It’s safe to assume that 49ers fans were in rapture when setting foot in to Levi’s Stadium for the very
first time. Their former venue, Candlestick Park, was a dump. Crumbling infrastructure, horrible
sightlines, damp and cold and uncomfortable with its location right next to the bay. The team had
played at Kezar Stadium right in San Francisco prior to moving to the ‘Stick. So for this move..all the
way to Santa Clara, 46 miles south of San Francisco, would mean moving the center of gravity for this
storied franchise in a very big way.
Getting to the venue
Parking at the stadium is limited. And very expensive. The team sells single game passes online via
Ticketmaster for spaces in designated colored lots, with prices starting at $60 per space. This is
probably the first NFL stadium that codifies the concept of using public transportation to get to and from
the game. The VTA light rail system has four separate lines with surface platforms right on Tasman
Drive. Single fare runs $2 and there are ticket tables to make the purchase qw\uick and seamless.
From there you cue up to the line you wish to take, and even though it looks oppressively crowded, the
trains come in at regular intervals and lines move quickly.
There are three regional rail systems to ferry fans to the games. The BART regional subway terminates
at the Fremont Station about 15 miles from the stadium, but on game day special shuttle buses take
fans the rest of the way. The VTA also connects into the Caltrain, and the ACE train runs from the
Central Valley area into San Jose, where from that point shuttle buses run to the stadium. It all sounds
convoluted but the stadium’s web site explains it all very succinctly for the purposes of travel planning.
Outside the venue
Santa Clara paid huge moneys to secure bragging rights towards becoming a host NFL city. And so…
where is the stadium situated? In the middle of suburban style office parks, mid rise hotels, and an
amusement park nearby, all nicely manicured, wide boulevards and expressways bisecting the
neighborhood, and about as dank and sterile an environment as one would ever not want to find.
Perhaps it has something to do with local ordinances, but good luck finding a food or drink vendor, a
food truck, merchandise salespeople, or anything to add to a colorful outside the stadium experience.
There are a couple of nearby hotels like the Westin and the Hyatt, and presumably they have lobby bars
or a place to grab a quick bite. Otherwise, make tracks for downtown San Jose, about 8 miles away, for
rpe and post game food and drink and entertainment. At Levi’s Stadium it’s show up via rail or bus,
attend the game, and then go home. Even the tailgate scene is muted and subdued, thanks in part to
the lack of a central focal point in the lots surrounding the stadium
The massive public spaces and gathering spots inside the stadium are the biggest plusses,
especially in the 100 level concourse and the high up standing room areas in the upper deck end
zones and their attendant standing room areas. There are TV monitors everywhere, all the themed
concession stands have LED board advertising their fare, and even charging stations for cellular
phones at every other section.
From the minute you arrive at the main concourse, there is a wow factor, with dramatic views of the
seating bowl at just about every vantage point, and point of sale concession areas pretty much
everywhere. There is one escalator tower to take fans to the uppermost deck, located on the Tasman
Drive end zone side. With this being a vertical building and the 400 level very high up, use the escalator
or otherwise this becomes a very exerting climb to the top.
The three decked seating bowl has a unique configuration, in that the entire west sideline consists of
club seating, which is then stacked by four levels of suites. The concourse serving these club seats is
completely enclosed, although an exterior outdoor walkway is designed into this side of the building to
allow the rest of the fans 360 access around the stadium. There are two massive HD scoreboards
high above each end zone, and small ribbon boards offering game stats and line scores run along the
rim of the 200 deck. None of the outdoor seats are under any sort of canopy or cover.
So with the lack of a robust tailgate scene outside, or great places to go visit to eat in proximity to the
stadium, the 49ers have made up for it with an immense variety of stadium fare, much with a local
theme or twist. Make no mistake, the prices here are very expensive (try $8.25 for your basic hot dog
and $12 for a large draft beer).
The barbecue stand offers pulled pork, beef brisket and free range chicken. Indian food stand, titled
simply “Curry”, has rajasthani lamb and chicken tikka masala. Even vegan dogs are avialable at the
hot dogs stand. A Chinese food stand offers Peking duck and black vinegar portobello. The Tap Room
stand offers over 40 craft bres as well as wines produced by local vintners.
Did we mention garlic fries? That is a signature Northern California treat and a must have.
A private club is located on the ground floor Bourbon Steak and Pub bistro, and local chef Michael Mina
offers an all inclusive “tailgate” but access is only available to seat licensed season ticket holders who
have to pay a special membership fee. The steakhouse is open year round. Very pricey menu.
Club seating is available on the west side of the stadium, with access to a carpeted and exclusive
concourse named the Trophy Club. There are also four different configurations of suites to
accommodate anywhere from 15-40 guests, and suite holders get parking passes, premium
concierge services, access to all the club lounges and to the Michael Mina tailgate a the Bourbon
Steak and Pub.
Uh oh. They forgot something. The 49ers have won five Super Bowls. Their storied franchise history
includes some of the absolute greats who played the game, going back to their days at Kezar Stadium.
Good luck finding any banners, numbers, flags or anything else commemorating the franchise.
Anywhere. There is a 20,000 square foot 49ers Museum on the ground floor of the stadium. Good luck
trying to get in there on game day. Admission is $15 and it is open year round, and includes a Hall of
Fame within the museum. The concession canopies bear really nice streetscapes of scene from the
Bay Area. But no mention of any player or football scene. This is a huge and major disappointment.
Touchdowns, extra points, fumbles
Touchdown… to our road trip friends Gary “The Prince” Herman and Mike “The King” Casiano for
making this trip with us.
Fumble… No retired numbers. No reference anywhere to the immortals who made this team so great.
Touchdown… Nice display commemorating Fantasy Football on the 100 level concourse east side.
Extra point… Beer stands named after Candlestick Park and Kezar Stadium. Complete with murals of
these grand old venues. Nice.
Fumble... for the annoying foghorn, which they blast before the game and after home team scores. It's
probably billed as a signature element of the gameday experience, but comes off as lame.
Fumble... Not having the 49ers Museum open on game day? Add unsportsmanlike conduct penalty!
Touchdown.. for the over-the-top courteous and friendly in house staff. They treat you like a welcome
guest here from the minute you step on the grounds.
Over $1.2-billion was spent on this fortress of a stadium. The local have to be happy. Everything… seat
licenses, tickets, parking, concessions are really expensive and raise the bar on what fans are willing
to pay top attend a NFL football game in this day and age. Is it worth it? The team has had no problem
selling out the first season, and even the nosebleed seats (and we mean that description literally) go
for over $100 a pop. Whether this is sustainable moving forward, once the curiosity and wow factor of a
new stadium gets old, remains to be seen.
Food and team store: 8
Scoreboard and electronics: 8
Fan support: 9
Location and neighborhood: 3
Banners and history: 2
In game entertainment: 4
Concourses/fan comfort 7.5
Bonus: tailgate scene: 1; charging stations 1, parking lot greeters 1, fantasy football display 1