The Ultimate Guide to Tailgating in LA: UCLA Edition

The Rose Bowl is an iconic venue for football, and for cooking and drinking outside.

In a hierarchy of LA sports fandom, UCLA football ranks somewhere around eighth, depending on how well our NHL and MLS teams are playing at any given moment. It is not even the glamour franchise of LA college football—that would be the scandal-ridden ketchup-and-mustard-colored private school downtown. But UCLA football has one advantage that no other local team can match—the Rose Bowl.

The stadium is tucked into Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco, in a particularly gorgeous section of the ravine that runs from JPL and the picturesque foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains to meet up with the LA River near Elysian Park. The stadium itself is beautiful and significant, a National Historic Landmark celebrating its centennial this year, and it has hosted five Super Bowls, two World Cup Finals, and an Olympic Gold Medal Soccer match, among countless other major events. And what is the best thing to do at this iconic venue? Stand around outside it and drink, of course.

The tailgating scene before a UCLA game at the Rose Bowl is lively and fun, maybe not as dense or well-funded as some of the biggest names in college football but friendlier and more casual for it. Tickets to the game are easy to get, there’s plenty of parking and access to tailgate spots in one of the most beautiful stadiums in the country, if not the world.

If you’ve never been to a game at the Rose Bowl you’re missing out on an essential LA experience, and even if you’re a seasoned tailgater it’s probably time for a refresher. Here’s how to have the ultimate tailgate experience at a UCLA game at the Rose Bowl:

Rose Bowl Stadium
Rose Bowl Stadium

When and where does UCLA play?

UCLA has seven remaining home games at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena this fall. They’re all on Saturday, except for one Friday night game against the University of Washington on September 30.

How can I buy tickets?

Tickets are available directly through the UCLA website, or for shockingly low prices through many secondary market websites.

When and where can I tailgate?

Tailgating is allowed in front of or behind your car in any parking space around the Rose Bowl, as long as you don’t block the fire lanes. The parking lots open six hours before the game and close 90 minutes afterwards.

What are the rules around cooking and drinking while tailgating?

There are no open flames allowed, and no charcoal allowed in the RV section of the parking lots. As far as alcohol, there are no glass containers allowed and no drinking paraphernalia like beer bongs. Drinking games are also technically frowned upon, though they remain commonly played around the grounds. Also, drinking outside is expected to stop once kick-off happens—but you should be in the stadium by then anyway.

Tailgater Concierge
Tailgater Concierge

So what should I bring to eat and drink, and where should I get it?

There are two primary pathways here—either pick up food to bring with you, or cook your own. The simple method is to snag some sandwiches, pizza, or breakfast burritos and then eat them in the parking lot. If you’re coming to the Rose Bowl from the East, you might want to stop by Lee’s Hoagie House, U Street Pizza, or Rodney’s Ribs. From the West you could swing through The Oinkster, Meea’s, or Skaf’s. From the South, there’s Jeff’s Table, Yuca’s, or Moo’s Craft Barbecue. And wherever you’re coming from, there’s always Lucky Boy and the Gourmet Cobbler Factory.

The other option is cooking your own food. This is the higher risk play, but it is also higher reward—there are relatively few opportunities to grill in a gorgeous setting with a friendly crowd, and pulling it off is deeply satisfying. Carne asada is a top option, and if you don’t feel like marinating your own there’s a Vallarta Supermarket just a minute outside the stadium, where you can pick up their excellent Ranchera Preparada, solid salsas, fresh tortilla chips, and mesquite charcoal.

If managing a fire feels like too much hassle you could go with the slow cooker method instead. Grab as many crock pots as you can find and throw together a simple chili in the morning or toss some meatballs in marinara, and you may as well whip up an easy cheese dip while you’re at it. Then you just need a power source for your tailgate, either a portable generator or access to a Mega Power Frunk.

Whatever you choose to do about food, you will probably want a lot of good quality drinks. If you’re a beer person, Eagle Rock’s Talon Tap & Wine has an impressive selection of local craft beer, including perfect crushable hoppy pale ales and crisp pilsners. Highland Park Wine, Good Luck Wine Shop, and Pasadena Wine Shop are great grape stops with plenty of fun and bright natural wines. And there’s a gigantic outpost of Total Wine not far from the stadium if you want a little bit of everything.

Tailgater Concierge
Tailgater Concierge

Is there a place to celebrate before the game if I don’t want to set up my own tailgate?

The official UCLA Fan Zone is in Parking Lot H, which is the closest lot to the Rose Bowl on the Southeast side. The Fan Zone is a free, all-ages area with food and beverages for purchase, as well as games, booths, and inflatable play areas for kids.

If you’re interested in joining a public tailgate, you can get into the Ralphs Tailgate Tent with a $35 purchase at the grocery store the week before the game, or you can make reservations for the Landmark Vineyards Century Club for $75 per person to enjoy a catered buffet and a hosted bar. You can also wander the parking lots and try to make friends the old fashioned way.

Can I bring food and drinks into the stadium?

You can’t bring any alcohol, but you are allowed to bring food in a clear plastic tote or a clear plastic ziploc. Non-alcoholic beverages are allowed as long as they’re in factory-sealed plastic bottles and as long as they’re not frozen.

So I can’t drink at all once the game starts?

Now you can—as of the 2021 season, beer and wine are available for purchase inside the Rose Bowl during the game.

I’m still skeptical. I thought tailgating was for powerhouses in the SEC and the Big Ten, do people really do this?

Yes! Especially as we get into the fall and gameday temperatures drop below 100 degrees but stay above 65. Tailgating is a tremendous way to take advantage of our perfect fall and winter weather, the gorgeous San Gabriel Mountains, and the rare appropriate time to drink outdoors in the middle of the day. And as a matter of fact, both UCLA and USC will be Big Ten schools themselves in a few short years, so it’s time to get prepared.

Rose Bowl Stadium
Rose Bowl Stadium

Is UCLA any good this year?

Maybe! They have some good returning talent but also new players at key positions along the offensive line, and their coach has an interesting up-and-down track record. The good news is, UCLA has an easy schedule—third easiest in the country according to Sports Illustrated’s preliminary calculations—so they should rack up plenty of wins whether they’re actually good or not.

If I want to watch UCLA win, which games should I go to?

The Bruins should be competitive in almost every home game this year, so you’ve got good odds. Just probably don’t come to the Utah game, which the Utes have won five years in a row in dominant fashion, and they have another strong team this year.

But even if they don’t win the game, they’ve never lost a tailgate, right?

This is a popular slogan for football programs with spotty records on the field, but it’s not necessarily accurate. At a Rose Bowl tailgate before the Arizona State game in 2014, for example, a certain young alumnus (who is not this author!) lost repeatedly at beer pong, drank too much, lost his cell phone, lost his house keys, fell asleep in the stadium during the first half and then disappeared for the second half of the game, which UCLA also lost in heartbreaking fashion.

In this case UCLA lost the game and also the tailgate, disproving this slogan and also serving as a powerful reminder—don’t be that guy.

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Ben Mesirow is an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in The LA Times, Litro, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Los Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.