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Everything You Need to Know About San Francisco for the Super Bowl

The winner of the Super Bowl usually says they’re going to Disney World. But even the Magic Kingdom would have a hard time competing with the pomp and circumstance in the Bay Area during the week leading up to this year’s big game.

About 70,000 people will attend Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Feb. 7, but for the many thousands more who just want to be in town for it, the game itself is almost besides the point. Whether you want to play virtual football with a giant avatar of yourself, see Alicia Keys or Metallica in concert, or watch WWE wrestling in person, there’s an event for you.

Whether you’re a die-hard NFL fan or just in it for the party, here’s a guide for getting to and enjoying the Super Bowl festivities like a winner.

Airfare and Lodgings

If you thought the airline industry gouged college football fans before this year’s national championship game, wait till you see the fare increases as soon as this weekend’s AFC and NFC championship games are done and just two weeks remain for the winners’ fans to make their travel plans to the Bay Area.

Hipmunk conservatively estimates a 250 percent price increase in tickets for flights to the three main Bay Area airports (San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland). Factoring in the price for the eight cities whose teams remained in the playoffs before last Sunday’s games, Hipmunk calculated an average airfare of $383 before Jan. 24, and $957 afterward. Your best bet for a good deal will be to fly into Oakland, though this will also make for a longer commute to the game and to most other festivities.

What’s one possible way around this if your team is in the final four? Buy your ticket before Sunday, and seek a refund, convert it to a flight for a later date, or just fly out even if your team loses. As you’ll see further down in this article, there will be plenty of distractions in San Francisco to take the sting out of the defeat.

It should also be no surprise that local hotels are jacking up their rates as the Super Bowl approaches. As Hipmunk’s data indicates, the closer you get to the site of the game, the more you’ll pay. While San Francisco hotel rates jump 96 percent—to $403 a night for Super Bowl weekend—rates in Santa Clara and San Jose jump a whopping 317 percent, to $637 per night.

But really, you’re only going to stay in the South Bay if you’re going to the game, considering that most of the festivities are in San Francisco. So your best bet is to look for an alternative lodging there with Airbnb, or go hunting for deals using the likes of the last-minute booking app Hotel Tonight or the deals site goSeek.

Looking on goSeek, we did find a $130 nightly rate at the two-star Layne Hotel near Union Square in San Francisco. It doesn’t have the best reviews, but if it’s still available, you won’t beat the price.

While it’s not a cheap rate, a decent value can be had at the newly opened Hotel Zephyr at Fisherman’s Wharf. The hotel’s “Hangover Helper package” goes for $669 per night for three nights, and includes two Uber rides costing up to $50 each, a complimentary upgrade, and free Wi-Fi, plus two “Never Too Hungover” vitamin drinks meant to stave off hangovers, and additional Vitamin Water.

When you add up airfare, hotel, game tickets, and food, Hipmunk estimates a Super Bowl visit will cost you between $6,189 and $7,207 per person. For that price, the winning team might as well size you for a championship ring.

Official NFL Festivities

The Super Bowl may be in Santa Clara, but San Francisco will be the hub for most of the action during the lead-up to the game. The NFL has never been about subtlety, so it’s no surprise there’s a dizzying array of activities meant to appeal to fans of all ages with all interests.

Super Bowl City is exactly that—the area around the Embarcadero and Justin Herman Plaza will be a temporary NFL-sponsored enclave, with everything free to the public. Even Tom Brady might have a hard time devising a game plan for seeing it all, but here’s a rundown of what you can see:

  • The City Stage: Starting Jan. 30 with a show by Chris Isaak, you can watch more than 35 live musical performances here. The headliner will be the free concert by Alicia Keys on Super Bowl Eve, Feb. 6.
  • The Fan Energy Zone: This may sound like a place to sell Red Bull, but it’s actually a high-tech interactive gaming area. The 40-foot-tall Fan Dome will include a video game where you play as a giant avatar of yourself, catching or throwing passes and dodging defenders. Or you can strap on a virtual-reality headset and play the QB challenge, where you’re the quarterback passing to your heart’s delight without the threat of being sacked in real life.
  • CBS Sports Broadcasts: Be at the CBS set to watch interviews of experts and former players, and see how long you can last before you make a funny face at the camera. Naturally, while here you can also zipline on a replica Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Chevron STEM Zone: Don’t really care about the game but want to get nerdy over football technology? This exhibit will cover everything from advances in football equipment to broadcasting technology, and you can see firsthand the difference between throwing a vintage football and a modern one.
  • The Levi’s Lot: Of course you have to shop for NFL-related gear while you’re out here. Levi’s, whose headquarters are next door, will be selling limited-edition NFL-themed jackets and shirts.

If NFL City’s pomp and circumstance aren’t enough to entertain you, just walk on down to the NFL Experience at the Moscone Center. Here you can get autographs from current and former NFL players, play pass-and-kick games, and get a picture with the Vince Lombardi trophy.

If the thought of football makes you hungry, you can attend the Taste of the NFL event happening at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. The hefty ticket price—$700—gets you gourmet food from one chef for all 32 NFL cities, plus photo ops and autographs from a current or former player from each city. Third Eye Blind will be performing, and proceeds from the event will help food banks around the country.

Game Tickets

And now for the most lucrative expense: The Super Bowl sold out a long time ago, which means you’re probably only looking to buy a ticket if you have money to burn or you really like one of the teams.

Of course, we won’t know who the teams are until after Sunday’s conference championships, but considering this year’s game is in one of the world’s richest metropolitan areas, expect to break the bank when cruising the secondary market. Ticket aggregator TiqIQ has gone on the record to say it estimates the average ticket price will be $4,500.

There’s a lot you can do with that money other than craning your neck to see over the person with the giant sign in front of you at the game. So budget accordingly.

Also, if you just want to party outside Levi’s Stadium without a ticket, keep these facts in mind: You can’t board a VTA train directly to the game because only ticket holders are allowed on. You can take Caltrain, but you’ll need an extra ride to get to the stadium. You can also take the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train from Sacramento through the East Bay right to the stadium.

Driving to the game will be time-consuming (one to two hours, depending on where you’re coming from), and you’ll have an $80 parking fee to deal with too.

Finally, there are a limited number of seats available on the Super Bowl Fan Express shuttle. The fare is $55 round trip.

Other Happenings

There’s a whole lot more to check out in the Bay Area whether or not you’re a sports fan. San Jose will officially kick off Super Bowl week Feb. 1 with the Super Bowl 50 Opening Night, which will run for three hours at SAP Center and feature interviews with players and coaches in the big game. Tickets cost $30.

If you can’t have football without beer, you’re in luck: Jan. 22 to Jan. 31 marks SF Beer Week, with more than 750 events throughout the Bay Area.

Also in San Jose, the First Friday Art Walk along South First Street will have a Super Bowl theme Feb. 5, and it’s free to all. And you can witness some body-slamming a day early by attending the WWE Road to Wrestlemania event Feb. 6, starring Brock Lesnar.

In Santa Cara on Jan. 31, you can attend a free outdoor concert by the classic rock band Heart at Mission College. And football buffs can head to the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara for an expansive Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibit that includes more than 200 artifacts, plus rare photos and documents.

Oakland will get in the act on Feb. 5 with the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration at the Paramount Theatre.

And finally, like the Super Bowl, this concert is sold out, but metalheads who don’t want to splurge on football can search, seek, and destroy their wallets by scouring the secondary market for tickets to the Metallica concert at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

—Greg Keraghosian

This article was originally published by Yahoo Travel under the headline San Francisco for the Super Bowl: Your Guide to Everything. It is reprinted here with permission.

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(Photo: rocor via flickr/CC Attribution)

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