The ultimate summer baseball road trip: best seats, best food, best hotels — Stop #1: Oakland
I’m deep into research for the third edition of my best selling travel book, Roadside Baseball. I started planning a West Coast ballpark road trip because in this edition of the book, I want to include even more special pieces of history found both in and around the parks.
Marriott International stepped up to the plate and it became a different sort of road trip; for me, the ultimate way to enjoy a baseball road trip by staying in some truly exceptional hotels. Throw in some of the best seats in the house and you’ve got the makings of a truly unique adventure. Ready? Let’s go!
Tour stop #1: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
Most people I talk to express surprise when they learn that Oakland Coliseum is now the fifth oldest ballpark in the major leagues. But it’s true. After Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium and Anaheim Stadium, next in line is Oakland’s park (which opened with football in 1966). This year marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Oakland Athletics but of course the franchise is steeped deeply in East Coast history as the Athletics were born in Philadelphia in 1901 (before moving later to Kansas City for a short period before Oakland). The Coliseum sometimes gets a bad rap from baseball aficionados, but I often find that to be because they’re comparing it to the slew of newer ball parks that have popped up in the last two decades. It’s not really a fair comparison. When you look at the history the Athletics have created in Oakland in their 50 years, it’s incredibly impressive: 16 West Division titles. Six American League Pennants. Four World Series titles, including the flashy, star-studded dominance when they won the championship three years in a row, 1972–74. Add to that the wild showmanship of team owner Charles Finely, some of the games’ most iconic figures from Reggie Jackson, to Catfish Hunter to Mark McGwire and many others that performed some of their greatest feats here. There’s no denying it. This is a very historic ballpark and that alone makes it a must visit for any serious baseball fan.
New features at the park
The stadium may be showing some wear and tear and it certainly lost a lot of the openness and views of the city when “Mount Davis” (the upper-tier section of seats nicknamed for Oakland Raider owner Al Davis) was completed in 1996. Despite that, the A’s have managed to work in some wonderful, fan friendly features that really make for a wonderful day at the park.
- Championship Plaza — located outside the ballpark between the Coliseum and Oracle Arena, this destination area features food trucks, a large screen for watching the game, and games for the whole family. The food trucks at the July 1 game I attended were diverse and creative and many families with small children seemed to be taking advantage of “break opportunities” out there.
- Shibe Park Tavern — this a nod to the club’s past (they played at Shibe Park back in Philadelphia) and Shibe Park Tavern is a fun place for fans to enjoy the game. It features a bar and delicious food offerings, and honestly some of the best views in the park.
As well, there are a number of memorabilia cases in the tavern which celebrate the team’s storied past.
- The Treehouse — new to the Coliseum for the 2018 season, The Treehouse features an indoor and outdoor bar, redwood deck, and drink rails. The inside area has pool, foosball, couches, TVs, and loads more for a fun time. The team also recently introduced nightly themed drink specials in The Treehouse, including Mustache Monday, Taco Tuesday, Whiskey Wednesday and Thirsty Thursday. Again, fantastic views and a great perch to hang with friends.
- The Farm — an outdoor area behind the right-field flag poles, this urban garden allows us to promote sustainability and nutrition, work with children from a local nonprofit, and promote the A’s farm system as each affiliate team is represented in the area.
Free to wander
I rarely sit in my seat for an entire game. I like to take in as many angles, viewpoints and perspectives as I can because as any baseball fan knows, the game changes depending on where you are watching it from. What you pay attention to and what becomes emphasized is completely different if you’re sitting in the front row versus out in the bleachers. But all of the experiences matter. One of the things I usually take into account when judging a ballpark is, do they let you wander around without relegating you to specific sections depending on your ticket? I have to say that the Oakland Coliseum, from that standpoint, is a right at the top of the list. Excluding things like luxury suites, you can wander through most areas of the park and enjoy an inning or two without getting any sort of hassle. I love that. And the Oakland Coliseum has many little nooks, alcoves and levels from which to watch from. All that said, even though I like to wander, of course I did have tickets. My seats were in section 120, row 15 seats - box seats between home and third which obviously provided terrific vantage points. The staffers were friendly, engaged and truly knowledgeable about the history of their team/ballpark. I had a long and enjoyable conversation with the usher in our section who had been attending games there since the A’s started playing there in 1968.
Food worth finding
Since food at all parks has grown far beyond the basic hotdog and peanut staples, the culinary experience has become a show of its own and I thoroughly enjoyed the food experience in Oakland. After indulging at the food trucks and enjoying a root beer float (it was “Root Beer Float” day at the park) I treated myself to a barbecue pork sandwich (those can be found in both the right and left field corners). I know my barbecue, I love my barbecue I can tell you, this was good barbecue.
For me the bottom line is this: Oakland Coliseum may have a few rough edges, but that is simply age. I also think it has tons of character and the fans are smart and dialed in — it’s a great baseball experience. I give the A’s a lot of credit for the recent additions in the park and things like the charming root beer float event, and of course their now-famous giant hall-of-fame-head mascots (featuring Rollie Fingers, Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley).
These refreshingly “small town” touches create an almost minor-league atmosphere which I mean in the best of ways. In a day and age when all too often the in-game experience starts to feel corporate and cookie cutter, the efforts are appreciated. Tons of history, great food and lots of fan-friendly touches — Oakland Coliseum is a great place to include on any baseball road trip.
After a long, hot day at the ballpark
After the game I spent the night at the Oakland Marriott City Center. Honestly after a long drive from Southern California that morning and a fun, full day sitting in the park under summer sun, I was looking forward to kicking back a little bit and this beautiful hotel was the perfect way to both end the afternoon and start the evening. My 19th-floor room provided both a lovely view of downtown Oakland and San Francisco could be seen, shrouded in fog across the bay.
City Center is a 12-block square office, hotel and shopping district. It’s also adjacent to Chinatown so I took an early evening stroll and had a fantastic meal at Shandong (expect a wait, it has one of the best reputations in the Bay Area and that is saying something). After dinner, I walked over to nearby Jack London Square.
The striking, angular building cuts a lovely wedge into the downtown skyline. The service was impeccable and I was fortunate enough to be able to enjoy the M Club lounge, which is a private space where members can enjoy snacks, breakfast, a glass of wine, there are hi-tech work stations, big screen TVs etc.
A first class experience all the way, from my room to the sleek and comfortable M Club.
Next stop: Seattle. (It’s a quick easy flight, but I’m choosing to drive the 12 or so hours so I can do some research and simply soak of up the beauty of the region.)
EXTRA INNINGS: Leaving Oakland, I stopped by in nearby Emeryville to visit the plaque marking where the Pacific Coast League Oakland Oaks played from 1913–1955.