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6 Top College Football Tailgates for Alumni — and How to Plan a Visit

Gather with friends and family for football, food and fun

spinner image View of table at tailgate with towel that reads 'We tailgate harder than your team plays' outside Autzen Stadium
Tailgating is serious business. At the University of Oregon, Ducks fans goad fans of the opposing team.
Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

With the kickoff of college football season, it’s a great time to return to your alma mater and cheer on the team. And there’s no better way to celebrate the game experience than to gather with friends, family and fellow alumni at a pregame tailgate.

Join hundreds or even thousands of others in parking lots and fields surrounding the football stadium to set up grills and coolers by your car or RV and join the revelry. Sing the school fight song as you grill up sizzling sausages, sip some adult beverages, play games of cornhole or toss a football.

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The “best” tailgate will probably always be at your own alma mater with close friends. But if you want to explore, here are six college football tailgates from around the country you can enjoy even if you’re not an alum. These tailgates are notable for their history, entertainment, amenities, spirit or sheer size.

In addition, we have travel advice for flights and lodging, reflecting the extent to which the popularity and big business of college football is changing the way we travel.

Getting to the tailgate: air travel and lodging

College football is such an event that airlines are adding specific routes for thousands of eager fans to reach games, while hotels are tailoring their properties to meet football season demand. A 2023 Vrbo study found that nearly 60 percent of college football fans regularly travel during the season to attend games.

United Airlines has added 127 direct flights between college destinations this season, flying Friday-to-Sunday routes to big games from September to November. Included are upcoming tilts between the University of Southern California and Notre Dame (flying between Los Angeles and South Bend, Indiana) and Louisiana State University vs. Alabama, with added flights between Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Birmingham, Alabama.

American Airlines has added 10 new seasonal nonstop routes (and additional flights on other routes) for popular football destinations, including daily service from Chicago (ORD) to State College University Park Airport (SCE) in Pennsylvania to bring in fans to fill Penn State’s more than 106,000-seat Beaver Stadium.

Alumni seeking a college-themed lodging experience should try the chain of Graduate Hotels, located in 31 college towns across the U.S. These fun hotels are decked out with school decor and are usually close to the stadium. Be sure to reserve far in advance, particularly for weekends with big games. If you’re going to the game with extended family and friends, home rentals near campus can be a good option. Vrbo has focused on building its rental inventory in college towns and even created a curated list of college-football-themed homes to rent. The Choice Hotels group has a football portal page with links to its college-town properties as well as travel tips for fans.

If you want to tailgate but don’t want to bother with the fuss of finding parking and bringing all your gear, you can rent ready-to-go tailgate setups at many campuses. Services such as Tailgater Concierge or REVELxp provide the equipment, while Ultimate Tailgating allows you to add RVs or food trucks to your pregame party.

Top alumni tailgates

Regardless of your college allegiances, these tailgates are worth a visit for the great scene they provide on big game days.

spinner image group of alumni and fans play cornhole before a University of Michigan football game
University of Michigan alumni play games at a tailgate in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Daryl Marshke/U of M Athletics

Supersize tailgating: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Michigan Stadium, capacity 107,601

Autumn in Ann Arbor is a great time to tailgate, providing a perfect setting with its traditional football weather of crisp air and blue skies, and colorful fall foliage bursting from trees around the stadium. The “Big House” of Michigan Stadium is the largest in the country, hosting enough fans to populate a tailgate the size of a small city. Visitors won’t be disappointed with the size, scope and general friendliness of tailgaters (provided you’re not wearing the scarlet of rival Ohio State University).

Popular tailgate locations include the lots at nearby Pioneer High School, the grounds of the University of Michigan Golf Course and Ann Arbor Golf & Outing Club, along with seemingly every front yard and lot within a 5-mile radius. Each year, the alumni association hosts a massive homecoming tailgate, while Michigan’s many fraternities, sororities, graduate schools and clubs hold alumni tailgates on many weekends. To add to the celebration, the 400 members of the Michigan marching band perform and lead the masses to the stadium before the games.

spinner image Exterior view of Autzen Stadium with tailgating fans in parking lot before Oregon vs Michigan State game
Parking lots surrounding Autzen Stadium at the University of Oregon are full of cars and tented setups.
Rod Mar/Getty Images

Indoor-outdoor tailgating: University of Oregon, Eugene

Autzen Stadium, capacity 54,000

The University of Oregon Ducks have enjoyed a run of football success over the past three decades, building an impressive fan base around the country. But they’re called the Ducks for a reason — late fall in the Pacific Northwest is wet, often with near-incessant cold rains, taking some of the fun out of an outdoor barbecue.

Fortunately, the University of Oregon hosts fans in the aircraft-hangar-size Moshofsky Center (the “Mo”) next to the stadium for up to 5,000 people to enjoy indoor tailgate-style festivities before, during and after games. Parking lots surrounding the stadium (and in the neighborhoods beyond) are filled with tailgaters in cars, RVs and tented setups — rain or shine. The school band warms up fans with song and dance prior to the game at the main lot, getting tailgaters ready for the main event.

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spinner image a group of University of Florida alumni smiling before a football game
The tailgating matches the rivalry between the University of Florida and the University of Georgia, whose matchup is held off-site in Jacksonville, Florida.
City of Jacksonville Division of Sports and Entertainment

Tailgate cocktail party: University of Florida vs. University of Georgia, Jacksonville, Florida

EverBank Stadium, capacity 67,838

The Florida-Georgia football game has been held annually since 1933 — not at either campus but at the neutral site of Jacksonville, Florida. If you think a noncampus location reduces the tailgate parties, think again. This game has long been known as “the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party.” Despite school, city and TV efforts to change the name to downplay the cocktails, the tradition continues. “It’s more than just a game. It’s a social event,” said local columnist Bill Kastelz, who coined the moniker in 1958. “People don’t come here to watch the game so much as root for anything wearing their colors,” Kastelz said in a 1974 interview.

These days, alumni can escape the undergrad madness to reserve space for their tents, RVs and tailgate setups at the stadium parking lot, with alumni associations from both schools hosting events for donors, clubs and corporate supporters.

If you can’t make it to this once-a-year event, both universities host some of the nation’s outstanding tailgates and stadium experiences at “The Swamp” (the nearly 89,000-seat Ben Hill Griffin stadium in Gainesville, Florida) and the more than 92,000-seat Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia.

spinner image A burnt orange classic Longhorns car at a University of Texas pre-game tailgate
A burnt orange Longhorn car can be part of the tailgating festivities at the University of Texas at Austin.
Peter Tsai Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Tailgating feasts: University of Texas, Austin

Texas Memorial Stadium, capacity 100,119

Sloppy Texas barbecue goes together with a tailgate, like, well, Texas goes together with football. University of Texas tailgates (and the restaurants and food trucks that surround the stadium) cook up beef brisket, ribs, chicken, tri-tip, and every imaginable meat combination slathered with sauces that made Texas famous for its barbecue. The mouthwatering smell wafts through the air across nearby parking lots, house parties and diners.

For the official pregame street party, be sure to park yourself (not your car) on Bevo Blvd., just outside the stadium. See the team mascot, the Texas Longhorn steer Bevo, lead the parade along the boulevard, which includes the school band, cheerleaders and the football team doing their “Stadium Stampede” into the venue.

spinner image Fans tailgate before a Yale University football game
Tailgating at Yale University is said to have begun in 1906.
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Most historic tailgating: Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Yale Bowl, capacity 61,446

Yale football hasn’t been a national powerhouse since the administration of William Howard Taft, but it boasts a vibrant history: The school team began playing football seven years after the Civil War, and hosted what many consider to be the first football tailgate.

At Yale’s 1906 game against Harvard in New Haven, The New York Times reported “a constant stream of automobiles … to bring more than enough people to fill the great stadium,” adding, “the grounds were simply black with machines parked together.” Arriving fans “gazed with envious eyes as they neared the field at small parties of automobilists eating tempting viands that had been brought in hampers spread out in picnic fashion.”

This crazy new fad of driving to a football stadium to enjoy your own picnic seems to have caught on. More than a century later, walk through Yale Bowl’s nearby parking lots, and you’ll pass plenty of parked “automobilists” enjoying their own “tempting viands,” such as deviled eggs served with chardonnay.

spinner image a group of USC alumni sit at a table to enjoy a food before a USC football game
Tailgating at the University of Southern California takes place in car-free campus courtyards or at lots around L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
USC Alumni Association

Celebrity tailgating: University of Southern California, Los Angeles

L.A. Memorial Coliseum, capacity 77,500

Southern California sunshine, proximity to Hollywood, visiting the two-time Olympics-hosting stadium and a celebrity-dotted scene make USC one of the top tailgate experiences in America.

USC graduate and superfan Will Ferrell has been known to not only stroll USC’s tailgates but also lead the team on the field, and he’s even dressed as a Trojan in the marching band. There’s no guarantee you’ll see any of USC’s celebrity alumni at the game, but it’s fun to study the stylish crowd.

Alumni arriving with kids in tow will appreciate USC’s pregame Trojan Family Game Day Experience. This family-friendly gathering with organized games and entertainment is a good alternative to traditional tailgates at lots surrounding the stadium (campus lots are off-limits for tailgating). Fans also can reserve space for on-campus “tailgates” in car-free campus courtyards, with many alumni clubs and associations hosting their own events there.

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