Tropicana Field: Baseball Gameday Guide
The atmosphere on game day tends to be lively and skew young adult, but it's not too rowdy for families with kids, though attendance can be low on weekdays. In recent years, the nearby Dome, Edge and Grand Central districts have gone from blighted to booming and continue to thrive. Most of the activity happens just north of the dome, along Central Avenue. Dozens of restaurants and shops line the pedestrian-friendly street, where you'll see many a Rays cap on game day. The areas south of the dome are still somewhat sketchy, so shy away from there if the game ends late.
The Trop—as locals call it—is also very close to downtown St. Pete. You can hoof it, drive or grab a trolley to access some of the area's best restaurants, interesting bars, museums and a gorgeous waterfront.
Those who are just in for the game don't have it bad either. The stadium is just off I-275, the highway that connects St. Pete with Tampa to the north and Sarasota/Bradenton to the south. Many fans drive for more than an hour to catch a game, and plenty get there early for pregame fun either at a nearby bar or within the park itself.
WHAT TO DO BEFORE A RAYS GAME
Get here early, as parking lots close to the stadium can fill up quickly. Luckily, there's plenty to do within walking distance—or a short drive or trolley ride—of the Trop, and pregaming in the stadium parking lot is pretty common, especially for well-attended games. If you want to hang out in St. Pete but would rather not walk 14 blocks to the stadium, there's a free shuttle to get you back and forth, which runs every 10 minutes starting 90 minutes before and going until an hour after the game.
WHERE TO GET A BEER
Green Bench Brewing Co. | St. Pete is ground zero for Tampa Bay's burgeoning craft-brew scene, and this spot is a pregaming hub with a vintage-chic hunting lodge feel. The ever-changing beer menu includes IPAs, stouts, lagers and others brewed on site, as well as some guest taps featuring other craft brews, but you won't find Budweiser. Food trucks often pull into the brewery's spacious courtyard, which offers plenty of green space for kicking back in a lawn chair or tossing bean bags.
WHERE TO GO WITH A GROUP
Red Mesa Cantina | With its walls decked with Mexican wrestling masks, this spot is a 15-minute walk from the stadium and near the shuttle pick-up. You and your pals can either belly up to the long outdoor bar or sit at a table in the brick courtyard for some margaritas and modern Mexican fare. If it's too hot outside, there's also indoor seating.
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD SPOT
The Burg | While the focus here, as you may guess, is hamburgers (including one with a "bun" consisting of two bacon grilled cheese sandwiches), the restaurant has a creative, Greek-inspired menu as well as dozens of craft beers. There's indoor and outdoor seating, and flat-screen TVs showing round-the-clock sports line the wall. It's a short walk from the Trop.
WHERE TO GET ROWDY
Ferg's | Everybody knows this massive, multi-level bar and grill, right across the street from the stadium, is the place to cheer on the team for home and away games. This is where the superfans—blue Mohawks and all—congregate before, during and after games. On opening day and during the playoffs, it can take on a festival-like atmosphere.
WHERE TO HAVE A SIT-DOWN MEAL
Ricky P's Orleans Bistro | As the name might suggest, this eatery is the place to go for po' boys, gumbo or oysters (cooked a few different ways or raw). It's about two blocks from the stadium. The menu of both food and drink is extensive, and those looking for a good cocktail before the game will not be disappointed—the "Tropical Storm," with spiced rum, tequila, O.J. and grenadine, is its take on the Hurricane.
BEST WATER VIEW
Fresco's | Downtown St. Pete's gorgeous waterfront is a draw on its own, and Fresco's is right on the water, with sweeping views of the municipal marina and beyond. It's a good spot to grab a martini and some calamari and look out over the water, though it can get crowded at happy hour. It's four blocks from a trolley stop.
CAN YOU TAILGATE AT THE TROP?
Fans are welcome to bring their grills, coolers and beach chairs. Most tailgating takes place in Lot Six. It can get pretty hot out there. Consider bringing a canopy tent and some extra ice, not to mention sunscreen.
It's not a question of whether there's anything to do nearby. It's a question of what the weather's like, what your mode of transportation is and how much time you have. If you have several hours (and the right gear), the nearby gulf beaches are an obvious choice. You can get there by car or trolley. Cultural institutions like the Salvador Dali Museum line the gorgeous downtown waterfront, as do many lovely parks. Those interested in shopping will find plenty of options along Central Avenue heading in either direction from the Trop.
INSIDE TROPICANA FIELD
There are, in essence, two Trops. There's the weekday Trop, when regular-season attendance is typically sparse and lines are short. On weekends and during the playoffs, though, the concourses can become jammed, as can the escalators and elevators that take you to the upper floors. Elevators are situated at Gates 1, 2, 4 and 6 and escalators for the first three floors at Gates 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6.
WHERE TO SIT
No matter how cheap your seats are, you can watch the game from whatever vantage point you like, thanks to a 360-degree walkway that surrounds the lower seats. There are spots along the way for sitting or leaning against the railing and taking it all in.
As for seats, there are no obstructed views. Transplants and visitors catching their home team at the Trop will be among friends in the seats directly behind their team's dugout along the third-base line. The seats directly behind home plate are called the Home Plate Club and are good but pricey.
Tropicana Field Seating Chart
Everglades Brewhouse | This spot on Center Field Street, very close to the main entrance, has one of the more expansive food and drink menus within the park. Menu offerings are unexpectedly Old Florida—think barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, deviled eggs and spicy shrimp.
BEST LOCAL VENDOR
East/West Deli | The Cuban sandwich, a combination of ham, pork, salami, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles on Cuban bread, is available throughout the park, but a massive interpretation of the Florida classic can be found at this Center Field Street deli, which is a key spot for a range of Florida delicacies.
Everglades Brewhouse | Many beer stands at the Trop have a selection that goes beyond the norm, reflecting Tampa Bay's burgeoning craft-beer scene. The biggest selection of craft beers is at Everglades Brewhouse, which was created by the merger of Everglades BBQ and Center Plate Brewhouse. You'll find tons of favorites on tap, from Cigar City Jai Alai to Goose Island Honker's Ale, for about $10 a pop.
BEST HEALTHY FOOD
Gluten-Free Favorites | You won't exactly find a vegan hot dog at the Trop, but there is at least one spot that caters to those who are ingredient-conscious. Gluten-Free Favorites on Center Field Street offers not only gluten-free hot dogs and buns and other ballpark classics, but also a few healthier alternatives to the soft pretzel, like almonds and granola bars.
BEST STADIUM BAR
The Porch | Part of the stadium renovations that opened at the start of the 2014 season, The Porch is a key destination within the park. It has a batter's-eye view of the stadium (center field) and is sort of a terminus for the 360-degree walkway. Offerings include domestic and craft brews as well as mixed drinks. Food stands offer stadium favorites within arm's reach. You can hang out along the walkway, where there are ledges for you to set your beer down and check out the game for a bit if you need a break from your seats.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE WHILE YOU'RE HERE
Baseball history buffs should check out the Ted Williams Museum & Hitters' Hall of Fame. Near the rotunda at Gate 1 and open from 2 hours before game time through the sixth inning, it features relics and biographical info for Williams, the Red Sox player considered the best hitter ever. It's at the Trop because Williams spent many of his later years in the Tampa Bay area. Other players given tribute here include Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Admission is free. Also check out the Rays Touch Tank above left field, accessible via Center Field Street, where you can pet and feed sting rays.
Tropicana Field Tours
RAYS GAMES ON A BUDGET
Gameday at the Trop isn't exactly wallet-friendly, but there are ways around having to fork over an arm and a leg for the smallest of food items. Many people eat and drink before the game to reduce their costs inside the dome. Bringing your own food is also permitted.
WHERE TO GET A CHEAP BEER BEFORE THE GAME
Ricky P's | In terms of cheap beer, you won't get off easy at Tropicana. Inside the stadium, think about paying a couple extra bucks for a few more ounces—it's a better value. For a cheap pregame drink or two, head to Ricky P's, which has $3 specials on a variety of beers and lets you make any mixed drink a double for a buck.
EST CHEAP BITES AROUND TROPICANA FIELD
Bodega | Save money by grabbing a large sandwich ahead of time. A few blocks from the Trop, Cuban food stand Bodega offers very filling meals for less than $10—not something you'll find once you're in the stadium. Popular menu items include the classic Cuban sandwich, mojo chicken and several creative vegetarian options.
BEST CHEAP RAYS TICKETS
If you live in or near the Tampa Bay area, or are in town for a while, a Flex Pack is your best bet. The more tickets you purchase, the cheaper it is. You can attend three games for as little as $49 or nine games for $109. Most home games aren't going to break the bank. Unless the Cubs, Yankees or Red Sox are visiting, you shouldn't expect to pay much more than $15 for a cheap seat.
TROPICANA FIELD WITH KIDS
The Trop is about as kid-friendly as it gets, especially on Sundays when the Rays play at home, which are dubbed Family Fun Day. Families with young children should arrive at least half an hour early for a chance to get autographs near the dugouts. For a dollar, kids can pick up Raymond's Activity Book and win a prize for getting it stamped at all the designated locations. After the game, kids aged 14 and under are invited to run the bases or participate in the Wiffle ball home run derby.
WHERE TO GO BEFORE THE GAME WITH KIDS
Great Expectations is a children's museum north of downtown, about 10 minutes from the Trop, that offers hours of educational play for little ones, like the Critter Cave, which features live snakes and tarantulas, a "beach" where children can learn about marine life and a pint-size grocery store. It happens to be next to serene Sunken Gardens, an enclosed botanical paradise that seems miles removed from the surrounding urban environment. If the kids want something sweet, head to Paciugo Gelato on Beach Drive before you make your way to the game, which you'll want to get to early.
BEST FOOD FOR KIDS
Like any baseball stadium, Tropicana abounds with hot dog stands, not to mention peanuts and popcorn. Personal pizzas are available at Papa John's stands on Center Field Street and in First and Third Base Food Courts, and carts with crust-free PB&J can be found throughout the stadium.
WHERE TO GET AUTOGRAPHS
Your best shot at getting an autograph is 30 minutes before the game. You may have some luck standing along the railings above the dugouts of both teams.
NEED A BREAK DURING THE GAME?
Kids can feel a real stingray in the Rays Touch Tank, near Gate 1. The experience adds a whimsical touch to the baseball game. Visits are limited to 10 minutes, as lines can get long, and $5 gets you a cup of food the little ones can feed the rays. It closes 2 hours after first pitch. Rays Baseball Carnival on Right Field Street features carnival-style games, and Raymond's Art Studio, also on Right Field Street, lets kids create their own arts and crafts—both are open on weekends.
WHERE TO BUY GEAR FOR THE KIDS
Custom Jersey Shop on Left Field Street lets the kids pick whatever name they want, even their own. The nearby Hat Shop has plenty of options as well. Sundays on Right Field Street, there's even a place where kids aged 14 and under can get their names and pictures on a custom baseball card for free.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A RAYS GAME
In the summer, there's a postgame concert series worth sticking around for, with national acts. Bands play right after the game ends, and admission is included in your baseball ticket price. Daytime games have kid-friendly acts. Afterward, you have a slew of dining and nightlife options nearby.
WHERE TO KEEP THE PARTY GOING
Taps and Tequila | Whether the Rays win or lose, a little tequila might be in order. Taps and Tequila is a block east from the Trop, in the hip Urban Style Flats tower just across from the stadium parking lot. The crowd is young, and the atmosphere is lively and somewhat modern. Infused tequilas—everything from mint to Red Hots—are the star, but there's also a formidable food menu with items like PB&J quesadillas and a black and blue-stuffed burger. Lots of Rays fans also barhop downtown after the game.
WHERE TO GET A POSTGAME MEAL
Taco Bus | Many fans walk several blocks west along Central Avenue to Taco Bus in the Grand Central District. It's a stationary food truck offering generously stuffed burritos with an array of options meat lovers and herbivores can both appreciate. There's also plenty of Mexican beer—and the menu lacks the sticker shock of a ballpark brew; you'll pay less than $4 for a beer and sometimes there's even a $1 special on Corona. Most seating is outdoors, and this spot is open late.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO NEARBY?
Venture back downtown and you'll have a mindboggling number of food and drink choices. Head to Midtown Sundries if you want to keep the sports vibe going. Mandarin Hide has an intriguing menu packed with vintage drinks and craft beers. If you crave near-capacity crowds, MacDinton's is probably your best bet. Many nights, venues like Jannus Live and Ringside Café offer good live music to keep the fun going.
St. Petersburg-based writer Kate Bradshaw has covered everything from politics to exotic animal sightings in the area. When not strumming her guitar, running, or lounging on the beach in her downtime, she can be found sipping craft beer among scores of fellow Rays fans in or near the Trop.