On the Road with Eli(zondo) and Adric at Petco Park
So you’ve decided to heed the call to adventure. Good for you. If you need to refer back to what the Guide actually is or who I actually am, please refer to the included links.
The Best in the West: The champion of NL West parks arises
The Guide has the following to say about going to a game at Petco Park:
/Unintelligible scribbles. It is glorious!
When writing a travel guide, it is important to say the most controversial statement first to set the tone. Petco Park is the best place to see a Dodger game in the National League West.
I was mildly shocked to come to this conclusion. However, if someone was designing an optimum ballpark experience based on recommendations based on my travels and experiences, you would end up making a park that looks eerily like Petco Park. I suppose that I will have to write a follow-up essay breaking down the parks in the NL West in a separate essay at a later date.
If you spend any time at Petco Park, you will likely hear advertising proclaiming that it is the best ballpark in America. I would disagree firmly with that sentiment in a universe that still has PNC Park and, arguably, Busch Stadium 3 in it, but I can see an argument as to how someone would argue that Petco is the best ballpark in America. Whereas I would argue convincingly that argument would be a stretch for Dodger Stadium and Oracle Park. While Petco is not a bucket list destination (yet) and the park can feel like going to a Dave and Buster’s at worst, going to a Dodgers/Padres game is generally well worth your effort.
The following is all you will need to know about going to a Dodgers/Padres game at Petco Park.
The Five Questions of the Guide
1. Is it worth going here?
Yes. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you did not go at some point.
If you recall my thoughts as to Chase Field, you will remember that I gave a positive mention to the park, in part, because Dodger fans would often outnumber Diamondback fans and the game would feel like a home game. At Petco Park, you get a similar effect, but instead, every game feels like a playoff game. (Provided that the Padres are not geoblocking the sale of their tickets.) There is a lot of younger sibling/”please notice me, senpai” energy in the Padres’ fanbase, which was justified prior to the defeat of the One-Win Team.
Regardless, if going to a game in Phoenix feels like going to Dodger Stadium East, then going to a game in San Diego feels like going to Dodger Stadium South. However, the locals really aren’t happy about it if you call it that, and now can point back to the 2022 NLDS to quiet the remark. If you go through the other Guide entries, you will find that I have genuine points of criticism for each ballpark. What is truly striking about Petco Park is that the ballpark has been built seemingly to address the faults of other ballparks, from the ease of access and entry to a variety of food options to having multiple spots to decompress if you want to leave the confines of your seat.
Want a play area for the kids, a la Kauffman Stadium? Well, Petco Park does it better.
Want a hangout area that you can’t quite tailgate in but you can relax with others, ala American Family Field or Kauffman Stadium? Well, Petco Park does it better.
Have to sit in the upper deck but you’re worried that you’re going to slip and fall, ala Dodger Stadium? Well, Petco Park does it better.
Do you want to eat or spend time in a neighborhood in proximity to the ballpark, ala Wrigley Field? Petco Park is fine, but I would still pick Wrigleyville.
I can go on and on like that, as it is truly quite remarkable Petco Park really is, from location to seating design choices to food, I was thoroughly impressed with this venue.
For the first-timer at Petco Park, you can go to Guest Services and you will get a QR-Code to print out your first game certificate. However, if you are patient, the workers have a cardboard banner and are willing to take your photograph while having the field as a backdrop. Overall, it is a nice touch.
I have taken the Stadium Tour at Petco, but it was done before a day game, and honestly felt rushed and hurried. Considering how much I paid, the tour was unacceptable as to value, which was not the tour guide’s fault at all. The tour was fairly underwhelming as we did not go into the Press Box or any other areas of the stadium that I would normally expect to go - so if you do partake, do not go before a day game.
Also, the Padres do have a Hall of Fame, but it is extremely underwhelming as it is a single, normal-sized room, which has underpowered air conditioning. It is free to visit though, so that’s something.
2. How should I get there?
Truthfully, unless you were driving in from Los Angeles, I would expect that most people would fly into San Diego, which has a cozy, little airport that you can traverse quite easily, even without TSA PreCheck. If you were traveling from Los Angeles, the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner is also an option as you will get some amazing views of the Pacific Coast (well, you would if not for the coastal erosion, which shows how long ago this entry was written). You will have to budget your travel time accordingly as San Diego is at the end of the line, and you will also pass Angel Stadium of Anaheim while en route.
As for getting to the game itself, while having a car is best for commuting around San Diego, your best option is to either go by foot from your hotel or take the San Diego Light Rail system, which if you get off at the Gaslamp Quarter stop, you will be around the corner from the stadium. Using rideshare is also an option but the roads around the stadium tend to be closed around game time to accommodate foot traffic.
I will have to caution you that getting to Petco Park is easier than leaving Petco Park, especially at night. There is a significant homeless/unhoused population in the area and while I did walk back to my hotel one night, I did have to cross the street a couple of times due to encounters I had. My advice would be to take the light rail back, if possible, or just pay one of the pedal car/catamaran drivers to pedal you back to your hotel.
3. Where should I stay?
Considering the reliability of the light rail system, you have quite a few options as to where you should stay. It is often forgotten, but I will trumpet this fact here, Petco Park is right by the San Diego Convention Center, home of Comic-Con (the mecca for nerds), so you have quite a few options in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Any of the hotels in the above photo is a ten-minute walk, at worst, from the ballpark. The Omni San Diego Hotel has a sky bridge directly connected to the ballpark itself. The only downside to hotels near the ballpark proper is that they can be rather pricey compared to hotels farther away. I have circled the Gaslamp Light Rail stop to point out how close it is to the ballpark and to point out a second option if you do not wish to stay in the party hub which is the Gaslamp Quarter.
I stayed at La Pensione Hotel for the majority of my stay in San Diego. I found an absurd deal on Hotels.com for a different hotel, which was in the heart of downtown but nowhere near the rail line, for a single night when I decided to go to all three games of the early September series in 2022. There are plenty of food options in Little Italy (provided it is before ten pm on a Sunday) and you are a five to ten-minute walk from the Light Rail station, circled in red. Take the Green Line and you will be at Petco Park in about fifteen minutes.
My main thesis for this section is as long as you are by the rail line, you have flexibility. At worst, you can use a hotel aggregator to find a deal, which is entirely possible, even at the last minute. Normally, the weather is perfect in San Diego, but if you are unlucky, it can be muggy and sticky. Not Kansas City or Cincinnati muggy, but far less idyllic than you might think. Hence, the rain delay that occurred when I went was so shocking because of how uncharacteristic it was.
4. Where should I sit?
Before jumping in depth on where you should sit, I should comment that the food options are of special note at Petco Park. Frankly, be prepared to be overwhelmed by the sheer variety of options you have from traditional ballpark fare to sushi and so on. Granted, a lot of it will be overpriced, still good, just costing 20 percent more than it probably should.
If you buy a collectible souvenir soda cup, it will be refillable for free for the duration of the game. No other ballpark in my travels as a professional fan has this simple quality-of-life upgrade. Also, if you hit up Seaside Market, get the tri-tip nachos, or go to Barrio Dogg on the second level or in Gallagher Park, and get the Tijuana-style El Xolito bacon-wrapped hot dogs, which are pretty tasty if you are into that sort of thing.
Normally, I suggest where you should sit if you want to sit somewhere interesting, sit somewhere on a budget, or sit somewhere fun. Petco Park is a great ballpark, but it is not perfect. Why, you ask? Because like Atlanta, like San Francisco, like Anaheim, prepare to be gouged.
Tips on Value:
Unlike Atlanta or San Francisco, Petco Park is slightly distinguishable in that the floor for tickets is much higher but the ceiling for high-end tickets appears to be lower. In essence, good luck finding a ticket for less than $100 if you plan to go to a Dodgers/Padres game.
However, if you are willing to spend between $100-$300, you can end up in a really good seat that would cost double or triple that say in Los Angeles or Atlanta or even San Francisco. Most people are not (or should not) spend that much on baseball tickets, which I fully understand, hence why I cannot rate Petco Park higher than PNC Park. For an example of what a “budget” ticket would look like, take my seat in the front of the upper deck, shown below.
The seat cost me about $90 on the secondary market, including fees, which was about face value. I did some checking and for a non-Dodgers/Padres game, this seat would be about a third to half that price.
So if you are looking for a hidden bargain, like Atlanta or San Francisco, I cannot help you per se, especially if you limit yourself to buying directly from the team. But if you venture into the secondary market, through StubHub or SeatGeek you might find a relative bargain. Ticket cost is the main reason why I will continue to say that going to Pittsburgh/St. Louis is a better overall experience because you can get this view for literally half the ticket price.
Tips for Having Fun:
If you are not having fun at a Dodgers/Padres game in San Diego, you are likely doing something wrong. Purely on a baseball level, as written above, the fans in San Diego are inclined to banter with you because they really do not like the Dodgers. If you are polite, they will likely be polite. If you are a jerk, they will be a jerk right back to you.
Plus, these games will sell out, so you will either be by other Dodger fans or you will be by Padres fans who will overreact to everything. Truthfully, this facet of going to a Dodgers/Padres game can be a bit tiresome. But as I alluded to above, there are so many bars and clubs and places to hang out at Petco Park, that the space can feel like a Dave and Buster’s run amok.
Personally, if I wanted to go to a sports bar to watch a game, I would do that, not go to an area like that inside the ballpark. But I understand that some people want to be social at the ballpark while having the option of going back and forth, and Petco Park seems to be catered to them.
While Petco Park does have some unique seating areas, like the Western Metal Supply Building, these seats are almost impossible to get because corporations have first dibs on them. So unique seating can be hard to come by at Petco Park.
Tips for Staying out of the Sun:
If you happen to go to an afternoon game, the sun can be quite unforgiving at Petco Park. However, there is an obvious option that will keep you in the shade for the entire game, and you can also have a variety of food delivered to your seat. I refer to the seats in the Toyota Terrace. For best shade coverage, stick to the third base side, which is ironically closer to the Dodgers dugout and works out beautifully for our purposes.
One of the truly great things about Petco Park is that if you get there early enough, and the gates are open, if you sit somewhere that is not your seat, because you are in the shade, typically the ushers will leave you be. I was lounging where I was not supposed to be, as where I was supposed to be sitting was in the sun for about 90 minutes before game time, and I did not see the point of sitting in the sun if I could prevent it. This observation was more relevant during an evening game, but I was sitting in a $400-500 seat and allowed to eat my meal because I cleaned up after myself.
Seats on the Toyota Terrace are on the second level and even the front-most seats are in the shade by the first pitch and stay in the shade the entire game, which is helpful if you are present during a muggy, hot day game. However, these tickets for Dodgers/Padres games do typically cost around $150, including fees, so prepare to budget accordingly.
5. After your trip, is it worth going back?
Hey, that was fun! This trip needs to be a yearly event, if able!
I attended three games at Petco Park in 2022, with less-than-perfect weather. The Dodgers took two of three in three very entertaining games. Honestly, apart from the ticket price point, I have to reach for negatives to say about the park. As I described earlier, the Stadium Tour was underwhelming.
Truthfully, Dodger Stadium is a bucket list location for any true Dodger fan. While I currently live near San Francisco, I can get to Oracle Park without much difficulty. But if I were living in the Central Valley, and was roughly equally far away from each venue, and I could pick a regular venue, I would likely be spending time in San Diego, rather than navigating the logistical hurdles involved with getting to and from Los Angeles or dealing with the weather and lodging concerns in San Francisco.
In this one regard, our little sibling is on top. If the Padres lowered their ticket prices by at least 25 percent, then they would have a better claim to being the best ballpark in America. As such, they just have to settle for the best of the west.