horn-Ball Texas Tailgaters (1703 San Jacinto Blvd.), provide regulars and newcomers an awesome place to party before the game.
If a tailgate isn’t your thing, though, Austin is the place to be for barbecue. Check out the “The List of the Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas” by Texas Monthly magazine.
For starters, visit popular places like Franklin Barbecue, La Barbecue, Micklethwait Craft Meats, and Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew.
After the game, West Sixth Street (commonly known as "Dirty Sixth") becomes Texas’ version of Bourbon Street.
#5: Texas A&M
There’s a reason Texas A&M fans are called The 12th Man. Enter Kyle Field, and see 102,733 fans sway in unison to the chants by Aggie Yell Leaders.
As far as tailgating, the food and hospitality are top notch.
Cooking is an art form in College Station with outrageously delicious selections like smoked brisket, stuffed jalapenos, bacon mixed with cream cheese, ribeye wrapped with bacon and covered with bleu cheese, and all types of prime cuts — including gator bites when Florida comes to visit.
#4: Notre Dame
Tailgating at Notre Dame is more about the history than anything else.
Visit Touchdown Jesus, which is the giant mural officially referred to as The Word of Life.
Say some prayers at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Take the Stadium Tunnel Tour and take the walk into Notre Dame Stadium, something every Golden Domer has done since 1931.
Some consider South Bend, Ind., to be the mecca of college football, so savor the tradition.
#3: University of California, Berkeley
Charter Hill gives fans a perfect view of the Golden Bears in action — for free.
The hill rises about 100 feet above Cal's Memorial Stadium, and fans can view the games unencumbered.
Thus, tailgating happens before, during and after the games.
Another perk — the California Victory Cannon is situated on the hill and blasts off after every score so be sure to cover your ears.
When it comes to food, LSU might just provide the best in college football.
Walk the Parade Grounds, and it’s like a smorgasbord of Cajun food, including boudin, jambalaya, sausage, sauce piquante, crawfish, etouffee, and gumbo.
Food is so central to the LSU experience that a cheer can be heard throughout the weekend: “Hot boudin, cold couche-couche, come on Tigers, push, push, push!”
#1: Ole Miss
If you follow college football, you’ve heard of the Grove. And if you’ve never been, you need to put it on your bucket list.
A leafy, 10-acre wonderland of tents is college football’s version of fine dining and etiquette.
Approximately 25,000 fans fill the area for Rebels contests, and it’s the reason why Ole Miss has a saying, “We may not win every game, but we never lose a party."
You can’t do any cooking with an open flame, but there are plenty of things to do.
Other traditions include the Walk of Champions, started in 1985 by coach Billy Brewer, who began leading the players through the packed crowd on the route through the Grove to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.