Dodger Stadium’s New Front Yard Feels Like One Big Tailgate

Centerfield Plaza makes the ballpark a fun place to hang out before and after the game, with good food, drinks, and vibes.

LA sports fans are often maligned for their fairweather nature, late to arrive and early to leave, there for the scene and there to be seen and not for the love of the game. Some of that is fair criticism, but there is also another kind of LA sports fan.

If you hang out in the upper bowl at a Laker game, post up at a sports bar for a Rams game, or sit in the outfield pavilion at Dodger Stadium, you will see them. They are not courtside in expensive athleisure, not preening for cameras or craning their necks to see who’s sitting two rows in front. Instead, they are wearing free giveaway t-shirts from a game six years ago, focused on the action, and yelling (mostly) good-natured insults at the other team’s best players. In short, there is a powerful and fun undercurrent of real fans supporting LA’s teams. And over the last couple of seasons at Dodger Stadium, the experience has finally been geared more toward true blue LA sports fans.

The major change is Centerfield Plaza, a new entranceway to the stadium that also doubles as a sort of front yard, which debuted in 2021. Over the last couple of seasons, additions and tweaks to the setup have continued to improve the experience. Now there are picnic tables and live music, lots of food options, multiple open-air bars, a play area for kids, a ring of statues to celebrate Dodger legends (and provide photo ops), and two very cool vintage trucks that have been repurposed to serve beer and ice cream, respectively. And against all odds, it worked. People actually hang out there, arriving well before the first pitch to eat, drink, kick back, and enjoy the ballpark.

There are stadium upgrades that happen every year, rebranding of sections and repainting of seats, reorganizing vendors, and renumbering aisles, but rarely do they have a meaningful impact on the fan experience. No one really cares about the layout of the stadium store, innovations in the little scoreboard games they play between innings, or what shade of blue their seat is. Fans really only want shorter lines, better food, and a more comfortable place to enjoy those things, and Centerfield Plaza delivers.

Standard procedure for baseball fans has often been to show up right before the first pitch to catch every moment of the game and minimize time spent squished into cramped seats, paying too much for mass-market beer and mediocre food. But now, if you show up to Dodger Stadium early, you’ll see a stunning and lively scene, big groups posted up at picnic tables, friends sitting at outdoor bars watching other games, and kids running around playing and climbing. It’s a nice way to turn your ticket into a whole evening out, making an event out of it, especially with baseball’s newly shortened games. It feels fun and different, and exciting. And it feels like something that has long been forbidden at Dodger Stadium. It feels like a tailgate.

kombucha in dodger stadium
Photo courtesy of Health-Ade

Part of that fun feel is thanks to improved dining options in center field. There’s a Shake Shack out there now, and they’re serving totally reasonable facsimiles of dishes from their standalone restaurants. Lines get long, but people are happy. There are several places to get a Dodger Dog, and despite the supplier shift, not much has changed about them, which is mostly for the best. There are also plenty of actually solid vegetarian options, like Field Roast’s plant-based Dodger Dog, Shake Shack’s ’Shroom Burger, and Potato Taquitos from the generic but decent LA Taqueria stand.

Drinks are much better, too, from an improving beer situation with several craft and craft-adjacent choices to signature Micheladas in gigantic cups and a selection of Hornitos-branded tequila cocktails. Alcohol-averse fans gained a great new option this year when Health-Ade kombucha became the first official non-alcoholic probiotic beverage partner of the Dodgers. Shockingly, this appears to be the only such partnership in baseball. Health-Ade’s cans are available around the stadium in several flavors and also mixed into a mocktail in the Right Field Speakeasy; yes, that is a thing that exists, with a wall of windows that look out onto the visitor’s bullpen to boot.

That speakeasy is an appropriate symbol of the new stadium ethos—cool and unique, something special for the fans that is actually value-added, a reason to show up early and stay late, and also maybe a little silly and overwrought. It’s a lot, but in a good, creative way, which is a substantial shift from how the stadium has felt in the past.

From the very beginning, there has been an undercurrent of hostility about the place, invisible hands reaching up from the neighborhoods that lie underneath. The team and its players became woven into the fabric of LA, from the glory days of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the ’60s to Fernandomania in the ’80s, the R.O.Y Boys of the ’90s to the dominant modern era, but the fan experience at the stadium and its looming presence in the neighborhood have often been less than ideal. There were high-profile fights and infamous traffic, limited public transportation, and promotional giveaways gone awry.

But now Dodger Stadium feels like a place for the people again, family-friendly and fun, the kind of night at the ballpark the city always deserved. Now to hope the team can give us a reason to come to the stadium in October and November this year.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.