Centered in San Diego’s East Village—a former warehouse district given new life by upscale apartment blocks and dozens of new restaurants—sits Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres. Built in 2004 to anchor the massive urban renewal, the ballpark represents one of the most vibrant and exciting locations in the city.
Petco Park hosts concerts, monster truck rallies, and even a professional golf course. However, baseball draws real crowds. With Opening Day only a handful of weeks away, and the Padres determined to win big after an exciting 2020 season, the entire city looks forward to an unprecedented year. As a season ticket holder, I am certainly excited to head back to the stadium this year.
Visiting such a stadium at this time promises lifelong memories, especially in a park with as many unique nooks and crannies as Petco, to say nothing of its perfect weather and architectural beauty. To make the most of any visit, this article will outline some of the best places to explore and events to experience, as discovered by a season-ticket insider.
The San Diego Padres Hall of Fame
Located on the first floor of the Western Metal Supply building—a nineteenth-century warehouse that forms the leftmost corner of the field—and just past the Palm Plaza entrance on 7th Avenue, this small museum details the history of the San Diego Padres. Admission is free with a seat ticket, and visitors could spend over an hour exploring the exhibits. There are impressive displays and a trove of photographic information showing the Padres grow from a Pacific Coast League team to the Major League Baseball hopeful of today, covering over a hundred years.
Somehow, this museum goes unnoticed by most visitors, which is a shame in the long run, but a current benefit to those who do stop by. Being a recent convert myself, having only followed the Padres since moving here a few years ago, I appreciated the backstory of all our fine traditions.
Petco Park San Diego – Beer Alley
San Diego is famous for craft breweries—nearly 200 in the county and climbing—and nowhere is this better appreciated than on the main concourse behind home plate. This area, affectionately called Beer Alley, showcases dozens of local breweries and features 96 different local brews. IPAs, lagers, pilsners, ales; whatever a beer-lover desires can be found here. Macrobrews are also on tap, although nothing beats a local beer at Petco.
Of particular note are the .394 San Diego Pale Ale from Alesmith, co-created with Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn, and the recent Swingin’ Friar Ale from Ballast Point, the Official Beer of the Padres. Both breweries are iconic in San Diego, and either beer is a refreshing option at any Park event.
Best Food at Petco Park
One cannot discuss beverages without also mentioning the food at Petco Park. Sure, one can bring food into the park from off the street, and there are excellent restaurants in East Village, but no trip is complete without sampling the fare inside.
As with all ballparks, the usual offerings abound: Hot dogs, pretzels, candy, popcorn, and the like can be found anywhere. What makes Petco special is its commitment to the local scene. There are locations within run by some of the best restaurants in the county, including Brigantine, Miguel’s Cocina, Phil’s BBQ, and Hodad’s, among others. Each of these is worth a try, and they never fail to satisfy.
Read our complete guide on the best Petco Park Food and Restaurants here>>
The crown jewel, in this writer’s humble opinion, must be the tri-tip nachos offered by Seaside Market. These are found throughout the park and come in a size large enough to share—or to keep someone going for days.
They consist of tortilla chips drowned in nacho cheese, smoky barbecue sauce, and sour cream, which are then topped with tender beef tri-tip and green onions. What’s not to love? This hearty menagerie of tastes should not be missed.
Southern Californians love tacos, shown most intensely with this tradition. Every week, most taco stands and Mexican restaurants in the area offer taco specials, and Petco Park is no exception.
Several different establishments throughout the park hold weekly taco specials of most common varieties. Discussing them all would require a list of its own—and presents a fun challenge for the more adventurous patrons—so here the focus will be on the very best of the bunch: The fried fish tacos at Brigantine, located near the Toyota Terrace above the main concourse.
Brigantine’s tacos are about the size of a spread hand and contain a full fish filet with shredded cabbage, salsa fresca, and a tangy ranch sauce. They also have a spicy red pepper sauce that is definitely recommended. And, just like the other taco stands around the park, each taco is a steal at $2.50 apiece. Add in the five-dollar, 12-oz Estrella Jaliscos, and this is one of the best cheap meals in town. They’re so good that I sometimes skip lunch to make space for an extra one.
Speaking of weekly events, every Sunday is a celebration of the U.S. military and its enormous presence in San Diego. In fact, the city’s known as America’s Finest City in part due to its hosting the U.S. Navy Headquarters and various Marine and Navy bases. Sundays, thus, host large crowds of military personnel and their families, who receive discounted or free tickets for these afternoon games.
In addition, these games routinely feature military flyovers from the neighboring bases. Sometimes these are just jets and helicopters flying past, but they frequently involve paratroopers who circle overhead before landing in the outfield. This pre-game spectacle, as well as the sincere appreciation for everything these men and women do, brings pride to every San Diegan.
Of course, San Diego has never been a very serious city. In 2019, following the lead of Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, the Padres introduced a mascot race featuring the lead characters from Anchorman, a film set in San Diego.
In this mid-game entertainment—which plays sporadically, more often on the weekends and during special games—the Channel 5 News Team races around the warning track for glory. Lead anchor Ron Burgundy, sportscaster Champ kind, field reporter Brian Fantana, and meteorologist Brick Tamland all vie for the finish line held by members of the Pad Squad, the Padres’ on-field entertainers.
Hilarity often ensues: Brick is distracted by a lamp; Ron trips Champ; the Channel 2 News Team starts a brawl in the outfield; and many others. Though brief, this delightful reference to a classic comedy always charms spectators.
The Best Places to Sit at Petco Park San Diego
The Park at the Park
While Petco Park San Diego is beautiful from every angle, without a bad seat in the house, the sheer scope of the place invites exploration, and there are many inviting spaces around. Park at the Park, also called Gallagher Square, is a large green space and pedestrian plaza located beyond the outfield.
It contains a grassy hill, a stage with a large screen, food and beverage stands, a play area for kids, and statues of former Padres greats, including an impressive one for Tony Gwynn. When the Padres are on the road, it even converts to a civic park for anyone to enjoy.
There is a festive, picnic-like atmosphere there. People frequently bring blankets and coolers to enjoy the space with their kids and dogs. San Diego seems to have more canine than human inhabitants. This has led to some games becoming ‘Bark at the Park’ events, featuring special treats for dogs and owners.
Also, although the stage only airs the televised broadcast of the game while in session, the platform hosts a variety of smaller events before first pitch. Numerous civic organizations put on cultural demonstrations, often with accompanying foods or giveaways, which entertain all ballpark patrons.
What’s San Diego without a beach? Just in front of the Park at the Park is a sandy area—once more extensive, but still nice—and an open pavilion. This area sports a full bar and nearby food stalls, as well as excellent, near-field-level views. It is very popular, with people standing three- and four-deep at the railing. This area, like the Park at the Park, does not require a special ticket, although the lower area is reserved for parties. There is also precious little shade, so a hat or a short stay is recommended.
What draws the crowds is its affinity for home runs. Balls are commonly batted into the area, both during games and before the Padres practice batting. This is the ideal place for catching a unique souvenir of a Petco Park visit.
On the Toyota Terrace level, just outside the Western Metal Supply building, sits a small bar and restaurant: The Still, operated by Cutwater Spirits. This local distillery made a name for itself by crafting canned cocktails. They can be purchased here alongside some rather good (if expensive) seafood.
It also has an exceptional shaded patio, with tables against the railing overlooking left field. You’ll have an excellent view down the third baseline. The entire park is in view, making for a memorable experience from a unique angle. The Still has become my favorite non-seat-based location in the park.
The tables are first-come-first-served, meaning no extra ticket is required for the area. There are reserved seats on a lower level, like at the Beach, but the view only marginally improves. This is a great place for a snack or a meal with a nice cocktail for a few innings, or even an entire game. Since the tables seat four or six—and are always in short supply—it can also be a good place to meet people when visiting with a small party, or going alone. In fact, two of my ballpark buddies and I met over ceviche one evening at this very location.
This final location is something of a hidden gem, although it can be seen from anywhere in the ballpark. The top floor of the Western Metal Supply building contains an area known as the Loft. It’s essentially a sports bar, and is ideal for relaxing before and after a game, with many enjoying it during as well.
The space is wide and, through windows overlooking reserved balconies, has pretty good views of the field. There is a variety of sausages and meat-heavy sandwiches, and a sizable selection of beers and mixed drinks. It also hosts a number of popular pool tables and numerous televisions to keep up with the game.
The best event began in the 2019 season. Following a Padres win—and there are substantially more these days—the Loft offers Celebratory Buds. The special deal is $3 after the final out, lasting for an hour. These specialty Budweiser cans sport a Swingin’ Friar – a cool souvenir. And they taste far sweeter than normal, especially after a victory over the Dodgers. It is ideal for waiting out a stuffed escalator back to the ground, and for mingling with other fans to discuss the game.
Overall, Petco Park San Diego represents one of the best venues the city has to offer, with a wealth of fun and memorable events, food, drink, and special traditions that rival those of any other stadium in the world. A summertime visit to San Diego is incomplete without touring its beautiful grounds and enjoying a game. With any luck, this guide provides the insider knowledge necessary to make the most of any visit.
This article was written by Ben J. Byard for San Diego Explorer.com
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Last Updated on March 25, 2021 by Maria Haase