By Matt Villano, on January 26, 2016

South Bay sports

San Jose, California, and the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area will dominate the international sports world this February when two professional American football teams clash on the turf at Levi’s Stadium in the National Football League’s 50th championship game. But there’s more to the sports scene in the South Bay than just the Big Game—San Jose, often overlooked for its better-known neighbors to the north, boasts a number of top-notch sporting venues.

Three of these venues in particular stand out. Two—Levi’s and Avaya Stadium—are brand-spanking new, and have opened in the last two years. The third—Municipal Stadium—opened during World War II and is still in use today. Each of the facilities offers a different experience. Read on for a closer look.

Levi’s Stadium

Without question, number one on the list of sporting venues in the San Jose area is Levi’s Stadium. The 68,500-seat facility opened in August 2014 and is the home of the San Francisco 49ers. It also bills itself as “the most high-tech stadium in the world,” a fitting distinction since it’s in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Some of the technological wizardry includes incredible Wi-Fi distributed via access points that are placed about 100 seats apart around the stadium; 1,700 beacons to send location-specific offers and directions to particular fans or rows or sections; more than 2,000 (Sony) televisions; and an app that guides fans to the nearest bathroom and provides on-demand video replays.

Viewfinder Tip: Public tours of Levi’s Stadium are available every day. They include a 90-minute guided tour of the stadium and a self-guided tour of the 49ers Museum Presented By Sony.

The stadium is green too—there’s a green roof atop the suite tower on the west side, and the three bridges that connect the main parking area to the stadium are lined with solar panels. Levi’s Stadium is actually the first stadium to host an NFL team and also have LEED Gold certification. What’s more, visitors can view a live dashboard display featuring current energy measurements, water and air monitors, and other dynamic green features as the building operates each day.

Perhaps the coolest feature of US$1.2-billion Levi’s Stadium is the 49ers Museum Presented By Sony, a 20,000-square-foot space with 11 unique gallery and exhibit spaces. On a recent visit, I marveled at all five of the 49ers Lombardi trophies, and learned a ton about Joe Montana, Steve Young, and some of the other players who made Niners history what it is today.

Avaya Stadium

Technology is also on display at another new San Jose venue: Avaya Stadium. This facility, home to the San Jose Earthquakes (which play in Major League Soccer, or MLS), opened in February 2015, and is the self-proclaimed “first cloud-enabled stadium in MLS.” That is a fancy way of saying there’s a lot of cool high-tech stuff here, too.

My personal favorite feature is the Fan Engagement Wall, a giant video board that displays aggregated social media feeds and other multimedia content. The stadium also boasts more than 170 wireless access points; more LED lighting than any stadium of its size; and a special app with access to menus for all concession stands and player and schedule information. The stadium also has a cell-phone charging station in a special fan zone; the charging station is powered entirely by solar panels.

Oh, and speaking of solar panels, the panels atop the VIP parking lot generate enough power to make the US$100-million stadium net zero on game days.

Because the stadium is so small—it has only 18,000 seats—every spot offers a great vantage point of the pitch. This means game-viewing experiences there are among the best in the area. It also makes Avaya a great place to take young kids.

Municipal Stadium


Municipal Stadium

On paper, Municipal Stadium—home of the San Jose Giants, the San Francisco Giants’ minor league affiliate—has nothing in common with the two other stadiums in this piece. Still, it’s a great place to catch a game, and firmly established itself as one of the most important places in San Jose sports history.

That history runs deep. Municipal Stadium was built as a Works Progress Administration project in the early 1940s, and was one of the first stadiums to be built entirely of reinforced concrete. Over the years, the facility has hosted everything from professional baseball to club rugby, concerts, stock shows, and more. Currently, “Municipal” hosts more than 140 events, including all San Jose Giants regular-season and playoff home games, San Jose State University baseball games, high school tournaments, and camps, to name a few.

The stadium seats 2,900, which creates an intimate environment for every event. For this reason, it’s a great place for die-hard baseball fans to get up close and personal with some of their icons, especially when big-name players are coming through to rehabilitate injuries.

Over the years, San Francisco Giants players such as Rod Beck, Joe Nathan, Shawn Estes, Tim Lincecum, and Buster Posey all have played on this grass.

Of course, my favorite way to enjoy a game at Municipal Stadium is to wander down the left-field line and chow down at Turkey Mike’s Baseball & BBQ. No, the grub here is not the best barbecue in the world—it’s mediocre at best, and that’s only on good days. But considering the price point (especially in comparison to what they charge for food at major-league parks) and the setting, rib dinners and pulled-pork sandwiches are great ways to celebrate the sports culture in a great and underappreciated town.

What are some of your favorite underappreciated sports cities and why?