Super Bowl 50: Travel Guide for the Big Game in Santa Clara

Things to Know When Going to This Year's Super Bowl in the Bay Area

Super Bowl 2015
••• Super Bowl 2015. Jamie Squire/Getty Images Sport

The NFL is the most watched sport in the United States with the Super Bowl being the showcase event. This year the NFL celebrates a championship game milestone with Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California. (They departed from the usual Roman numerals for the special 50th occasion.) Levi’s Stadium will host its first ever Super Bowl, which is great news as it's the newest NFL stadium. Whether you’re planning in advance or making the decision once we know who’s playing, here’s a guide to help you be prepared either way.

Tickets & Seating Areas

The tickets on the primary market disappear quickly. Fans of each team participating get allotted a large portion of the tickets. Unless you’re a season ticket holder of those teams, you likely won’t sniff a chance to win those tickets in a lottery. Each team not playing in the game also receives a small allotment, but chances are you won’t get your hands on those either since they generally end up with team personnel. The NFL runs a lottery for the remaining tickets with applications coming in from February to June of the prior year. Tickets get allocated in late October / early November, so you’ll know by now if you got the tickets.

Then there’s the secondary market.  Obviously, you have the well-known options like Stubhub or a ticket aggregator like ​SeatGeek and ‎TiqIQ. The best recommendation for secondary tickets is to wait as long as possible. Ticket prices are always incredibly high once the teams are decided because sellers are trying to take advantage of buyer enthusiasm.

Prices decrease as it gets closer to the event as sellers start scrambling to get rid of their tickets. StubHub specifically allows buyers to pick up their tickets on-site, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting the tickets on time. (This is probably your best way to get tickets.)

There are also third-party event companies who sell tickets as part of a vacation package.

There are numerous offers from corporate partners, but they don’t come cheap. The secondary ticketing websites offer full packages as well. Sites like StubHub, Vivid Seats and PrimeSport all have various packages that include tickets and hotel, but those are very expensive.

As for where to sit when you get to the game, it really doesn’t matter. You made it to the Super Bowl and that’s the main battle. Football games thankfully provide a solid view of the game from wherever you sit in the stadium. Most Premium Seating (Luxury Suites & Club Seats) areas are going to be locked down by the league for owners or corporate partners. Take what you can get when it comes to tickets.

Getting to Northern California

You have a few airport options when it comes to Santa Clara. The main option is to fly into San Francisco as Santa Clara is about 40 minutes south of San Francisco International Airport and about an hour south of San Francisco itself. There are many non-stop flights to San Francisco from major cities across the country. They generally start at around $400 with a Friday arrival and a Monday departure from any city not on the West Coast. Those flights will disappear as we get closer to the game, so you may have to make a layover to and from San Francisco just to get there.

The airport in San Jose is much closer to Santa Clara, but there aren’t as many flights headed that way and fewer cities have direct flights. Pricing is reasonably similar, however, so your decision might be based on what area you choose for a hotel. Your final major airport option within an hour is Oakland, which is 40 minutes from Santa Clara. It’s a similar size to that of San Jose, so it will have the same limitations. You could also fly into Sacramento, a two-hour drive from Santa Clara if things get really dire in terms of availability and price. Hipmunk (a travel aggregator) can help you find the flight for your needs since it aggregates all your options.

Unfortunately, public transportation to Santa Clara from outside of the Northern California area isn’t really an option. Amtrak provides train service to Oakland from Denver, Los Angeles, and Portland, but they take too long.

Greyhound offers bus service from major cities to the San Francisco area, but you’ll add a few hours to the trip because of the stops and layovers. You’re better off driving if you can.

Where to Stay

There’s really no reason to stay near Levi’s Stadium itself. The hotels close to the stadium area already sold out in advance as part of the NFL room block and you won’t be able to access those rooms. What hotels are available are going to be overpriced because of the Super Bowl being in the area. You likely won’t be able to find something for less than $400, so you’re better off staying in downtown San Francisco and taking public transportation to the game. You’ll be able to enjoy your weekend a lot more as opposed to being stranded with not much to do while in or near Santa Clara or San Jose. Besides, all the fan engagement activities for the Super Bowl are in San Francisco anyway.

Hotels in San Francisco aren’t that cheap, but at least you’re getting your money’s worth. You can spend between $200-$300 a night if you’re not looking for something high end. It may not be a brand name hotel, but at least you have the option. Higher quality hotels (including some brand names) cost anywhere from $400 to $1500 a night. It’s possible that hotel rooms get released as vacation packages don’t get filled, but you probably don’t want to risk that if you’re thinking of making the trip from afar. Hotels rooms across the bridge in Oakland are less expensive, but you’ll be further away from the action. You can also stay in Santa Cruz if you’d prefer to be on the water, but prices are the same as San Francisco and the weather isn’t that warm this time of year.

Alternatively, you can look into renting houses in the Northern California area. There are a lot of options and homeowners will be looking to make a few bucks with the Super Bowl in town. This should lead to a large supply in the marketplace and the competition of inexperienced sellers should lead to some panic. That will result in some good deals out there for you, so you should constantly be checking websites like AirbnbVRBO , or HomeAway .

Fan Events

Per usual there are many sponsored fan engagement events during Super Bowl Week. Super Bowl City presented by Verizon, a fan fest celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl is the main attraction. Located in Justin Herman Plaza at the end of Market Street in the Embarcadero area of San Francisco, Super Bowl City will be open from January 30th to February 7th and have plenty of NFL-themed activities. It will also be the broadcast home for NFL Network and CBS Sports during the week. Located in the middle of Super Bowl City, the Fan Energy Zone presented by SAP will have three main attractions for those passing through. There’s the Fan Dome with interactive games, the Fan Wall with show video and social media content, and the Fan Stage with music, presentations, celebrity appearances and autograph signings.

Close by you’ll also find the City Stage presented by Levi’s, which will host a variety of free entertainment. The highlight is Alicia Keys’ performance on Saturday, February 6th. Fans looking more interactive fun will want to head to the Moscone Center, about a mile away from Super Bowl City, where they’ll find the NFL Experience driven by Hyundai. There will be plenty of interactive games including having a chance at kicking a game-winning field goal. It’s also the home of the official NFL Shop with plenty of Super Bowl memorabilia. Furthermore, fans can take their photo with the Vince Lombardi trophy, see all 49 previous Super Bowl rings, and meet former and current NFL players with the possibility of getting autographs.

Getting to Levi’s Stadium

You’ll have a few different ways to get to the game itself. A lot of people drive and there are ample parking lots around Levi’s Stadium. Traffic isn’t great, but the positive is locals will be coming from all parts of Northern California and thus the traffic could be spread out a bit. Since you’re in town for the Super Bowl, you likely won’t have a car and will have to rely on public transportation. The best option is to take the Caltrain. There will be extra trains on the rails for the Super Bowl to provide service from San Francisco to San Jose. From there you’ll have to switch to the VTA light rail or bus at the Mountain View Transit Center. It all works relatively well, but make sure you have tickets for both the Caltrain and the VTA light rail as they’re different systems. You can purchase a joint ticket at the Caltrain station ticket machines.

At the Game

Don’t forget about the relatively new NFL bag policy before you head into Levi’s Stadium. Fans are limited to bringing in approved clear plastic bags, a one gallon Ziploc bag, or a small clutch bag. There are complimentary bag check-in stations located near Gates A, C, and F in case you forget this ahead of time. The first thing you should do when walking into the building is download the Levi’s Stadium app. It allows you to see all the food and beverage options in one place as well as order “express pickup” from a nearby concession stand or even order in-seat delivery (although it’s only the basics) for a small additional fee. Prices for concessions at the game will be more expensive than regular San Francisco 49ers games because it’s the Super Bowl and that’s how things work. Prices haven’t been announced yet, but expect to pay a dollar or two higher than what you’d expect.

It’s no surprise that Levi’s Stadium has some of the best food of any NFL stadium because it opened in 2014 and San Francisco is a hotbed for culinary excitement. The two best items in the stadium are the burger and the pulled pork sandwich. The burger is made with grass-fed American Kobe beef made up of three different types of cuts and is up there with the best non-branded stadium burgers you’ll find. The pork is actually smoked in-house, so you know they’re cooking it the right way. The Peking Duck bao is among the most popular items on game days. The bay shrimp rolls and Dungeness crab sandwich are also very popular.

The Indian curries are the best stadium curries you’ll find in America. (It also may be the only stadium curry that I know of, but they are still pretty good.) If you’re looking for simple food, there is the pizza made in the stadium’s specialty gas-fired pizza ovens. The barbecue chicken pizza is a winner, but you may prefer to relive your younger days and enjoy a French bread pepperoni style instead. The buffalo chicken sandwich is another item at Levi's Stadium worth trying. The only branded concessions stand is that of Santa Clara’s  Modern Burrito in the Upper Concourse, which holds up pretty well.

You won’t go thirsty either as there are as many vending areas for beer as you’ll find in a stadium. The Tap Room on the 50-yard line offers 30 varieties of bottled beer and 42 draft options. The draft options include well-liked craft beers like 21st Amendment Brew Free or Die, Dobis Pale Ale, Lagunitas IPA, and Speakeasy Prohibition. There are also 15 types of wine offered around the stadium because we are near Napa and Sonoma after all.

Out in San Francisco

As mentioned before, there won’t be much for food and entertainment in the Santa Clara and San Jose area. San Francisco is where you’ll want to be and there are plenty of options for both food and drink. You’ll be spoiled for choice, so try to at least focus on a cuisine you like. Good Mexican food is all over the area. Most of it can be found in the Mission District. Taquerias El Farolito has one of the most well-known burritos in town. Taqueria Cancun has super-sized tacos with al pastor being the meat you should focus on. La Taqueria, Taqueria Vallarta, and El Gallo Giro are three other good Mexican options. If you’re looking for Mexican food closer to the fan events, you shouldn’t be scared away from the cheesy name Tacolicious and their best offering, shot-and-a-beer braised chicken.

Pizza is also a dominant force in the San Francisco food scene. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is the most famous option. The award-winning pizza comes in every variety of cooking type that you can think of. Una Pizza Napoletana (don’t be confused by the similar name) also serves up high-quality pies with their Ilaria (a smoked mozzarella focused pie) being the star. If you’re looking for pasta to compliment your pizza then Flour + Water in the Mission will give you everything you need. CotognaPerbacco, and SPQR are three more Italian options for you.

Sushi is the last type of food truly on display in San Francisco. Kusakabe offers one of the best omakase experiences in the city. Akiko’s Restaurant & Sushi Bar is also a convenient option offering quality sushi. Ryoko’s is open late and has a great scene to match the sashimi you’re enjoying. Looking elsewhere, 4505 Burgers & BBQNopalito, and Zuni Café can offer you some of the best burgers in the city. (Zuni’s also known for their chicken.) The pork shoulder at Lolinda will be the highlight of your shared plate experience. Award-winning chef Michael Mina has a number of well-regarded restaurants including Bourbon Steak and RN74 to go with his namesake Michael Mina. The list goes on and on, so hopefully, you can find something you enjoy.

As you’d expect there’s also plenty of nightlife in San Francisco. The bars near on and around Lombard Street in the Marina District are where the post-college crowd heads. Most of the crowd ends up at places like Bar NoneEastside West Restaurant & Bar, and KT's Fillmore. As people age out of that they move to the bars on Polk St, which is great for bar-hopping to spots like Hi-Lo ClubKozy Kar, and Mayes Oyster House. Specific places aren’t that important because the scene is similar at most places and you’ll choose to follow the crowd if you so desire. The older crowd should focus on cocktail bars like the convenient Benjamin Cooper and Stookey’s Club Moderne, which has a post-prohibition theme. Those focused on bourbon and whiskey should head to 83 ProofRickhouse, and Hard Water, which are all located reasonably close to the hotels in town. The best sports bar near the area with hotels is Pete's Tavern down in SoMa near AT&T Park. 

Parties

We can't talk about the Super Bowl without talking about the parties. You need to stay updated on what the best parties are with this website and see what tickets become available on sites like StubHub. The DirecTV party and the Playboy party are generally two of the best parties of the weekend.