A Complete Visitor’s Guide to Nationals Park 2017


Nationals Park over the waterOpened in 2008, Nationals Park is a ripe fruit of the ballpark renaissance, and becoming a cultural hub in Washington, D.C. as quickly as the Nationals are rising to the top of the league. With much to do in and around the park, you don’t want to waste any time. So here’s your definitive guide to watching baseball at Nationals Park.

In this post you’ll find info on: Parking and TransportationOutside Food, Inside Food, Batting Practice, and Where to sit at Nationals Park

Parking and Transportation

If you elect to drive to the city yourself, public parking near Nats Park is available, but not plentiful. The Nats control several cash lots in the area for as much as $50 per car (right next to the stadium). You’ll pay lower–$20 per car–farther out near the corner of M and 5th Street.

The Navy Yard presents a better (aka free) option if your or someone in your party is fortunate enough to have a Common Access Card. The base’s M Street gate is located right across the street from the aforementioned $20 lot and is the closest gate to the stadium for weekday games. Be warned, though, because on weekends and after night games, the M Street gate will be closed. So in order to re-enter the base, unless everyone has a CAC and can swipe in through a turnstile, you’ll need to walk to the opposite side of the Navy Yard from the stadium to enter through the O Street gate.

D.C.’s metro is the most popular option for those who frequent Nationals Park. The Navy Yard/Ballpark metro station is located just two stops south on the green line from L’Enfant Plaza—one of the main interchanges of the metro system. And the station’s exit is just yards from the center field gate. Half street as we approachedThe worst part? Bureaucracy—just like everything in D.C. Metro has refused to extend service to accommodate Nationals night games. That means the last inbound train leaves the Navy Yard at 11:39 p.m. each night. So if you take the metro, hope the game ends in nine innings. If the Nats ever make the World Series, R.I.P. metro.

For more information about taking the metro, bus routes, and other details, visit THIS PAGE that gives more depth on taking public transportation to Nationals Park.

Outside Eats

The Southeast waterfront area, after a sluggish attempt at revitalization following the stadium’s opening, has finally blossomed with restaurants, new residence buildings, and other such signs of life.

Just across M Street from Nationals Park you’ll find a Gordon Beirsch (100 M St SE), Shake Shack (54 M St SE), Five Guys (1100 New Jersey Ave SE), Subway (20 M St SE GL-101), a Korean chicken place called Bonchon (1015 Half St SE), and the ever-popular sub shop Potbelly (301 Tingey St SE #1b) is just east of the stadium, on the walk from the Navy Yard. On Half Street, right off the metro stop, there is a Buffalo Wild Wings (1220 Half St SE). Almost all these eateries have opened in the last five years as the area is hitting its stride.

Inside Eats

The Nats have prided themselves on some above-average (and fun!) food options within the stadium. And if you get a hankering to eat during the game, you’ll want to make an informed decision.

Budweiser Terrace:

Shake Shack headlines the food court located in the second deck behind the jumbotron in right field. Its burgers, fries, and shakes are a cult favorite in the U.S. cities lucky enough to have a location. But watch out, once game time approaches the lines for Shake Shack will be out the wazoo if you want food. If you’re just interested in the cold stuff, there’s a “C-line,” just to the right of the main queue that will make you second guess whether or not you’re cheating because you practically skip the wait to order a shake. If you really need to get your Shake Shack fix in, there’s a location right across M Street from the park. So go there before (or after, they’re open until 11 p.m.) for food and save the shake until you get a hankering during the game.IMG_0037

Blue Smoke is right next to Shake Shack in Harper homer territory on the right field mezzanine. It celebrates the cuisine of the American south with barbecue, fried chicken and bratwurst. Cornbread, fries, beans, and cole slaw are side options. It’s one of the longest-standing stands in the park so it must be good, right?

Left field food court:

IMG_2708See. You. Tater. I tried this place for you guys! No, I tried it because I was hungry and intrigued. The Nats opened this new stand in 2017 as a tribute to MASN play-by-play commentator Bob Carpenter’s signature “See. You. Later.” home run call. Here, they serve tater tot bowls topped with an assortment of toppings depending on your taste. The barbecue variety comes with pulled pork, mac and cheese, and crispy onions. An Asian-inspired variety called “Intentional Wok” (baseballers love their puns almost as much as they love their food) comes with pork, pickled cucumbers, and onions. They also have a crab meat variety as well as a combination with buffalo chicken. For the less hungry or diabetes-desiring, they also have chicken wings in a variety of sauces.

Elsewhere in left field, you can get your hands on more traditional ballpark fare like Boardwalk Fries, Curly W Pretzels, and hot dogs.

Other favorites

Ben’s Chili Bowl, practically a D.C. landmark (apparently), offers three locations throughout the park (sections 110, 141, and 317).

Virginia Country Kitchen is one of my favorite stands and now they have two locations (sections 130 and 315). You can get a ham or fried chicken biscuit with chips for $8, which, with respect to other options around the park, is not a bad deal.

Chesapeake Crab Cake Co. debuted with Virginia Country Kitchen a few years ago, and it now has two locations as well (sections 114 and 306). It’s the same sort of deal as the Virginia stand except with crab cakes.

Taste of the Majors is another of my personal favorites. They now have two locations as well (sections 116 and 314), offering fare inspired by other MLB cities. Find things like a New York pastrami sandwich, a Miami Cuban sandwich, a Philly cheesesteak, or an “Arizona” quesadilla. It’s a refreshing diversion from typical ballpark cuisine, and quite tasty in my opinion. I’m just mad they axed the Pittsburgh stuffed sandwich.Red Porch 5.23.16

The Red Porch is a full-service restaurant in left-center field right behind the red seats in section 100. There is a one-hour time limit for your table, but you get unlimited refills on $5 soft drinks during that time (well, all soft drinks except for hot chocolate, which I learned on a fatefully cold evening in 2016). The food itself seems more expensive than other spots around the park, and it’s not spectacular. But, if you want table service with a good view of the action, it’s not a bad place to go.Bud Light Loft

The Bud Light Loft, which sits atop the Red Porch, is a hopping bar during the games. The view is high above the action in left-center, but the social scene is rocking (if you’re a casual fan into that sort of thing).

Batting Practice and Pre-Game Activities

IMG_0196

New in 2017, Nationals Park opens its center field gates two hours prior to first pitch (it had been 2.5 previously). At that time, fans are free to enter the seating bowl anywhere in the outfield between the foul poles until the rest of the stadium opens 1.5 hours before the game’s start.IMG_2707

Batting practice is, of course, the most popular pre-game pastime for fans who arrive early. For a normal 7:05 start time, the Nationals are scheduled to hit until 5:30, when the visitors take the field until 6:20. So there’s plenty of ball-snagging opportunities in that time.

My favorite home-run catching spot is in the seats at the Red Porch. It stays less crowded, usually, than the regular seats in left field and gets a fair share of home runs.

The visitors’ bullpen in left swallows up many home runs, but a fair amount do reach the seats beyond the bullpen.

Straight-away left tends to get pretty crowded, and the seats are slightly tough to navigate, but still doable.

Right field is a bit tricky because there are only a few rows not covered by the second-deck overhang, and those rows tend to get crowded with kids hoping for toss-ups. So your best bet is to hang back and hope for a line drive, or hop up to the second deck and hope for a long homer.

Colby Lewis signing autographs
Colby Lewis signing autographs

Getting pre-game autographs got more difficult when MLB required the protective netting behind the plate to extend to the far ends of both dugouts. So there’s no more tossing balls and pens over the dugout roof to players. But there’s a low rail beyond the dugout on both sides of the field that provides easy access to get close to the players. The best bet, though, seems to be right before game time. As position players come out to throw and get loose, a few representatives tend to sign autographs in that space on the outfield side of each dugout. The trick is sneaking past the ushers to get down there.

Where to sit at Nationals Park

Nats Park seating chart.jpg

Reference this Nationals Park seating chart with section numbers for this seating informational guide. Quick note about row numbers: larger sections with more than 26 rows start with A-Z and then go to AA-ZZ in the upper portions of the section. So row A is the first row, row Z is the 26th row, and row AA is the 27th.

Section 100 is the Red Porch seating area and lounge. For about $30 on the second market you get a good view of the action and a cushioned seat. This section provides the best chance of catching a home run during the game because of a wide staircase running down the middle of the section.

Sections 101-107 are a good bet. They run for as little as $15 on ticket re-sale sites and provide easy access to many good food options. These seats are home run territory, but they get crowded. Not many homers reach the seats beyond the bullpen, so stick with lower rows closer to the foul line if that’s what you’re going for.

Sections 108-110, 135-137 are the LF/RF corner seats. The better seats in these sections are the lower rows as they provide the clearer views. The lower bowl at Nationals Park is not steep at all, causing higher rows to have people-obstructed views when the crowds are up. An advantage of these seats from the ballhawking/enjoyment perspective is that of seat upgrading. Before the game, start eyeing the seats along the line closer to the dugout. Frequently, entire sections will be largely vacant for at least a few innings. If you spot any rows that are empty, you can cut across whole sections at a time, and upgrade your seat.

View from upper portion of section 112

Sections 111-113, 132-134 are the baseline box seats. As is with the corner sections, seats in the lower rows offer better views. As experienced ball-snaggers know, the ushers guarding the sections along the third base line get picky and aggressive, and it is not worth an active fan’s trouble to deal with them. For a single game, these seats range upwards of $40-50. Since the views are not spectacular, and ball-snagging opportunities not that plentiful, I would avoid paying full price for these seats, and maybe even avoid sitting here altogether. But, food options at these points on the main concourse are plentiful.

Sections 114-117, 126-131 are the home/visitor dugout box seats. For a single game, the lower rows can cost you around $70. The view of the action is not bad, but there are much better deals elsewhere in the park, and it’s easy to seat hop to these coveted spots during less-crowded games.

CIMG2290
View from Home Plate Reserved section 126, right above PNC Diamond Club

Sections 119-126: The PNC Diamond Club is a moderately priced club section given the food, view, prices, and service as compared to those of other MLB stadiums. It includes access to an air-conditioned club; however, there does not exist a major need to enter the club as waiters and waitresses deliver food directly to the seats. If you have no desire for the lavish lifestyle that is this club section, but you do want the immaculate view of the action it provides, sit in one of the Home Plate Reserved sections, which are the upper portions of 119, 120 and 126. They are partitioned off from the club level and are therefore cheaper, but offer the same great views, and are in good foul ball territory.

Sections 138-143 are right field home run territory. The biggest downfall to these seats is the fact that the jumbotron is completely out of view. Given that, I would never buy season tickets here. If there’s rain in the forecast, the upper rows of these sections are covered by the second-deck overhang. For $25-30, the view is not bad, but there do exist better options.IMG_0203

Delta Sky360 Club is too good to have numbers. As compared to other home plate club seating in baseball, at $350 per game, the club is a deal. I’ve never sat here, so I cannot give an honest review, but I’m guessing the food is good. Also, the posh seats are padded on both the back rests and the bottom (see right). 

(Click on picture above to make it clearer)

Ah, the 200 level. For the pure baseball-viewing aspect of the experience, this seating area provides the most bang for your buck.

Sections 201-205, 223-235 (odds)  are the LF/RF mezzanine sections. They are situated high, but still close to the action. Unless you sit up here, you will underestimate the view. As far as value goes, these might be the best seats in the stadium ($25-ish). There is little food on the 200 level, unless you sneak into the Norfolk Southern Club, but these seats are worth the quick trip to the 100 level.

Prime foul ball territory, section 215
Prime foul ball territory, section 215

Sections 206-221 is the Club formerly known as Stars and Stripes. The “infield” club is designated as sections 209-218. They are closer to home plate, and offer better views than the farther sections, but are therefore pricier. The air-conditioned concourse of the club level, as well as its high-end food, appeals to baseball travelers not interested in running around chasing foul balls and home runs. However, if you are that person who wants a shot at a foul ball, the club level has something for you too. That’s because sections 210-216 are in the “golden quarter.” Refer back to the seating chart above, and extend both foul lines into the seating sections. You will see that they enclose the PNC Diamond club as well as the aforementioned sections. In any ballpark, most of the foul pop ups land in this area. 214, 215, 216 and 217 get a higher concentration of foul balls than any other area in the park. If I had the money, I would buy season tickets for one of those sections, and probably end the year with 10 foul balls, just by staying in my ticketed seat for every pitch.

Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk sections from across the field
Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk sections from across the field

Sections 237-243 comprise the Budweiser Terrace. Beware: sitting in this section means you will not actually be seeing the Budweiser scoreboard. However, Shake Shack, Box Frites, and Blue Smoke, the best food options in the stadium, are right outside the 240s. And there is a comfortable, open seating area in the wide concourse behind the jumbotron. On weekends, particularly, this area is hopping with crowds, and lines for these concession stands can get lengthy. But for the price of $20 or so, the views are good out here, and sections 237-240 do get a share of long home runs throughout the season. If you’re feeling particularly nerdy: take a stopwatch and the knowledge of the speed of sound (343 m/s or about 770 mph), sit in the top row of 243, and try to calculate your distance from home plate. I say this because there is a highly noticeable lapse between seeing the ball enter the catcher’s mitt, and actually hearing the smack.

Sections 222-236 (evens) are awful seats. I’ll begin by asking: why are these considered 200 level? Look at the seating chart above, and you’ll see that they should be 300 seats. And since these sections are steep and high, some of the seats here are actually higher than all the 300-level seats. They offer terrible views because of the angle at which you are observing. You can’t see the right field corner at all, and you lose sight of the foul line about halfway into the outfield. If you’re in 228-236, you won’t have good view of the scoreboard either. In addition, you’re a two-inning round trip away from any decent food because the lines at the Budweiser Terrace are probably super long. To make matters worse, the one time I sat here, the usher lady at the entrance was checking tickets as if it were the Presidents’ Club. It was as if every piece of awfulness from the Nationals organization was condensed into this seating area–the black hole of baseball fandom. Don’t sit here!

View from the 300 levelThe 300 level: 301-321 is called the “gallery,” and you get what you pay for. Seats here are between $20-$25 for a single game. The view of the action is unobstructed and quite good. Nationals Park is built somewhat steeply between all the levels, so you’re on top of the action in the 300 level. There are more fun places to be in the park, but these sections are fine choices for anyone looking to sit and enjoy nine innings of baseball without distraction. On giveaway days, weekends, and other prime matchups when Nationals Park fills up, sitting in the 300 level can be much more relaxing than being in the lower bowl.

The 400 level, 401-409, 416-420 is split into two parts by the Shirley Povich Media Center. Exactly where sections 410-415 went, I have no clue. I’m guessing they used those numbers to label parts of the press box, but it still beats me. The cheapest seats in the house are up here. In a past life tickets in 401 and 402 were sold for $5 at the box office 2.5 hours before game time, but it’ll take years of losing before the Nats lower their prices to that level again.

Other seating FAQ’s:

Which seats are in the sun at Nationals Park? The sun sets on the third base side, so the right field/first base seats are in the sun for a good portion of evening games in the summer time as the sun finishes its descent. During day games, you’re pretty much out of luck if you’re in the lower bowl (unless you’re in the top couple rows of a section). The 200’s and 400’s are the best-shaded areas for those brutal 1:05 and 1:35 games.

Where is the best foul ball spot at Nationals Park? The back ends of the PNC Diamond IMG_2714Club sections (119-126) are a great spot if you can finneagle access. Sections 210-216 also get a good amount. The lower bowl gets their spray of foul pops as well, but they’re much less predictable than the sections behind home plate. Even the 300’s get a share of fouls. But if you’re really hoping to catch one up there, buy 300-level tickets as close to home plate as possible because fouls don’t have enough power to make it down the lines as they get higher up the satdium. I caught one in section 316.

Where can I see the Capitol from inside Nationals Park? The best view of the U.S. Capitol building is from the concourse adjacent to section 301. There is a wide platform that gives a clear shot directly down South Capitol St. at the building. View of Capitol from Nats ParkSitting in the Park, the Capitol should be visible if you’re in the 300 or 400 level anywhere on the left field side looking down past the left field foul pole. On the right side, the best views are closer to home plate because buildings beyond the outfield might obstruct otherwise.

We hope this post was helpful for planning your trip to Nationals Park! Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear any feedback. And of course, follow @TopStepTalk on Twitter and like The Top Step on Facebook for more updates and posts like these!

Author: Steve Miller

Steve Miller has been baseball blogging since 2011. He is the Sports Editor at the University of Dayton's Flyer News. Email: h2rsteve@gmail.com

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