8 Things to Do at a Tailgate (That Aren’t Drinking Beer)

Sure, you could pass the pigskin in the parking lot, but these easy ideas for amping up your tailgate experience make pregaming so much more exciting.

People dressed in sweaters, coats and laughing gathered around a grill filled with sausages

Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images

You’ve been waiting all week for game day. Gather your parking-lot posse, load up a table with tasty tailgate appetizers, and get ready for the ultimate pregame party that’s packed with as much action as the main event. Sure, piling up your plate and throwing back a cold one are tailgate traditions, but there are so many more ways to tackle the time between parking the car and heading to your seats. Kick off the fun with these asphalt-approved activities that get the crowd cheering before they even enter the stadium. Hut, hut...have fun!

1. Play a giant yard game

There’s just something about king-sizing classic family games that makes them way more fun to play. And tailgate parties are the perfect place to show off your giant games in glory. Whether you stack up giant Jenga, take a shake at oversized Yahtzee, set up colossal Connect Four or play to be a super-sized checkers champ, you can bet every other tailgate will want to join in on the big-time fun.

2. Make a game-day photo booth

Create the ultimate tailgate photo-op by hanging a plain white sheet from the top of an open trunk door and designating that space as your pregame photo booth. From there, you can hang pennants, team banners or streamers to serve as your backdrop while your tailgate pals taking turns posing for pictures in front. Leave a basket of props to make the photo shoot even more fun-think foam fingers, pompoms, helmets, hats and footballs-and have everyone show off their superfandom in style.

3. Host a chili cook-off

Depending on the size of your tailgate, nominate partygoers to bring their favorite chili recipe (these 30-minute chilis are perfect for game day), and keep them warm in a slow cooker. Label each slow cooker with a number, then place a stack of disposable bowls labeled with a corresponding number next to each. Let your tailgating crew vote for their favorite chili, and you can reveal the winner before heading into the game. Winner gets bragging rights, a homemade trophy or their choice of seat in the game!

4. Power-up a playlist

Maybe your team’s marching band has released an album of quintessential game-day anthems. Maybe you’re feeling nostalgic for the ’90s Jock Jams CD compilations. Whatever your preference, a playlist of tunes designed to amp you up for competition helps set the tone at any tailgate. Want some starter ideas to help craft your perfect playlist? Try these tailgate tunes:

  • “Parking Lot Party,” Lee Brice
  • “Welcome to the Jungle,” Guns N’ Roses
  • “Song 2,” Blur
  • “Danger Zone,” Kenny Loggins
  • “Jump Around,” House of Pain
  • “Seven Nation Army,” The White Stripes
  • “Eye of the Tiger,” Survivor
  • “We Are the Champions,” Queen
  • “My Hero,” Foo Fighters
  • “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” Hank Williams Jr.

5. Get to know your neighbors

Whether you welcome them over for a friendly round of cornhole, tap them to guest judge in your chili cook-off or swap stories about your team’s most memorable moment, invite your parking lot neighbors to join in on the fun. You can even challenge them to a tailgate-off, putting the tailgaters head-to-head in a cornhole competition to see which group gets the glory. Losers owe the winners a drink!

6. Set up a food bar

The only thing more fun than gobbling up tailgate goodies is loading them with your favorite toppings to create a truly customized concoction of deliciousness. Whether you’re planning on hot dogs (try these 20 fun franks), nachos (beer & brat nachos, anyone?), more chili (this one’s a game changer) or any other customizable main dish, designate each member of your tailgate party to bring a topping, condiment or sauce. Then gather them all together and let guests pile on the good stuff to their heart’s delight.

7. Show your team spirit

Create a team-spirit station at your tailgate where guests can paint faces in team colors, apply team-themed temporary tattoos, or deck themselves out with beads or other inexpensive spirit accessories. You can award prizes to those who show off the most team spirit-or just sit back and let everyone get creative as they cheer.

8. Throw a tailgate decathlon

OK, so maybe you won’t have 10 different games in tow, but if you round up three to five classics, you can set up the ultimate tailgate tournament to keep everyone in the game until kickoff. Pair up guests to compete in every game available-cornhole, ladder toss, giant Jenga, washer toss…whatever’s there! Then create a single-elimination mini tournament for each game. In each event, the top team gets three points, the second-place team gets two points, the third-place team gets one point…anything beyond that gets nothin’. Keep track of each team’s points, and once all the events are finished, tally the total points for each team and crown your tailgate’s all-around champ.

Whatever way you like to tailgate, if you’ve got good grub, fun friends and a few awesome activities, you’ve got all the makings for a game-day winner.

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Rachel Seis
As deputy editor for Taste of Home magazine, Rachel has her hand in everything you see from cover to cover, from writing and editing articles to taste-testing recipes to ensuring every issue is packed with fun and fabulous content. She'll roll up her sleeves to try any new recipe in the kitchen—from spicy Thai dishes (her favorite!) to classic Southern comfort food (OK...also her favorite). When she's not busy thinking of her next meal, Rachel can be found practicing yoga, going for a run, exploring National Parks and traveling to new-to-her cities across the country.