3
Oracle Park
45
9
9
7
1
4
3
16
94

San Francisco Giants

The San Francisco Giants’ former home, Candlestick Park, was awful (though it had a small place in my heart because it was the park in which I completed my first stadium journey). It was windy, hard to get to, and generally crappy. Attendance reflected this, and the Giants were a team rumored to be on the move a few times. Toronto almost got them in 1976. They actually had a deal in principle to move to Tampa Bay and play in the nearly constructed Florida Suncoast Dome, but the move was rejected by the National League owners. Shortly after, Peter Magowan bought the team from Bob Lurie and pledged to keep them in San Francisco. While it took a few years to get a site and gather the capital, the Giants built their $357-million privately-funded masterpiece on San Francisco Bay and changed everything.

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When it opened, it was love at first sight. Everybody gushed over the place immediately. It was situated in one of America’s favorite cities. It had the Wow factor of McCovey Cove. And it took concessions to a whole other level. Bay Area sports fans, flush with cash thanks to the boom in Silicon Valley, fell in love again with live baseball. The play on the field was exciting thanks to adopted son Barry Bonds turning out some of the best stat lines ever in the history of baseball on route to winning 4 consecutive MVP awards. After Bonds retired, the team had a few soft years, but fans kept coming. Their loyalty was rewarded in 2010 when the Giants broke their 52-year championship drought in San Francisco and won their first of 3 World Series in 5 years. And the Giants have kept putting money into the place to improve it as it ages.

It’s home to one of my favorite ballpark memories. I was here for an Opening Day game when out on business in San Francisco and managed to score a great single ticket in the Field Club area. There were important people all around me including former mayor Willie Brown. But for the first two innings, the seats beside mine were vacant. Finally, in the top of the third, I see a fancy-looking bearded gentleman coming down the steps with a beret and scarf. My first thought was, “Who does THIS effing guy think he is?” Well, it turned out to be none other than acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola. He sits in the seat next to mine carrying a sandwich and a plastic glass of wine. We make eye contact and I knew I had to say something. What are you going to say to a Hollywood legend for small talk? If you stumble into a “Hey. I loved the Godfather”, you’re re-enacting the Chris Farley Show. Instead, I decided to play to his love of wine and coyly asked him, “Is that a Niebaum-Coppola or are you doing some competitive monitoring?” He chuckled and then engaged me in a baseball conversation. My stadium journey came up organically (it’s hard to force it), and he took a shine. As a result, we ended up talking baseball and ballparks for the better part of 3 innings before he left in the 6th never to return. I remember turning to the guy sitting next to my right asking him if that really happened.

I can’t say that you’ll meet Francis Ford Coppola, but you will enjoy your visit to Oracle Park. The killer view is for what its best known, but it’d still be an impressive park even if it had the White Sox view.

STADIUM 45/50

Exterior aesthetics 8/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 5/10; Sightlines & seating 9/10; Amenities & entertainment 10/10; Flow 4/5; Celebrating history 5/5; Scoreboards 5/5; Grand entrance 5/5; Sense of place 10/10; WOW Factor 29/30. Total 90 points divided by 2 for 45.

With views of San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge and the Berkeley Hills, Oracle Park will seduce you. But it’s not just a pretty face: the ballpark itself is good as well.

THE GOOD:

  • All reviews of this place start with McCovey Cove. The park made great use of its waterfront location and made the bay part of the park. The days of a kayak traffic jam awaiting a Bonds Splash Hit are gone, but the beauty of the cove remains.
  • The giant glove and Coke bottle in left adds a little whimsy to the otherwise stately palace. The Coke bottle houses a giant slide which is part of the kid’s area while the 3-finger vintage glove plays to the park’s retro feel.
  • Its red brick exterior blends into its surroundings. In the brick between the double windows on King St, black bricks were also used to create a design that’s supposed to mimic the stitching on a baseball (though they look more like football laces to me)
  • The good-looking front entrance is adorned with palm trees and a Willie Mays statue, projecting both a California and a baseball vibe all at once
  • Speaking of statues, there are several. Mays greets you at the front door. Willie McCovey guards his cove. Juan Marichal, in full high leg kick, is by the Lefty O’Doul Entrance. Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry sit at 2nd and King. And the park’s ferry terminal showcases a statue of a seal balancing a baseball on its nose which was the logo for PCL’s San Francisco Seals, the minor league team that preceded the Giants.
  • The team also pays homage to its past with the Giants Wall of Fame along King Street, and the Giants History Walk on the Portwalk. Check those out before entering the park.
  • The tall right field fence is exactly 24 feet high as a nod to Mays (I wonder if they’ll add a foot in a section to pay tribute to Bonds?)
  • The odd angles of the park are borne largely out of necessity due to the desire to hug the bay for as long as possible
  • There are nice views of downtown from the upper deck concourse, and views of the bay from the outfield concourse
  • There are historic murals throughout the concessions area
  • While I have only seen pictures (because I’m not San Francisco elite), there’s a fantastic club behind the rightfield scoreboard for members of the exclusive Gotham Club. Club members also have access to a speakeasy and games room on the club level (including billiards and bowling), as well as being able to catch batting practice from an enclosed space right on the field.
  • There are a few social spaces, albeit not all have views of the game
  • The 4K videoboard installed in 2019 is fantastic
  • It’s the only park where you’ll see palm trees and sailboats from the seats (which can be cruelly ironic if you’re underdressed and shivering on a frigid San Francisco night)
  • You can catch a glimpse of the game from outside the ballpark through the rightfield arches, a neat touch for the super fan who didn’t get a ticket (the place did sell out over 530 straight games)

THE BAD:

  • Concourses are narrow and surprisingly dark. This creates a crowding issue, making movement around the park harder than it should be. The Giants have tried to address this by removing the last row of seats, but they’re still tight. And signage seems small and, at times, confusing.
  • The beautiful bay views are only available to those in Club or Upper Deck (View) seats. The field couldn’t be sunk, so the lower deck seats can’t see the water from their seats, “settling” instead for an up-close view of the game and a view of palm trees behind the giant glove.
  • Some of the sightlines in the upper deck aren’t great with seats angled toward the outfield instead of the infield

It’s not a perfect park. But it’s close.

FOOD 9/10

Here’s another area where the park shines. I admire the local flair and variety of cuisine.

The signature dish is the Gilroy Garlic Fries. You’ll know this based on the overwhelming garlic smell that permeates the concession area. The Sheboygan bratwurst is also very popular. But specialty concessions abound. Among them:

  • San Francisco chowder in a bread bowl
  • Good Mexican food from Mission Street Taqueria
  • Italian delights including a great meatball sandwich from A Taste of North Beach
  • Rice bowls, sushi, and cold noodle salads from Edsel Ford Fong’s
  • Poke bowls from Da Poke Man
  • Good pizza from Tony’s Slice House
  • Irish cuisine from Murph’s Clubhouse
  • Stupid-good hot fudge sundaes from San Francisco institution Ghirardelli
  • Homemade ice cream sandwiches that rival to ones in T-Mobile Park from CREAM

You also know you’re in San Francisco with the presence of The Garden which is a sit-down area behind the centerfield fence that serves healthier cuisine including fruits and vegetables picked right from the in-stadium garden. There’s also The Organic Coup (for açai bowls), and a stand serving bubble tea.

The real stars though are the concession out in the Sierra Nevada Plaza in centerfield. There you’ll find two of the park’s most renown concessions. Orlando’s Cha Cha Bowl (jerk chicken, season rice, black beans and pineapple salsa) tickles the taste buds. And my personal fave, the popular Crazy Crab Sandwich: Dungeness crab served on grilled buttery sourdough with tomato and lemon. Expensive, but delicious.

BEER 9/10

The Public House attached to the ballpark sells, among other great brews, Russian River Blind Pig. And unlike the Mikkeller taproom in Citi Field, you can get to and from the pub during the game.

Inside the park I found amazing stuff from Bay-Area breweries Local Brewing Company, Moonraker Brewing (great hazy IPAs), Temescal Brewing, Russian River (I’ve had a Pliny the Elder in a ballpark!), Almanac Beer Co, Henhouse, Fieldwork Brewing, Laughing Monk and Altamont Beer Works. The “default” stuff is from Deschutes, Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam and Lagunitas, so if your hunt for something super special becomes cumbersome, you’re still in good hands. There’s also a decent selection of wine available if that’s your bag.

It gets a 9 instead of a perfect score because of the price. $20 for a specialty craft beer feels criminal even in overpriced San Francisco. At that price, the beer should come with a lap dance.

NEIGHBORHOOD 7/10

When the stadium was built, the area was an industrial wasteland. It’s about a mile from the true downtown. But the area has built up quite a bit. It’s less and less scruffy every year I go. In fact, it’s been so gentrified, a few decent bars had to shut down presumably due to increased rent costs (RIP Pete’s Tavern and the Pine Tar Grill).

Not all the places are geared toward the ball fan. There are several restaurants that cater to well-heeled locals that feel overly nice to patronize wearing your gear.

Most of the Game Day action is north of the park in the South Beach and South Park neighborhoods. There are also a few places scattered along the Embarcadero like Hi Dive, and stuff opening south of the park like ATwater TAvern and Spark Social (a cool outdoor food court). My guess is the area between Oracle and the new Chase Center will continue to develop, and this score will continue to go up.

COST 1/5

San Francisco is expensive. So is a Giants game. As a privately-funded facility, Giants ownership needs to charge enough to help recoup the investment. Plus the city is flush with tech cash. Tickets are pricier than average, official Giants parking will cost $40, and the concessions, while great, will set you back big time.

ACCESSIBILITY 4/5

San Francisco traffic, while not as legendarily bad as Los Angeles, is still pretty brutal. If you’re stuck with a car, plan accordingly. Park a little further away to save money and help yourself escape the post-game crush better.

Fortunately, there are many other ways to get here. There’s a MUNI streetcar stop right in front of the park if you’re going somewhere in town, and the CalTrain stop is 2 minutes away if you’re heading toward the South Bay. BART is about a 20 minute/1 mile walk or you can take a street car. Cyclists can make use of San Francisco’s many bike paths and park in a free secure lot on the Portwalk. And Oracle Park even has its own ferry stop on site with ships that head to East Bay and North Bay (which is worth a bonus point).

WEATHER 3/5

Day games are usually warm and sunny all throughout the year and rain is uncommon. Night games can be chilly and sometimes outright cold. It’s not uncommon to see Giants fans bring heavy jackets into a July night game. Remember Mark Twain’s quote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”. September may be the best month to come if you prefer warmer nights.

VIBE 16/20

For years this was one of, if not THE toughest ticket in baseball. The Giants sold out for nearly 7 straight years. Crowds have thinned a bit, but they still pack them in at about 80% capacity. And while some fans are of the “see and be seen” crowd, overwhelmingly, they are good ball fans. There’s great atmosphere here and it feels distinctly San Francisco.

It’s a place you want to be. You can go early just to enjoy some of the ballpark amenities. Consider:

  • The Peet’s @Cafe has a bobblehead museum with an interactive feature worth checking out
  • If you have Club seats, there’s a bunch of good Giants memorabilia on display including the infamous Crazy Crab, the anti-mascot from the 1984 season
  • The Pour House allows you to duck in an out for fabulous beer (for less than $20).
  • The Giants employ the only female PA Announcer, Renel Brooks-Moon whose really good once you train your ear for the unexpected (don’t shrug her off as a product of “progressive San Francisco”; she is legit!)
  • Lou Seal is an underrated mascot
  • The foghorn blowing after a home run is a long-standing tradition
  • Even if the Dodgers aren’t in town, if someone is spotted wearing Dodgers gear, you’re likely to hear a “Beat LA” chant start up
  • You can catch a few batters from inside a vintage cable car located in the outfield
  • The fans wisely don’t do The Wave (because it may have started in Oakland or LA)
  • If you’re sitting in the Field Club, when you head to the Club area for a bite or a bio break, you can pass players as they go to and from their clubhouse
  • The “moats” separating high end seat areas from the hoi polloi are more subtle
  • The slide is available for both kids and adults (I will neither confirm nor deny that I’ve slid down it after a few Bay Area suds)
  • They’ll play “The Lights” by Bay-Area band Journey in the middle of the eight, and Tony Bennett’s “I Left Heart in San Francisco” after a win meaning you can even HEAR a sense of place

And if you’re lucky, you may have a multi-inning conversation with Francis Ford Coppola.

GALLERY


OTHER FUN THINGS TO DO


Three fun San Francisco eateries:

  • Zuni Café (Hayes Valley. Upscale, pricy California bistro that still has cache some 30+ years after the late Judy Rodgers took it over and made it what it is)
  • The Ramen Bar (Financial District. Some of the best noodles in a town with a lot of noodles.)
  • Red’s Java House (Rincon Point. Ramshackle joint that has been serving longshoreman and dock workers since 1955. Enjoy a simple double cheeseburger served on sourdough paired with a beer for less than $20)

Three places to imbibe before the game:

  • Garaje (SOMA. Great craft beer list paired with tacos in this unassuming Mexican place less than a 10-minute walk from the park.)
  • Polo Grounds (Ballpark. Classic pub named after the Giants’ New York home located across the street from the park.)
  • Mikkeller (Tenderloin. The San Francisco outpost of the famous Danish brewer. Area attracts a lot of homeless, so be aware.)

One bar in the area worth hitting:

Anchor Brewing taproom (Portreo Hill. A granddaddy in the American craft beer scene.)

Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:

  • 21st Amendment (SOMA. Opened the same year the stadium opened. I’ve pre-gamed here since its early years, and it keeps getting more popular).
  • Black Hammer Brewing (SOMA. Classic German-style beers in a lofty warehouse a 10-minute walk from the park)
  • Local Brewing Co (Ballpark. Enjoy a killer West Coast IPA in female-run small brewery a few blocks from the stadium.)

Three fun tourist attractions in the area:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39 (Locals avoid it like the plague, but odds are you’re not a local. While there are 3D rides, an aquarium, mazes, shopping and bay cruises, the best attraction is free: the sea lions. A few hundred sea lions have made Pier 39 their home since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. I have spent 30-minutes just watching them frolic, and I have the attention span of a goldfish. Our family even has a rapport with one of the sea lions; we named him Carl. Best viewed early and late season since many migrate in June and July.)
  • City Tour (San Francisco is a compact city with a ton of cool attractions. Sometimes the easiest way to see it all is on a tour. It’s a rare city in which I recommend this. Check out Chinatown, the Cable Car, the Embarcadero, Painted Ladies, Coit Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, etc. If a bus tour is not your thing, try the Segway tour instead; rolling down that crooked stretch Lombard Street on one of these bad boys is fun.)
  • Alcatraz (It’s San Francisco’s number tourist attraction and they put on a good tour. On a clear day, the view of the Golden Gate bridge from the water can be stunning.)

SUMMARY

Great views. Great food. Great beer. Great atmosphere. Great stadium. And despite a terrible homeless problem that seems to get worse every year, still a great city.

Oracle Park is on almost every pundit’s short list of best stadiums in America. Now 20 years old, it still holds up thanks to ongoing improvements. You’ll pay well for the privilege of being here, but it makes an amazing immediate impression, and follows it up with substance. Forget “flowers in your hair”; if you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some black and orange (and a warm jacket for night games) and check out the majesty of Oracle Park.