Raymond James Stadium
The Tampa Bay area has built itself into quite the sports hub over the years, boasting three major pro sports teams and becoming a destination for big-time events in both the pro and college game. In that time, the region’s residents have grown into big-time hockey and baseball fans with the success of the Lightning and Rays, respectively, but talk to a few of them and you’ll quickly see that they mostly reserve their true sports love for the Buccaneers.
Indeed, the Bucs were Tampa Bay’s original pro franchise, debuting in 1976 with their notorious bright orange uniforms. Despite being an NFL doormat for many years — they famously lost the first 26 games they ever played — they were still a popular draw at the old Tampa Stadium, nicknamed the “Big Sombrero.”
Then came a color change from orange to pewter (and red), a period of success that culminated in a Super Bowl championship in 2003, and a new venue in Raymond James Stadium, which continues to serve the Bucs and Tampa Bay well. Today it hosts not only the Bucs but South Florida football and the Outback Bowl. It also has a college football national championship game under its belt and two Super Bowls in its history.
Though the stadium has been around for nearly 20 years, it has held up well and continues to be one of the prime venues in the NFL worth checking out.
For more on visiting the Tampa Bay area, check out our Tampa/St. Petersburg city guide.
- The Approach
Though it isn’t downtown, Raymond James Stadium occupies a fairly prominent spot in Tampa — not far from Tampa International Airport (it’s practically underneath the approach path of one of the runways), along the very busy Dale Mabry Highway and just a couple miles from Interstate 275 as it runs west toward Old Tampa Bay.
The area has added sports significance in that Steinbrenner Field, the spring training home stadium of the Yankees, is directly across Dale Mabry. The old Tampa Stadium stood just to the north of where Raymond James is now, and the site is now a grassy parking lot.
The Tampa Bay region has few public transportation options — the city of Tampa has a bus system but no special-event service for Buccaneers games — so you’ll likely need a car to get there. The stadium has plenty of parking surrounding it, mostly on the east side of Dale Mabry between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Columbus Drive. Many of the lots are permit-only but others are cash lots starting at $15; just follow the traffic signs to get to the lot of your choice. You can view a detailed parking map here.
As you can imagine, traffic surrounding the venue can get gnarly as kickoff approaches, particularly on Dale Mabry heading north from I-275 and on Columbus Drive as cars try to turn onto Dale Mabry. If you don’t mind walking, there is a way to get around it: Park at one of the many bars and restaurants along Dale Mabry or Boy Scout Boulevard, spend a little bit of time eating or drinking there (more on that below), then walk about a mile and a half to the game.
- The Build-Up
There isn’t much in the way of restaurants and bars in the area immediately surrounding the stadium, but if you’re willing to go a little bit out of your way, there are options.
Along Boy Scout Boulevard, which turns into Columbus Boulevard as it heads east, before reaching Dale Mabry, you’ll find a number of upscale restaurants, some of which offer game parking (though it’s a long walk, many fans are perfectly OK with it and there’ll be plenty of foot traffic). The sizable Miller’s Ale House is one such option. Even farther is the International Plaza shopping mall and even more eating/drinking choices.
In fact, if you’re visiting from out of town and would rather not drive to the game, it’s a reasonable option to stay at one of the airport hotels that line Boy Scout Boulevard and Dale Mabry Highway and walk from there.
Don’t want to deal with that walk? The Bucs hold a pregame tailgate party in the parking area just south of the stadium (across Tampa Bay Boulevard, which closes to traffic before games). You’ll also find the liveliest tailgate scenes in these lots.
- The Ambiance
Raymond James Stadium is your prototypical football venue, designed symmetrically and to maximize the number of seats along the sidelines. Behind each end zone is one level of seats and then a large plaza behind it where fans can gather and where many of the food and beer stands can be found.
You’ll want to head straight for the plaza behind the north end zone, where you can find the one feature that sets the stadium apart from its brethren: The big Buccaneer ship, from which cannons fire whenever the home team does something positive and where actors in pirate costumes hang out, posing for pictures, brandishing toy swords and throwing beads out to the crowd. If you’re looking for a fun atmosphere from which to watch the game, this is truly it — think of it as watching the game from a beach cabana, only there’s an actual live game in front of you. (In case you were wondering, fans aren’t allowed on the ship itself during games.)
If you’d rather sit at your seat, no problem — sightlines are terrific from just about every angle. A series of ramps and escalators are positioned at all four corners of the stadium for those who need to head to the upper levels (though you’ll need to take note of which side your section is on, east or west, because if you head up the wrong side and realize it afterward, you have no choice but to go back down and walk around). New HD videoboards were recently installed behind each end zone, as well as a set of vertical infoboards on which things like out-of-town scores are displayed.
There’s plenty of space on the concourses so that you can walk around and survey your eating and drinking options. In the north end zone plaza, there are food stands stacked up next to each other with pirate-themed facing, which might make you feel a little like you’re in line for Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland — in fact, during our visit we actually heard the pirate actors singing the “Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me” song that’s associated with the ride.
Around the rest of the stadium, the stands are a little more standard, as is most of the fare sold there. One item you’ll see a lot of, though, is the Cuban sandwich, which Tampa claims as its own — if you’ve never had it, it’s a pressed ham, pork and cheese sandwich worth trying at least once, and the stadium version isn’t bad. You can also seek out the “Taste of Tampa” stands for more unique fare, such as yucca fries.