Every baseball fan I know has the same fantasy. A blissful summer watching a game at every Major League ballpark in America — all in one epic beer and hot dog fueled road trip.
Well sorry. This is not an article about the fulfillment of that fantasy.
I have a job. And a wife.
But I have seen a game in every Major League ballpark in America in the course of my extensive business travels.
Certainly not as romantic as a marathon 30 ballparks in 30 days coast-to-coast baseball binge, but I feel like I am part of a somewhat elite circle that can credibly offer an opinion — and comparison — of every park.
Keep reading for my countdown of the top ten Major League ballparks. Or if you are feeling especially crotchety, you can click here for my countdown of the five WORST stadiums.
Of course, opinions are like…
…well, you know. Let’s just say everyone’s got one.
So before you read my countdown, I feel like I owe you a bit of insight into my preferences when it comes to enjoying America’s favorite pastime.
History and Nostalgia Matter
First of all, I love the history of baseball and the sense of nostalgia you feel when you can walk in the footsteps of the baseball legends.
Unfortunately, outside of Wrigley and Fenway, most of that baseball history has fallen victim to the wrecking ball and the greedy billionaire owners demanding new taxpayer funded stadiums every decade or two. But the best modern stadiums keep their connections to the past.
Downtown Is Always Better than Acres of Asphalt
I prefer the convenience, amenities and neighborhood feel of downtown stadiums, as opposed to the soulless expanse of asphalt parking lots that surround suburban stadiums.
First of all, I am cheap. And I don’t mind walking. And I have an unhealthy disregard for my personal safety.
You know where I’m going with this — I like free parking.
You know the type. I’ll spend 30 minutes cruising back alleys for that super-secret free parking spot.
A downtown stadium means I can ALWAYS find a free place to park (it’s a rental — I’m not vouching for what condition it will be in after the game).
A suburban stadium means I have no choice but to fork over $20 or more to park. That’s TWO beers! (Ok, ONE beer at Yankee Stadium or Nationals Park.)
That just makes me grumpy.
Plus a great urban ballpark like Wrigley is an integral part of the surrounding neighborhood. Especially if that neighborhood offers fun places to eat, drink, and celebrate that sweet victory after the game — and a hotel you can walk back to.
At a suburban stadium, the only thing you are doing after the game is sitting in gridlock traffic hoping the five beers you drank at the game will wear off before you finally make it out of the parking lot.
Room to Wander
You also need to understand that most of the time, I’m traveling by myself. I’m not looking to impress or entertain anyone else. Just give me the cheapest ticket I need to get in the gate — and let me wander around the stadium to explore the amenities.
So whether those amenities include fun skydecks with great views of the game, standing room behind home plate, or just a ledge to put my beer down while I try to eat my $10 hot dog, I’m going to be pretty happy. If you won’t even let riff-raff like me onto the 100 Level Concourse (I’m looking at you Yankee Stadium), you aren’t going to score very high in my rankings.
Local Character Counts
Finally, I love stadiums that provide the taste and feel of the character of their city.
That means great views and local food and beer.
Man cannot live upon hot dogs and Bud Light alone. If your stadium offers a taste of some local delicacy — and a local craft beer to wash it down with, I’m in hog heaven.
If the concession area looks like an Anheuser-Busch take-over and offers nothing that doesn’t come premade in a foil wrapper, I am not going to be happy.
…nostalgia, neighborhood, convenience, character, and local food and drink.
If you agree those are good criteria by which to judge a ballpark, then read on. I’ve done all the work for you.
If not, feel free to heckle me in the comments section.
Let the countdown begin…
10. San Diego Padres
Petco Park, San Diego, CA
Opened in 2004, Petco lacks the cozy, retro atmosphere of slightly older ballparks in Texas and Baltimore. And it can’t boast of the spectacular skyline and waterfront views of parks in Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
But Petco is not without its own quirky charms and personality.
For example, the historic Western Metal Supply Company building was incorporated into the design of Petco Park. I think that is kind of cool.
I also give Petco a couple points for local flavor. In addition to the typical ballpark fare, you can get a Sonoran hot dog covered in raw onions, tomatoes, spicy jalapeño verde sauce, pinto beans and tortilla chips for more than the price of your ticket.
Or if you are feeling real adventurous, you can risk your digestive tract on some fish tacos, a San Diego tradition. The lonely fish taco concessions girl acted like I was the first fan of the season to order one.
Not a good sign.
The best I can say about my Petco fish taco is that it didn’t give me food poisoning. But let’s just say Wahoo’s and Rubio’s have no fear of being put out of business any time soon.
San Diego is home to some of America’s best breweries, so I expected great beer selection. Sure enough, a couple stands sell Stone and Ballast Point brews, but you have to search pretty hard to find them.
9. Minnesota Twins
Target Field, Minneapolis, MN
Target Field seems like it is designed specifically for ballpark explorers like me.
I love to wander, local beer in hand (a GREAT selection), from section to section clockwise around the entire lower level of Target Field. From the unobstructed view of the standing room right behind home plate, to the multiple levels under the left field Budweiser Deck, to the spacious right field plaza, you can circumnavigate the field multiple times without missing a pitch.
If you really need to cool your heels, head up to the Bat & Barrel Restaurant above the left field plaza for the best (and most expensive) food in the park. Anyone in the park can sit and eat and drink and catch the action for a $5 cover charge and a minimum food order.
Target Field is an urban ballpark that features a nice view of the Minneapolis skyline out over the center field bleachers, which rise up in a shape that cleverly matches the shape of Minnesota’s northernmost Iron Range.
Target Field is full of fun quirks like that.
But the most iconic sight in the ballpark is the big neon sign of “Minnie” and “Paul” shaking hands over the Mississippi River — the official logo of the Minnesota Twins created in 1961 by a fan who got paid a measly $15 for his efforts.
8. Philadelphia Phillies
Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA
Citizens Bank Park is almost too nice for the gritty city of Philadelphia, whose fans infamously booed Santa Claus and heckled Jason Werth as he was being carried off the field with a broken wrist.
The seats are comfy, the aisles wide, and the concourses clean — even in the nosebleed seats.
Like most of the modern nouveau ballparks, this one prides itself on the local flavor of its concessions. Out beyond Center Field, you’ll find “Ashburn Alley,” named after the Phillies Hall of Fame center fielder and broadcaster.
This is where the twenty and thirty-year-olds congregate. And where all the outposts of Philadelphia’s famous culinary institutions can be found.
Lines are long for Hatfield’s Italian sausages, Chickie & Pete’s crab fries, and Tony Luke’s roast pork sandwiches.
The most tempting concession was Bull’s BBQ, where the smoke of sizzling kielbasa wafts appetizingly into Center Field. I almost pulled the trigger and gave my hard-earned dough to Phillies slugger-turned-pit-master Greg “The Bull” Luzinski.
But then I came to my senses.
I’m in Philadelphia. How can I get anything but the city’s namesake sandwich? So I opted to try the Philly cheesesteak from Campo’s, an “Old City” Philly institution for six decades.
The beer selection is pretty good too with a nice variety of suds from local breweries like Victory, one of my top ten favorite breweries (a list for a later article, I promise.)
If you can handle all the “F bombs” raining down from the Philly bleacher bums, you’ll love the local character at Citizens Bank Park.
7. Colorado Rockies
Coors Field, Denver, CO
If you sit in the upper deck down the first base line at Coors Field, you’ll be treated to the most spectacular scenery in Major League Baseball. Just go up to the purple row of seats, helpfully designating the EXACT altitude one mile above sea level.
How cool is that?
As the sun sets over the snowcapped peaks of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, you might forget there’s a game going on.
Another group of fans that has no clue a game is being played are the fun-loving partiers on the Rooftop in right center field.
A 38,000-square-foot, two-story party deck complete with multiple indoor bars and drink stands, fire pits, covered seating areas, and plenty of handy drink rails, the Rooftop is the place where the young and hip love to mingle with each other while consuming massive quantities of the ballpark’s namesake beer.
Located right smack in the middle of Denver’s fun-loving LoDo district, Coors Field is surrounded by Denver’s best restaurants, bars and breweries for your entertainment after the game’s final out.
Just don’t ask me for the final score. I have no clue.
6. Seattle Mariners
Safeco Field, Seattle, WA
Spoiler alert: no stadium with a retractable roof is going to make my Top 10 list. All you Diamondbacks, Brewers, Astros and Marlins fans can stop reading right now.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It gets hot in Houston in August. I get it. Cry me a river.
That’s why God invented cold beer.
Baseball is meant to be played outdoors.
Period. End of discussion.
That’s why I love Safeco Field. Its retractable roof isn’t really a roof. It’s more like a nine acre, 22 million pound metal umbrella that shields the field and the stands on those rainy Seattle nights in April and May.
But the rest of the stadium is open to the refreshing Pacific Northwest air — even when the “roof” is “closed.”
In other words, even with the umbrella up, you are still outside. None of that soul-sapping hum of industrial sized air conditioners that, like crying, has NO PLACE in baseball.
And unlike those roofs in Arizona, Houston and Miami, where an open roof is rarer than a triple play, Seattle covers up only when it’s raining, which doesn’t happen much after Memorial Day.
As you’d expect, the beer selection is good in this beer-loving corner of America. And where else can you watch the game and munch on a “fish dog” made of deep fried local cod?
5. San Francisco Giants
AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA
There is no more spectacular setting for a ballpark than AT&T Park, nestled in a snug harbor hard against the Financial District of “The City”.
McCovey Cove in right field. The Bay Bridge in left. The San Francisco skyline behind home plate.
My last game at AT&T Park, I took a boat to the park from Oakland. The time before that I took a BART train from the airport.
Whatever you do, don’t drive. Traffic and parking are horrendous.
Besides, what could be more fun than cutting through the fog and gliding over the glassy waters of the San Francisco Bay to tie up to the stadium docks in the middle of McCovey Cove?
The Cove, named after Giants legend Willie McCovey, is where you’ll find boaters and kayakers jockeying for position for one of those famous “Splash Landing” home runs that Barry Bonds made look so effortless.
AT&T Park checks all the right boxes with gorgeous scenery and great local food and drink. And it is a baseball wanderer’s paradise with the right field promenade putting you directly over the action all the way from center past the first base line.
4. Baltimore Orioles
Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD
Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the reason a list like this even exists.
I mean, would you still be reading if this were a list of top ten basketball arenas?
Of course not.
Baseball parks have character and quirks and open-air BBQ pits. But for all you young whipper-snappers, it hasn’t always been this way.
Before Camden Yards, baseball parks were like basketball arenas. They were pretty much all the same. Uniform, sterile, boring, cookie-cutter flying saucers and domes covered in plastic Astroturf.
When Camden Yards opened in 1992, it was revolutionary. A fun, idiosyncratic park which wasn’t designed by some nerdy architect overly obsessed with uniform dimensions, but rather designed to conform to the space dictated by the majestic B & O Warehouse, a century-old landmark lending a historic industrial backdrop to right field.
Camden Yards was the first modern stadium to recreate the classic ballpark feel reminiscent of legendary early 20th century parks like Ebbets, Crosley and Wrigley.
And no ballpark smells better when the wind is blowing in from center field where you’ll find Boog Powell, the former Oriole legend himself, manning his BBQ pit. Sure, Boog smacked 339 home runs in his big league career, but Orioles fans these days are even more grateful for his smoked pork BBQ.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA
Without question or debate, PNC Park is the most beautiful stadium in baseball.
Made of decorative brushed steel forged right here in the Steel City and local yellow Kasota limestone, PNC is an architectural wonder rising up off the North Bank of the city, especially when viewed walking across the Clemente Bridge from downtown.
Walking across the bridge from your hotel or parking spot downtown is an essential part of your PNC experience. On game days, it is closed to traffic and packed with street musicians and peanut and pennant peddlers.
The festive game day atmosphere culminates at the foot of the bridge where a giant statue of the bridge’s namesake legend Roberto Clemente stands.
Get there early to stroll the Riverwalk, a picturesque promenade that separates right field from the Allegheny River, and imagine the power it would take to launch a home run into the river on the fly from home plate 443 feet away.
The ballpark was designed to maximize the view of Pittsburgh’s unique skyline, steel and glass rising majestically from a point at the confluence of the city’s renowned three rivers.
When you sit behind home plate, the view of Pittsburgh in the background and the 1920s suspension Clemente Bride in the foreground almost looks like a Disney movie set.
But PNC isn’t just easy on the eyes. It was designed for the true baseball fan with wide concourses and grandstands close to the action.
Forget the hot dogs and go straight to the pierogis stand where you can munch on the Polish dumplings while cheering on your favorite in the infamous Pittsburgh Pierogis Race. Go Oliver Onion!
2. Cleveland Indians
Progressive Field, Cleveland, OH
You will eat and drink better at Progressive Field than anywhere else in baseball. So come hungry. And thirsty.
Don’t believe me? The Momocho Nachos were voted by USA Today the single best food item available at ANY sports venue in America!
Forget your standard pre-foil-packaged boiled hot dogs. Cleveland is the place to go for creative, gourmet, over-the-top ballpark fare, mostly with a local connection.
Butcher & Brewer, one of my favorite Cleveland restaurants, has a mouthwatering outpost at Progressive. Another local favorite, Melt, has a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with bacon and mac and cheese.
Or how about a Flamethrower, a pork belly and pulled pork sandwich topped with bacon jam, barbecue sauce, green apple slaw, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos?
Whew! Better have a cold beer to wash all that down.
Fortunately, no ballpark has a better beer selection.
Great Lakes Brewing stakes out prime real estate in center field where you can sample a wide selection of the Cleveland brewery’s creations. Other local breweries such as Brew Kettle, MadTree and White Claw have beer stands as well.
The best part of Progressive Field is the park actually gives you a perfect spot to enjoy all this food and brew.
You aren’t really going to lug your Flamethrower all the way up to your upper deck seat, saying “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me” and attempt to eat that monstrosity on your lap, are you?
Of course not.
In front of the Corner Bar in right field, Progressive Field removed an entire section of seats and replaced them with rows of beer rails where you can place your food and drink, mingle with your friends, and not miss a pitch. The upper level of the Corner Bar has lounge areas, a fire pit, plenty of televisions broadcasting the game, and more than 40 beers on tap — you can even pour your own!
Progressive is a beautiful park too, one of the original retro parks with a nice view of the Cleveland skyline and right next to downtown, where I never fail to find a free parking spot within a few blocks.
1. Chicago Cubs
Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL
I’m not a Cubs fan, but I became a huge baseball fan BECAUSE of the Cubs — specifically Wrigley Field.
Oh what joy to come home to my college apartment at 3pm on a Tuesday, flip the cable channel to WGN and hear the soothing summertime voice of Harry Caray leading the sunbaked Wrigley crowd in another rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game!”
Harry half-loaded — the crowd all the way loaded — spilling their beer over the ivy covered outfield wall as they’d sway in the sun splashed bleachers.
…a summertime Tuesday afternoon in Chicago. It must be time to drink beer and watch baseball.
Oh, how I wished I could be there — pull a Ferris Bueller and play hooky on an epic road trip to Wrigley Field. Alas, Wrigley was 866 miles from my college apartment.
But thanks to the magic of cable television, it was right there in my living room every home game, regardless of the day of the week.
Unfortunately, a lot about Wrigley has changed over the years. WGN no longer carries Cubs games. Harry Caray has long retired to baseball heaven. Day games at Wrigley are much rarer. And those lovable loser Cubs are actually good.
What is the world coming to?
But a trip to Wrigley Field is still a bucket list highlight of any baseball fan’s life.
I love how Wrigley Field has always felt like an integral part of its Wrigleyville neighborhood. The old fire station on Waveland Avenue, the Cubby Bear watering hole catty cornered to home plate, the fans partying on the rooftops across the street. Wrigley has always seemed right at home, growing organically out of these neighborly urban vibes.
And unlike the only other remaining historic ballpark (see my 5 worst list), the amenities inside Wrigley are fan-friendly. The stadium still seems to be haunted by the ghosts of century old legends, but the seats have been adapted to actually fit 21st century fans.
There’s just nothing like basking in the sun on Wrigley bleachers with a cold Old Style in one hand and a Chicago “Combo” of Italian beef and sausage in the other while the rest of the world is stuck in class.
Ferris Bueller would be proud.