The ultimate summer baseball road trip: best seats, best food, best hotels — Stop #6: San Diego

As I’ve been sharing, I’m deep into research for the third edition of my best selling travel book, Roadside Baseball. I started planning a West Coast ballpark road trip because in this edition of the book, I want to include even more special pieces of history found both in and around the parks.

Marriott International stepped up to the plate and it became a different sort of road trip; for me, the ultimate way to enjoy a baseball road trip by staying in some truly exceptional hotels. Throw in some of the best seats in the house and you’ve got the makings of a truly unique adventure. Ready? Let’s go!

Tour stop #6: Petco Park, San Diego

As MLB describes, “Petco Park is spectacular in every way, combining the best sight lines in baseball with breathtaking views of San Diego. Architecturally magnificent, it celebrates the sea, the sky, the natural beauty, cultural diversity and unique spirit of our region. Innovative design features evoke the timeless traditions of baseball in an intimate setting, with state-of-the-art fan amenities to suit every taste and budget.”

Well said.

With my wife, Jean, now accompanying me on the ballpark tour, we were treated to a private, insider’s view around the park.

As with many of the newer parks (Petco opened in 2004), this is a place where wandering is encouraged, tours are offered, the vantage points are many, but perhaps best of all, the team is now formally presenting its history with their recently-introduced Hall of Fame.

San Diego Padres Hall of Fame

The Padres’ official Hall of Fame was created in 1999 to honor the club’s 30th anniversary, and it recognizes players, coaches, and executives who have made key contributions to the franchise (voting is conducted by a 35-member committee).

The Hall’s permanent exhibit at Petco opened on July 1, 2016, at Padres Hall of Fame Plaza, which is located near the left field entrance of the park at the back of the Western Metal Supply Company building. The new facility opening was part of the festivities for the 2016 MLB All-Star Game, which was hosted at Petco Park. The plaza honors not the history of the major league club, but also the history of baseball in San Diego, including the Padres from the Pacific Coast League (PCL). The same day the plaza opened, the Padres inducted San Diego native Ted Williams into their hall of fame. He played for the PCL Padres in 1936 and 1937, and is also a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here are some images of the plaza and the exhibits, all of which are well designed, informative and quite interesting. You may not be aware of how far back the Padres’ franchise goes, but it’s a storied, colorful club that features arguably the greatest hitter of all time, Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield and many others.

As you make your way around the park after the Hall of Fame, heading toward center, you can enjoy a large, open park area that features many terrific views and kid-friendly attractions, including a ball field sponsored by Bumble Bee.

And don’t miss the large statue of “Mr. Padre,” the late-great Tony Gwynn.

Once back inside the park, there are many interesting details to look out for, like the lush and abundant plant life that drapes many of the walkways…

There are even attractive succulents planted throughout the park. Nice Southern California touch.

The views from the upper deck are breathtaking…

I enjoyed seeing how legendary announcers Jerry Coleman and Dick Enberg are represented in the press box…

Historic San Diego baseball images are placed all over the park…

And then there is the Western Metal Supply Co.

Built in 1909, the historic Western Metal Supply Company building is adorned with a yellow stripe — serving as the foul pole for left field, 336 feet from home plate. The building originally had been scheduled for demolition to make way for Petco Park, but it was saved and incorporated into the design of the ballpark. The building was renovated and today contains the team store, private suites, a restaurant and rooftop seating.

This is the view from the top of the building, which today can be rented for private parties.

FOOD

Every year, Petco Park unveils new, interesting concessions and food options for fans. New for 2018 includes Buona Forchetta (featuring authentic wood-fired ovens serving the pizza that has made them legendary in San Diego) and Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill — I can vouch for the fried oysters at Blue Water — excellent.

Also don’t miss the Tri-Tip sandwich at Seaside Market (marinated Tri-Tip sandwich on brioche bun with house-made BBQ sauce) and the venerable Phil’s BBQ. Impressive wine and beer selections as well throughout the park.

Given San Diego’s substantial military history, through a variety of displays, Petco Park does a nice job of acknowledging the many MLB players that served their country

Petco Park is a great representation of the new vanguard of Major League ballparks that blend the old with the new in creative, compelling ways, while allowing fans (luxury suites excluded) essentially, full run of the park. Simply one of the loveliest places to watch a ballgame, in our of our country’s most picturesque cities.

The US Grant Hotel

It was a privilege to stay in this historic, impeccable hotel, built by Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., son of president Ulysses S. Grant, who named the hotel after his father. The grand palace opened on October 15, 1910 and included two swimming pools as well as a ballroom on the top floor.

Notable guests over the years have included Albert Einstein, Charles Lindbergh, Woodrow Wilson and 12 additional United States Presidents. The hotel actually includes three presidential suites that have been tailored to Secret Service requirements for accommodating presidential visits

The Grant Hotel was also, for nearly 35 years, until 1974, the site of the annual reunion dinner of the “Great White Fleet Association,” a group of sailors who sailed on the cruise of 16 white battleships from 1907–09. These dinners attracted a wide range of military officials and guests from all over the world.

Our room was spacious and luxurious

The inaugural San Diego Comic-Con International, which was then called “San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Con”, was held at the U.S. Grant Hotel in 1970

The hotel’s signature restaurant is the Grant Grill, opened in 1952. This was a power-lunch spot for downtown businessmen and politicians, so much so that “ladies” were not permitted in the restaurant before 3 PM. In 1969 a group of prominent local women staged a sit-in which resulted in the restaurant abandoning its men-only policy

The stunning lobby of the US Grant

An absolutely wonderful place to stay in the lively and historic Gaslamp Quarter, and a comfortable 8 block or so stroll to Petco Park.

EXTRA INNINGS — Before hitting the road for Dodger Stadium, I wanted to visit 4121 Utah St., about five miles from Petco, in San Diego’s North Park Neighborhood.

This humble one-story bungalow is where Ted Williams grew up (he came back here for a visit before the 1992 All Star game).

North Park Community Park is just two blocks away. Williams played ball there as a kid and today the park’s baseball field is named in his honor.

Just a little over a mile from Petco Park sits the site of Lane Field, at the corner of North Harbor Drive and West Broadway. The ballpark was home to the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League from 1936 through 1957.

Before it was called Lane Field, the stadium started as a U.S. Navy athletic field in 1925. Two years later, football bleachers were added. When Bill “Hardpan” Lane moved his Hollywood Stars from the Los Angeles area in 1936, he arranged for the Works Progress Administration to rebuild the venue as a baseball park. Lane Field was finally abandoned by the Padres following the 1957 PCL season and the next season, the team shifted to the new Westgate Park, located in San Diego’s Mission Valley area (now the site of a shopping center).

Today, the park consists of illuminated markers where the bases, baselines and pitcher’s mound stood from 1936 to 1958. There’s a monument with a quote from Williams, the outline of the batter’s boxes and a historic plaque. One of the nicest, best-maintained “former ballpark sites” in the country.

Here’s my video visit and some additional images of the sites today:

The Padres team offices even feature a scale model of Lane Field:

For more information about my books and to follow along on this baseball road trip, visit www.chrisepting.com and follow me on Twitter @chrisepting. You may also purchase the current edition of Roadside Baseball here.

More soon from Los Angeles!

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Award-winning journalist, author of 30 books including James Dean Died Here, Roadside Baseball; lover of music, travel, history, etc.

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Chris Epting

Chris Epting

Award-winning journalist, author of 30 books including James Dean Died Here, Roadside Baseball; lover of music, travel, history, etc.

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