What this is: This article is meant to be a living reference for anyone planning to tailgate for a Michigan football game. Please add your own suggestions in the comments and I will edit the main body at intervals.
Sponsor Note: Tailgater Concierge has sponsored MGoEvents in the past and is still doing their thing. If you need to put together a tailgate for a reunion, a bachelor party, or a corporate event, you can have Tailgater Concierge do all that for you, including setup and takedown. They have several excellent locations near the stadium, and packages can include everything from Zingerman’s to Satellite TV . Hit the links, call 888-301-2190, or email [email protected].
They have also been sending Kyra Kirkwood around Ann Arbor this year to pick up tailgating tips for Ann Arbor. She submitted her findings and I edited/rewrote it and submitted my own to create this.
According to the latest census, the City of Ann Arbor has a population just under 114,000. On Saturdays in the fall, Michigan Stadium can fit that many with room to spare. The city estimates its population more than doubles when Michigan has a home game, and until kickoff most of them are tailgating. That’s where I come in. I carry a fork.
You’re in car country so you’re most likely driving to the game. Michigan Stadium is part of a vast athletic campus cornered on Stadium and Main Street. The school keeps an inventory of official parking. Those lots open between 6-8 a.m. on game days, and close approximately two hours post-game. Many are permit-only, but some are available for cash on game day. Spaces are first-come-first-served.
If you’re not parking in the school’s lots—and this is important—make sure you plan which direction you want to come from. The Big House is aptly named, and when you consider it’s attached to the Crisler Center as well it can be quite an obstacle to walk around if you’re parked on the opposite site from the tailgate you’re trying to get to. The other giant walking obstruction is the train tracks that angle southeast (the red line on the map below):
The neighborhoods tend to fill up for two miles around the stadium, and many Michigan fans have their favorite streets. Which one depends mostly on how you want to get out: Stay out of Burns Park unless you live off US23 (onramps to M-14 and I-94 tend to back up), and don’t try the West Neighborhoods unless you want to get to West M-14 and I-94, etc. Street parking tends to fill up early because the locals will take them the night before to save their driveways and garages for guests. Unless you want to arrive early in the morning or walk a very long distance you should probably plan on paying for parking.
The key is to park in an area on the same side of the tailgate you want to attend, and preferably near the gate that’s closest to your seat. The direction you need to get to matters as well. If you’re coming from the Detroit suburbs, campus or the West neighborhoods might be best for you because your way in and out of town is M-14 and you can skip US-23. If you’re coming from the south, the Golf Course and Pioneer are excellent choices since you can get right back on State Street or sneak out on 7th street. West-siders can often park at the myriad bars down Stadium or Liberty and shuttle to and from the stadium.
Getting a Ride to the Game
If you’re tailgating near the stadium you can park in a lot near the highway and take a hired ride. There is a dedicated Uber/Lyft drop-off location on Hoover Street that’s well-located for getting to most tailgate locations.
You can also take the bus. Copy-pasting this from their writeup on MGoBlue:
The Ann Arbor Transit Authority (AATA) also offers shuttle service between Michigan Stadium and Ann Arbor hotels and motels, U-M Parking Structures and lots, the Michigan Union, and downtown Ann Arbor. The Football Ride runs approximately every 20 minutes beginning two hours before game time and drops off passengers at Gate 2. Shuttles run for approximately 60 minutes after the game and pick up passengers at the assigned location on the south side of Michigan Stadium. During inclement weather, such as rain or heavy snow, the shuttle will run throughout the game. For more information on the Football Ride, call AATA at (734) 973-6500 or visit the AATA site.
[After the JUMP: the first draft of what I hope will become the definitive document on M tailgating.]
Tailgating at Pioneer
Even after generations, the most popular parking spot around The Big House remains the Ann Arbor Pioneer High School lot located diagonally southwest from the stadium at 601 W. Stadium Blvd (spots are $50). The secret’s been out since Bo, but the school is cognizant of its place in the Michigan tradition and well-organized. The lot often hosts live radio broadcasts, companies handing out tchotchkes and a host of colorful characters attracted by the density of fans. Part of the attraction is they only allow cars. Standard-sized sedans, SUVs and trucks (but not larger than an F-150) are permitted. RVs, trailers, passenger vans, limos and buses or anything oversized is not. You will be turned away sans refund if you arrive in one of the prohibited vehicles.
Tailgating on the Golf Courses
Ann Arbor Golf & Outing Club, located at 400 E. Stadium Blvd., and the University of Michigan Golf Course are the preferred sites for the most serious tailgaters. They are, in a word, gorgeous. The natural scenery not only provides a beautiful backdrop but also blocks the noise of a city in the process of doubling its population by car. Since the recent renovations from many spots you can see Michigan Stadium over the rolling greens.
AAGO is a private course just across Stadium from the Stadium. The lot opens at 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays with games that begin at 3:30 p.m. or earlier. Portable toilets are available. No RVs or trailers are permitted, nor are glass bottles/containers, charcoal grills, fire pits, deep fryers or pets. Everyone must also stay off all playable golf surfaces, such as the tees and greens (but they don’t). The price is $50-$60 and can be done on game day as a first-come-first-served, or reserved ahead of time. Getting a good spot means getting there early. Many Michigan fans will tailgate all day—not even bothering going to the game.
The University of Michigan Golf Course is the other 75% of the golf course you can see from from the sky. It's a high quality course so they're never open when there's been recent rain, and they only let you park on the rough. However they're open to the public when they're open and you can enter from Stadium, State Street, or Main Street.
There are two main RV areas. The first is the athletic department’s huge parking lot behind Crisler that stretches from the train tracks to the lot’s entrance off of Stadium (just after the bridge over State Street). Getting in there may take a generation of donations and season tickets.
The other is Fingerle Lumber, the area on 4th Street that has somehow survived as an industrial zone between student housing and Elbel Field. RV spots are reservable and start at $250, though they can get a lot pricier (and sell out quickly) for bigger games. The most famous Fingerle tailgate is the B-School School Bus, which has a dance floor on top of it, and is always parked on the corner of 4th and Hill overlooking Elbel Field.
Fingerle is one of the only spots on campus you can also arrange for Friday night parking, since getting an RV into town on gameday is no fun. They also sell plenty of regular parking spots, and it’s secretly one of the best places for that since it’s just a few blocks from the stadium in one direction and the school in the other. And despite being literally in the center of town, it’s surprisingly easy to get out. You take Division Street (a one-way northbound corridor that cuts between campus and downtown) then cut over to Main in Depot Town.
Regardless of where you park to tailgate, the rules are pretty similar. Your tailgating paraphernalia must be contained within your paid-for parking spot. If you have an RV that essentially is four spots, then you have to keep everything, including awnings and tables, within that area. Nothing can block driveways or utilize a neighbor’s space.
Tailgating in a Neighborhood
Many locals, especially those close to the stadium, “tailgate” by hosting at home. The Old West Side and Almendinger Heights neighborhoods feel like an extension of campus, with adults out on their porches just like the students, albeit with far better beer. The fancier Burns Park neighborhood on the East side is a little trickier because of the train tracks, which means pedestrians either have to walk all the way over to Stadium to go over the bridge, go around the baseball stadium and circle all the way around to Hoover, or when it’s open, cut through the walkway between the football practice field and the field hockey field—that will dump you out in the RV lot behind Crisler.
The last quarter mile of block on these streets will sell parking on their driveways and lawns, but a few also rent out their homes for large tailgate spaces. Some houses close to the stadium were purchased explicitly to serve as tailgate rental spaces, including The “MGoTailgate” on Potter, Tailgater Concierge’s lots at 110 E. Hoover and 321 W. Stadium, and the North Endzone space on Main and Keech.
Some of these houses, especially further back in the neighborhood, are actually for rent overnight via AirBnB or from specialized companies like GameDay Housing. If you’re getting a group of friends together and it’s an earlier game this can often be a superior option. Prices fluctuate dramatically (getting one for an OSU home game is vastly more expensive than Rutgers or Indiana), but when you wake up on gameday after a night of reliving college and there’s no driving to do, no cars to park, and no rush to get out of bed, it can feel very worth it.
How the Students Tailgate
Much of Ann Arbor was built within 15 years of Michigan Stadium, and those 1900s-1930s houses—most of which came with raised front porches—today actually account for the majority of pre-game festivities among students. Since open tailgating areas are generally far away and on the opposite side of the stadium, the students do most of their tailgating from these graystone porches, always with a homemade beer pong table out front, of course.
The fraternities on campus often host alumni tailgates and make their lots available to those who know the right handshake (Pro Tip: Every fraternity uses the same secret handshake). Sororities are under stricter rules but often will find a way to accommodate a sister.
Several student houses have tailgate traditions that pass on from renter to renter. One apartment on Hill and State Street comes with a three-story bong. The “BOX” house on State hangs a bedsheet each game with an opponent-specific (or Ohio State-specific if it’s Rutgers or some other tomato can) sign. And several houses today keep alive the “You Honk, We Drink” game.
The Charity Beer Garden on Hoover started last year at 327 Hoover, around the block from the students’ entrance to the stadium. We’ve held several MGoBlog events there, and HomeSure Lending currently parks the MGoBus there. They get a different beer donated every week that’s purchasable from a donation booth, and rotate through a few different food trucks. All proceeds go to However due to local ordinances (regarding bathrooms of all things) they’re currently unable to use the warehouse on the site for indoor tailgating. Hopefully enough pressure can be put on the city to grant an exception for football Saturdays.
Especially in inclement weather, the local bar scene can provide everything you’re looking for from a tailgate—food, beer, comrades, and sports on TV. Ann Arbor was an early adopter of microbrews and the old watering holes have now been joined by a number of very good brewhouses. Ashley’s will be crowded all gameday but that’s still the staff favorite. For West Siders, Homes Brewery has been a godsend. Wolverine Brewing down Stadium is just out of walking range (about 1.5 miles) but plays host to Premier League soccer fans on gameday mornings, and fans often leave a car there and carpool to the stadium, the meet back up to watch more college football after. Same thing with Fraser’s on Packard. Grizzly Peak is a strong competitor for the old standby Arbor Brewing Company. While the former was craft brewing since long before that became a thing, I personally think the beer at Grizzly is better than ABC’s, and the food is inarguably superior.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to tailgating food: I got way too much food, and OH GOD I DIDN’T GET ENOUGH FOOD!
A common mistake is to serve breakfast and then just snack. You go into the stadium at 11:30 for a noon game, and then at kickoff your body is like “Where’s lunch,” and you’re like “Oh I left it at the tailgate, we have 4 hours of football and commercial breaks now,” and your stomach is like “Well then what do you want me to do with the alcohol you were just drinking?” and you’re like “I dunno, I’m watching the game,” and your body is like “MONSTER CHASE WINOVICH SACK! oh and by the way I’m just going to shut down now have a nice day.”
A lot of tailgaters bring grills, but that can also turn a tailgater into Grill Boy for much of the morning, and not every tailgate has a willing participant.
Catering is a good option in Ann Arbor for a couple of reasons: The restaurants are often passed on the way into town, and there are a lot of good ones to choose from. Some popular places that do catering: Angel Food Catering in Belleville is East on I-94, Zingerman’s is on the way in from M-14 (and the Zingerman’s Roadhouse is out on the West side), and you pass Satchel’s BBQ if you come in off Washtenaw from US-23. You can call ahead to these and a lot of other restaurants the day before and pick it up on the way into town. Busch’s on Main Street by Ann Arbor-Saline preps all sorts of tailgate-ready food and supplies a lot of the Pioneer and Golf Course tailgates. For smaller tailgates, sandwiches or subs can do the trick.
Things to Do Pre-Game
If you want to wander, there are a few highlights around town that you should check out.
If you arrive in town early enough you’ll catch The Michigan Marching Band warming up at Elbel Field. They’ll perform their traditional Step Show about 90 minutes before kickoff on the steps of Revelli Hall, then march to the stadium down Hoover Street. The drum line will also come out behind Revelli and warm up for the Grey Lot tailgaters, and when the opponent’s band comes a drum-off might break out before or after the game.
If you’re wondering where that famous Cube is, you’ll find it between the Michigan Union and the Administration Building in a campus square that for pedestrians might as well be part of Maynard Street (the Union is currently closed for renovations). If you can cross State Street, take the walkway around Angell Hall, and see The Diag, the central square of campus. Exit the diag past the UGLI (undergrad library) to the southeast and pass under the archway to get back to South University. If you turn right from there you’ll pass the president’s house and get back to State Street. Another left will take you past the Law Quad, and it’s highly recommended you duck into there to take in its Oxford-inspired courtyard (try not to photobomb any weddings).
It’s still new so many fans don’t yet realize they can visit the football museum at Schembechler Hall. It’s on State Street past Hoover, and easily recognizable by the statue of Bo outside (a staffer will be there to snap a photo with your camera). There unfortunately isn’t a direct walk from there to the Stadium—most people just walk around Yost Ice Arena and the baseball stadium to get to the Grey Lot and back to Hoover.
If you’re in town early with kids, the Ann Arbor Hand's On (aka Children's) Museum is one of the best in the Midwest, though parking is always going to be a hassle. It’s downtown, and the parking lots nearby are already getting filled by football traffic.
Heading Down to the Stadium
When should you close up and head down? The standard answer is 40 minutes before kickoff, and in the stadium 20 minutes prior. The reason is there’s a mad rush to get into the stadium in the last few minutes. About 10 minutes before kickoff you’ll find a huge line outside most sections, and cutting is a rampant problem. Unless you don’t mind missing the start, go in early, find your seat, and enjoy warmups, the banner ceremony and the band.
Old Man Yost designed the Stadium well—unlike many other stadiums there are only a few corridors, and these are all plenty large enough to keep traffic moving. It’s still huge, though, so you will want to come in the gate that’s closest to your section rather than trying to circle around.
Before you leave, make sure to leave anything you can’t bring into the stadium at the tailgate or in your car. Purses, bags, fanny packs (yes, people still wear these, and no, you can’t bring them to The Big House), food, pets, umbrellas, drones, strollers, selfie-sticks, bottles or weapons are all prohibited.
If you’re bringing a baby, you can have them on a body carrier, and they’ll permit a small ziplock bag with a few baby essentials. However not all of the security people are aware of this, so it helps to have the security policy pulled up on your phone just in case. The relevant part:
Changes in national and regional security levels may affect security procedures at Michigan Stadium. Medical exceptions will be addressed individually at the gates. Those requiring necessary items (e.g., diapers for a baby, medical prescriptions, etc.) are encouraged to carry them into the stadium in a clear plastic bag.
This also goes for medical equipment. Keep in mind that big rivalry games, especially The Game, often generates an upgraded risk level and things that might slide normally won’t for the bigger games.
Things you can bring: Cameras (with lenses LESS THAN six inches in length), phones, binoculars without a case, hats, blankets and foam seat cushions (not any with metal frames or seat backs) are allowed. You may also rent a seat pad at the stadium. If you bring a prohibited item by accident (except for long-lensed cameras, alcohol, drugs and food), you can utilize the bag check. All items must be claimed within 45 minutes of the game’s conclusion.