The Ultimate Guide to Tailgating in LA: USC Edition

Here’s how to cheer on the USC Trojans and tailgate in style at the Coliseum.

By their own lofty standards, USC football hasn’t had a great decade. There have been some good seasons, but nothing close to the thunder and lightning of the Pete Carroll years in the early aughts, or the vintage majesty of their run through the ‘70s and early ‘80s. But this year, thanks to a new coach, some high-leveltransfers, and their eternally excellent recruiting, it looks like USC is back.

USC is unquestionably the glamour program in Southern California college football, with a roster of dedicated celebrity alumni and fans that rivals (and overlaps with) the Lakers, including Will Ferrell, Snoop Dogg, Henry Winkler, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. The Reggie Bush years made an indelible cultural mark on the college football landscape, both for the team’s absolute electricity on the field, and the scandal that followed in its wake. And now that USC is back to an expected level of flash, excitement, and points on the scoreboard, the bright lights are certain to return to the sideline.

Like the other college football program in town, USC has a historic stadium in the LA Memorial Coliseum. Just south of downtown, its accessibility by freeway and public transit, and its proximity to USC’s campus all make tailgating at the Coliseum an incredible experience. Now that USC is good again, fans will be back at the stadium, and more importantly, fans will be back hanging out and celebrating before the game.

Whether you’re considering a first visit to the house that OJ built or a return to the old alma mater, it’s probably time for a tailgating refresher. Here’s everything you need to know to have the ultimate tailgate experience at a USC game at the Coliseum:

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

When and where does USC play?

USC has five remaining home games at the Coliseum, and one rivalry matchup with UCLA at the Rose Bowl. They are all on Saturdays between October 1 and November 26, except for one Friday night game versus Colorado on November 11.

How can I buy tickets?

Tickets are available through the official USC ticket website and through secondary markets.

Flickr/David Swinney

When and where can I tailgate?

The trickiest thing about setting up your tailgate for a USC game is that it requires planning—you have to buy a tailgate permit in advance, and then the administration assigns you a tailgate location.

Because of the stadium and the campus’ location, all the parking is in large structures, which aren’t exactly conducive to grilling and revelry. So instead, your tailgate location is on campus itself, away from the literal tailgate of your vehicle. You have to transport all your stuff, but the tradeoff is an atmosphere that is several steps above a barren parking lot—the effect is akin to a broey picnic, halfway between a cocktail party and a campus club fair.

Tailgating starts six hours before the game, and ends as soon as kicker Alex Stadthaus sends it away.

Flickr/Ken Lund

What are the rules around cooking and drinking while tailgating?

Glass containers and drinking games are prohibited, and if you want to bring a keg you have to register it when you get your tailgate permit.

If you’re going to grill, you must keep it 15 feet away from structures, keep it out from under your tent, and also bring or rent a fire extinguisher. There are no tabletop portable gas ranges, fire pits, or smokers allowed.


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

If you’re picking up a restaurant picnic, you have a ton of great options right near campus and spreading out in all directions—another perk of that central location. If you’re coming from the West, you might snag some hot chicken from Hotville, hybrid Jewish deli and burger stand favorites from Johnny’s, or NOLA classics from Harold & Belle’s.

From the South there’s Baba’s Vegan Cafe, Woody’s Bar-B-Que, or Tacos Los Güichos. From the East you could swing by Brooklyn Ave Pizza Co., Pikunico, or pick up some of LA’s best tacos from Boyle Heights. From the North there’s Langer’s, Pearl River Deli, and all the wonders of Downtown.

For your beverage needs, it’s worth a detour to the legendary Ramirez Liquor in Boyle Heights if it’s at all convenient. There are plenty of typical corner liquor stores close to campus, or you could stop by a local brewery on the way over, like Highland Park, Boomtown, or Party Beer. And if you’re feeling fancy there’s always Flask & Field.

If I plan to cook on campus, where should I pick up supplies?

There’s a Trader Joe’s at University Village just next to campus, and there’s a Smart & Final right nearby on Vermont, both of which should have everything you need for a classic tailgate. Even better, though, is the selection of local carnicerias dotting the areaaround the stadium.


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

The Trojan Family Game Day Experience is free and open to the public in Alumni Park, right in the middle of campus. There’s plenty of seating, screens showing college football games from around the country, and family-friendly games and activities like face painting, an Extra Point Kick game, and crafting. There are also food options, soft drinks, and beer and wine available for purchase from several vendors.

If you’re looking for an off-campus place to eat, drink, and be merry before or after the game, your options are very similar to our recommendations for Banc of California Stadium.

Can I bring food and drinks into the stadium?

You are allowed to bring food into the stadium provided it’s inside of an approved clear plastic bag, and you are allowed to bring two factory-sealed water bottles per person, but no other beverages. You can not bring any alcohol into the stadium, but there is beer and wine for sale inside.

How good is USC’s football team this year?

Only time will tell, but they are looking very good. And more than just good, they are fun and exciting, with a dynamic offense and charismatic players at premium skill positions. That is where USC has traditionally thrived, turning players into Dancing With The Stars-level celebrities, and they appear poised to do it again.

But if things don’t pan out, it wouldn’t be the first time a highly ranked USC team has tripped and fallen on its face—just ten short years ago, they fielded what some consider the most overrated team of all time.

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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.