Madeline Gearheart | October 27, 2017
The 10 Best Tailgates in College Football
The origins of tailgates are tough to nail down.
Some trace it back to the Battle of Bull Run, where Union-side observers brought baskets of food to watch the fighting and cheer on their preferred “team.”
But without sports or vehicles involved in the event, can it really be tailgating?
The first college tailgate took place in 1869 during a pregame celebration for the Princeton vs. Rutgers inaugural football game. And as private vehicles first became available and then widely used, tailgate parties quickly followed.
Today, dedicated fans across the country take part in this annual custom.
But what makes for a great tailgating experience?
Is it a matter of the schools’ traditions?
Does it all come down to food?
Or is school spirit the key ingredient?
For the list below, we looked at countdowns from years past and evaluated each school’s tailgating culture to come up with our picks for the best festivities to enjoy, whether you’re a first-time tailgater or you’ve been attending tailgate parties for as long as you can remember.
Read on to see where you can find relaxed sailgating, luxury traingating, midnight yelling, and sophisticated celebrations that rival the Kentucky Derby.
Where: Auburn, Alabama
What to Wear: Blue and orange
Affectionately called “the Loveliest Village on the Plains,” Auburn is a thriving, historic university set in a classic college town.
The campus has a wide selection of spots to set up your tailgating station, ranging from free, first-come-first-served locations on Biggio Drive to the luxury spots on Campus Green where you can pay someone else to take care of everything—and we do mean everything; catering, tents, seating, and TV packages are all available at this site.
Festivities start early, and Auburn fans are known for their friendliness and hospitality. So if you’re new to tailgating, this is a great place to get initiated.
Where: Columbia, South Carolina
What to Wear: Garnet and black
The University of South Carolina has all the team spirit and enthusiasm you’d expect from a Southern football institution, but it has a little something extra that you can’t get anywhere else: traingating.
Some lucky Gamecocks fans trade in their trucks for luxury train cars on game days, complete with full kitchens, rooftop decks, and TVs. These so-called “Cockabooses” came on the scene in 1990, and they’ve come to define the tailgating scene at this South Carolina university.
Of course, traditional tailgating is still a big draw, and you’ll find plenty of people partying the old-fashioned way with fried chicken, six-packs, and folding chairs in various spots across campus.
Where: State College, Pennsylvania
Team: Nittany Lions
What to Wear: Blue and white
Penn State has built a football tradition to rival all others, so it’s little wonder that its tailgating culture is legendary.
Upwards of 100,000 people descend on the stadium for every game, but no amount of traffic can keep these fans away. And luckily, Penn State has huge parking lots to give everyone enough room for their tailgating festivities.
These fans have years of experience, and they put it to good use whipping up all kinds of delicious meals and snacks. This is definitely one game day experience that should be on every college football fan’s bucket list.
7. Texas A&M
Where: College Station, Texas
What to Wear: Burgundy and white
Texans are passionate about both college football and good food, so a weekly custom that involves both is bound to be a good time.
The Aggies put on a fantastic party in College Station with barbecue to die for, but the real attraction takes place after the sun goes down. Texas A&M’s famous Midnight Yell is not to be missed!
Dating back to 1931, the Midnight Yell is a one-of-a-kind pep rally where student-elected yell leaders coach thousands of fans through proper cheers in preparation for the next day’s home game. If you plan to attend, take it easy with the shouting so you can fully enjoy eating and socializing during the sporting event.
Where: Seattle, Washington
What to Wear: Purple and gold
The Western US isn’t known for its tailgating prowess, but the University of Washington is making a name for itself.
Seattle has some of the best sports fans around, and they all come together for the purple and gold at each home game. As far as food goes, you can expect the typical fare (burgers, brats, and drinks of all kinds) as well as fantastic seafood, including fresh salmon.
But UW’s biggest claim to tailgating fame may be its proximity to the water. This prime location allows for some fantastic sailgating, as fans dock close to the stadium and spend a relaxing day in Union Bay’s harbor.
Where: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Team: Crimson Tide
What to Wear: Crimson and white
Bama’s Crimson Tide is at the top of preseason college rankings, so diehard fans are ready and raring to go even before the first kickoff.
Those who’d like a more quiet, slow-paced experience can enjoy the family-friendly tailgating section, newly implemented last year. This area has a strict policy against alcohol.
If you’re daring enough to set foot in the regular, alcohol-friendly tailgating areas, be sure to visit the Walk of Champions and appreciate tributes to Alabama football’s most legendary figures.
Where: Knoxville, Tennessee
What to Wear: Orange and white
Just like the University of Washington, Tennessee boasts a fantastic marine tailgating scene.
Known as the Vol Navy, these sailgaters trace their roots back to the 1960s, when a well-known local broadcaster traveled to the stadium by boat to avoid a horrendous traffic jam.
These days, hundreds of boats show up to the party. Whether you’re planning to enjoy a home game on sea or on land, check out the VolNation discussion forum to prepare for a great game day in Knoxville.
Where: Madison, Wisconsin
What to Wear: Red and white
Rumor has it that Madison is the best college football town in America, so it comes as no surprise that Wisconsin’s tailgating scene is one of the best around.
The stadium’s location in town doesn’t leave much room for parking lots, however, so fans have gotten creative over the years. Most people park on lawns and in backyards that students rent out, and all it takes to find food and merriment is a walk through the neighborhood.
Students go all out for their beloved team and bring that same enthusiasm to their house parties, both before and after home games.
Where: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
What to Wear: Purple and gold
If you’d describe your ideal tailgate as wild and outrageous, then you belong at LSU.
The fans in Baton Rouge love their Tigers with a passion.
LSU’s claim to tailgating fame is its fantastic array of food. Cajun cuisine has a place of honor here, and you’re bound to find jambalaya, gumbo, and crawfish among other local favorites.
Before you head to a game, check out the school’s recent policy changes meant to curb binge drinking among student tailgaters. The restrictions only apply to students, but these new rules have caused something of an uproar, so keep an eye out for how the new rules may change the tailgating atmosphere this year.
Where: Oxford, Mississippi
What to Wear: Red and navy blue
There was really no contest.
The tailgating at Ole Miss can’t be beat, which is why it’s our number-one pick for the country’s best tailgating parties.
The university’s elaborate setup centers on The Grove, a ten-acre field populated by stately trees. This is where tailgates are hosted each week, and these dedicated fans honor their surroundings with the most sophisticated spreads in college football.
Ole Miss prohibits cars and cooking over an open flame, and instead of traditional brats, burgers, and beers, The Grove favors fine china, fancy clothes, and bourbon. You’ll even find chandeliers hanging inside some of the tents.
The spirits are still high, however; a little pomp and circumstance doesn’t diminish the love of the game for these fans. Ole Miss has plenty of helpful tips online to make your tailgate visit a trip to remember.
If tailgating strikes you as a little too hot, cold, or crowded, you can enjoy college football from the comfort of your own home. Make sure your TV package offers channels that will show the games you want to see, and while you’re kicking back and getting cozy on the couch, enjoy some classic tailgating recipes that might just taste better indoors.
Did your local team make the cut? Share with other fans!