If you really think about it, “tailgating” before a sporting event is as American as Apple Pie. As a country, the United States loves its sports, and definitely loves its food (and beverages). So combining the two only makes sense.
In the college sports world, which tends to attract the most passionate fan bases, tailgating becomes the cornerstone for a full day’s sporting experience. You start early in the morning, eat a meal with a few thousand of your friends, and head to the stadium to watch your favorite team play.
But which Universities around the nation do it the best? Glad you asked. Here are 26 of our favorite (in no particular order):
University of Washington
Located right off Union Bay, which adjoins Lake Washington, it’s no surprise that the University of Washington’s tailgating scene is better known by the portmanteau of “sailgating.”
Many Huskies alumni and fans will pull their boats up right off the lake, and put their anchors down for a morning and afternoon of enjoying food and beverages — the former of which includes a great seafood scene — in preparation of watching the University of Washington, which has made it to a Bowl Game ever year since 2011, taking on their next opponent.
Louisiana State University
For the residents of the state of Louisiana, football is literally a religion, culture, and way of life. You can easily make the argument that many residents — especially those in the bayou — devote their entire weeks during football season in preparation for a weekend of football, starting with the legendary tailgates that take place prior to LSU football games.
And if you’re someone who enjoys cajun cuisine, LSU’s tailgates are pretty much your slice of heaven, considering all the great foods you’ll find like Jambalaya to alligator to gumbo to frogs legs to baby back ribs to any other great barbecue.
University of Southern California
Given the location of the school itself, the first draw to a USC tailgate should be quite obvious: you’ll have picture perfect weather almost year around. That’s probably why a USC tailgate could include your normal menagerie of students and alumni, but also famous celebrities who are frequently tied to the school, like Will Ferrell or Snoop Dogg.
And just before kickoff, you’ll find USC’s marching band leading the fans down Trousdale and into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the Trojans play.
If you happen to be catching a University of Mississippi (colloquially known as “Ole Miss”) game in Oxford, and look in the direction of the student section, you might wonder aloud if there’s some type of formal occasion going on.
That’s because gamedays there involve the men wearing some of their finest southern duds, and the ladies donning their best sundresses as far as the eye can see. But, the “formality”of the event ends there, as Rebels fans will throw tailgates that are as good as any you’ll find at any SEC school.
University of Nebraska
The University of Nebraska doesn’t quite get the recognition these days that it used to have, but make no mistake: their reputation as being one of the winningest schools in college football between the 1980’s through the early 2000’s still attracts an incredible contingent of fans from all over the American midwest.
And in the hours before kickoffs, watching the “Red Sea” of football fans part from the full parking lots and make their way into Memorial Stadium is a sight that even Moses would find amazing.
University of Notre Dame
There might not be an institution of higher learning that’s more steeped in college football than the University of Notre Dame. There are those that will argue that if college football is a religion, then South Bend, Indiana is it’s holy land.
A quick internet search will reveal insider tips like heading over to the Stadium Tunnel Tour, where you’ll find some of the best classical game day cuisine — including brats, sausages, and beer — that you can find. And of course, make sure you say hello to “Touchdown Jesus” while there as well.
University of Michigan
You want to know the power of a University of Michigan tailgate? You could argue that if you counted the number of fans in the parking lots before the game and tallied that population, it’d be one of the most populous cities in the state of Michigan.
Considering that Michigan Stadium seats upwards of 114 thousand fans, the math makes sense. And even though it can get bitter cold in the winter months, that doesn’t slow down the warm grilling, cold beverages, and lathered up fans ready to support the Maize and Blue.
University of South Carolina
The University of South Carolina doesn’t quite get the “rabid fandom” notoriety of some of it’s SEC sister schools, but the fans unquestionably no less passionate there — and that’s absolutely manifested in the tailgate scene. After all, what other school offers something like a “cockaboose,” which is literally a vintage train car that can be rented for the purpose of hosting a pre-game meal and beverages with the exclusivity of those whom you choose to invite.
And if you’re lucky enough to be invited to one, some of these vehicles are kitted out with flat screen TV’s and fully stocked bars, making for an epic pre-game experience.
University of Texas
Even students and alumni who went to college in some of the most aesthetically pleasing Universities this nation has to offer will tell you that there are few more beautiful locales than the campus and surroundings of the University of Texas.
But when it comes to the tailgating scene? Well, that harkens back the old quote by President George W. Bush: “don’t mess with Texas.” Given the University’s overall prominence when it comes to athletics, the fans and alumni of the school are well aware of how to get down in preparation of a big game.
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama — home of the University of Alabama football program — isn’t the birthplace of college football, even if the fans there sure as heck act like it. Oh, and they sure as heck tailgate like it too.
As you might suspect, any tailgate for a Crimson Tide game will be filled with beyond-rabid fans consuming beverages of all sorts, and some of the best southern cuisine you can find. Word to the wise: when you’re eating barbecue at one of these tailgates, just remember that it goes with Alabama white sauce.
Ohio State University
One of the best parts about “The” Ohio State University being located in Columbus, Ohio is that the fans who come to watch the Buckeyes play can take in some of the fantastic cuisine that the city has to offer.
Columbus is quietly an underrated “foodie” town, which makes it a perfect locale for folks who want to make a day of watching the game — starting things off with a fantastic meal and a few beverages, and then watching Ohio State beat the daylights out of whatever poor soul they’re playing.
West Virginia University
Let’s put it this way: the fact that “Go Mountaineers” and “Let’s Drink Some Beers” rhyme with each other is a fact that isn’t lost among the West Virginia faithful. But these fans are as passionate as you’ll find at any University on the eastern seaboard, with or without the benefit of suds.
Case in point? Whether things are going too well, or not very well at all, keep a close eye out for the students burning furniture.
University of Georgia
The Atlanta Falcons might be the professional sports team in the state of Georgia, and the state might have other college football programs within its borders, but make no mistake: the University of Georgia’s football program is as synonymously symbolic to the state as the peach itself.
The quietly underrated city of Athens, Georgia has a ton of fantastic places to set up shop for your tailgate, but one of the more unusual tailgating locales in the nation is at Oconee Hill Cemetery—located on land actually owned by the university.
University of Florida
If you ask any of the media talking heads that have been to college football games all over the nation and ask them to make a list of the top game day atmospheres, you’ll almost certainly find the University of Florida on any of those lists — if not near the top of them.
Before the game, the frenzied homecoming pep rally known as “Gator Growl” makes tailgating at the University of Florida an easy top-10 candidate nationwide.
University of Wisconsin
The state of Wisconsin doesn’t exactly seem like a “prime locale” in the college football world. But make no mistake: those in the know will tell you that Madison, Wisconsin is one of the best collegiate and college football locations in the entire nation.
It becomes very self-evident at a tailgate that Wisconsin is the cheese state, and most every tail gate will feature something else which Wisconsin is known for: deep frying literally anything you can think of, and serving it up piping hot (to battle the cold Wisconsin winter).
University of Tennessee
They might be longer and longer departed from the glory days of the Phil Fulmer regime, but the Tennessee Volunteers football program very much remains the pride of the entire state.
The University of Tennessee is home to the Vol Navy, a dedicated and ever-growing group of alumni and fans that pull their boats up behind the stadium to enjoy everything the pregame festivities have to offer.
University of Iowa
It’s only natural that a school located smack dab in the America’s heartland would be as football-crazy as any university in the nation. With all due respect to the folks in Ames, Iowa City is the home of the state’s beloved college football program: the University of Iowa.
When you make your way to a tailgate, you’ll likely find every kind of comfort food known to man. The state fair-like atmosphere of said tailgates will entertain hometown and visiting fans alike.
Florida State University
When making your way down to a tailgate at Florida State University, you might get something of a neck cramp, when you turn around and look at all the stunningly beautiful coeds who’ll be joining you on your journey (in addition to all the other natural scenery the Florida panhandle has to offer).
After all, remember the FSU Cowgirls that became so famous thanks to the comment by Brett Musberger? Believe us, there’s no shortage of “eye candy” like that over there.
Nestled in the New River Valley within the Appalachian Mountains lies Blacksburg, Virginia, home of one of the most passionate college football fan bases in the nation — belonging to the Virginia Tech Hokies. On Saturday’s, the bustling Blacksburg looks like a ghost town from a zombie apocalypse movie, as literally everything shuts down in anticipation of Hokie football.
On game day, the parking lots all over the beautiful “Hokie stone”-constructed campus are filled with a sea of fans donning Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange, before they fill the stands of Lane Stadium.
University of Oklahoma
With all due respect to their Big 12 counterparts one state to the south, people will tell you that it’s Oklahoma that knows how to bring the southwestern flare to a tailgate. There’s a little something for everyone in Norman on game day, and the center of activity is near the intersection of Jenkins Avenue and Lindsey Street, just south of the stadium.
From here, among a crush of humanity all dressed in red, you can venture in almost any direction to find some of the best tailgating for hundreds of miles.
University of Oregon
Some folks in Pac-12 country will not like hearing this, but facts are facts: Eugene, Oregon might very well be the home of the best game day atmosphere in the Pacific Northwest. If you look at any list of “toughest places for visiting college football teams to play,” Autzen Stadium — home of the University of Oregon — is always on that list.
In terms of the tailgate itself, food and beverage choices range from Pacific Northwest “crunchy hippie” fare to your typical barbecue, chili, sausages and breakfast burritos, along with an absolutely outstanding craft beer scene.
Make no mistake: there is zero “little brother” syndrome among the students, alumni, and fans of the Auburn University football program, when they talk about that “other” University just about 150 miles to the west of them (ie, their Iron Bowl rivals). Auburn’s official tailgate spot is called The Loveliest Village on the Plains, which is quite lovely… unless you’re wearing the colors of the hated Crimson Tide.
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.
North Dakota State
You might not know the school past being the alma mater of Carson Wentz or Easton Stick, but there is a proud following of the North Dakota State Bison, which you’ll find on each game day in blistering-cold Fargo.
There’s a good reason that North Dakota State is a frequent destination for ESPN’s “Gameday” crew. Food selections include deer, buffalo or moose, delicacies hard to find anywhere else on this list. As the saying goes, “the strength of the bison is the herd,” and fans exhibit the pride in tremendous ways.
The Tigers of Clemson University might’ve only recently become a college football powerhouse under Dabo Swinney, but if you ever meet any fan or alumni of the school, their passion for their football team goes way, way back further than the “Swinney era.”
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.
Pennsylvania State University
You can talk to college football fans of all shapes and sizes, and all walks of life, and you might very well not find a single fan base that’s more proud and tightly knit than Penn State alumni.
In “Nittanyville,” Penn State fans have a great time sprawled across massive parking lots for hundreds of thousands of fans annually, who partake in festivities before the game before filling into Beaver Stadium.