Cheap beer, gambling, funny hats, short dudes carrying around whips, and a bunch of doped-up horses and hipsters. Hidden right in plain sight of I-80 is Golden Gate Fields, a place I’d seen numerous times but had never considered visiting until recently. Yeah, there are plenty of fun, cheap pastimes in the Bay Area, but after finally spending an afternoon at the races, I realized that few activities incorporate as many of my favorite hedonistic acts as Dollar Sundays at Golden Gate Fields.
After years of procrastination, I took the plunge and rallied some friends to come with me, using the bait that everything would cost a buck. Not only was this my first visit to Golden Gate Fields, I’d also never been to a horse race, period. What’d I learn? That betting is hard. It can be really fucking confusing, coupled with the fact that losing sucks. My plan was to treat horse races like I treated algebra tests in high school. Either find someone who was winning a lot and cheat off of them, or just guess and bet – mainly on the horses with interesting names, like Spicy Beau or Creme Rinse.
Unfortunately, even with that strategy in place, I am unfit to offer any betting tips because no one in our crew won more than a couple bucks. But I did learn plenty of beginners tips on that initial visit. So without further ado, I offer the newbie’s guide to doing Dollar Sundays right:
1. Ride BART!
You are probably gonna drink all day and taking a car means someone has to be the designated driver. There’s a free shuttle to and from the track that runs every 20 minutes and picks people up right across from the North Berkeley BART station.
2. Don’t arrive early.
(If you live in SF, this shouldn’t be a problem for you anyway). The dollar beers may be small, but they will catch up with you, especially if you follow rule #3.
3. Bring a flask.
(Or a bottle if you’re so brave). It can get cold out there, and non-dollar beer drinks are $8.
4. Make sure to pick up a program for $1.
Otherwise betting is pretty hard. Trust me, you will want your own.
You gotta play to win. Don’t bet on the favorite – if you do, you may win, but it won’t be much at all.
6. Avoid $1 hot dogs.
I was surprised to find that, although edible, mine was one of the worst hot dogs I’ve ever eaten. Get the burger, it’s worth the extra $$$.
7. Avoid standing in line too many times.
And buy your $1 drink tokens a few at a time. You won’t leave with too many leftovers in your pocket.
8. Bring binoculars.
They’re great for horse or people watching.
9. Don’t forget that the $1 beers stop being poured at the 7th race.
So stock up (although keep in mind that your tokens won’t be refunded).
10. Pay the $2 extra to go upstairs.
The betting lines are shorter, the view is better, and there’s a nice bar where you can watch football. I waited till the seventh race and just walked right in.
11. Walk out to the club level entrance around sunset.
You'll get one of the best views in the Bay Area.
Do It Yourself:
Dollar Days are almost every Sunday. Honestly, after my visit to Golden Gate Fields, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be happy to be at another sporting event where I can’t (a) smoke, (b) drink beer for $1, and (c) gamble.