SANTA CLARA -- Paul Fraher and his daughter, Sophia, were among the first to break through the Levi's Stadium gates, raising celebratory clenched fists as soon as they cleared the security line.

One small step for man, one giant leap for fankind.

The Earthquakes game against the Seattle Sounders marked the first athletic event at the 49ers' $1.3 billion new home, and regardless of what sport people came for -- soccer, football or taking selfies -- they became part of Bay Area history.

The gist of many instant reviews? Great place, needs work. The light-rail trains ran behind schedule, the ushers sometimes pointed people the wrong direction, the bag policy proved confusing, and the concession prices caused shock. "Are they paying for this place with beer?" one fan wondered.

But by the time fans made it to their seats, the good outweighed the bad -- by a long shot. They forgot the inconveniences in the splendor of the Bandera Bermuda turf grass.

"I never had a feeling of pride in my stadium, but I went to Candlestick because that's how I was raised," said Alexis Marina Kershner, 34, of San Francisco. "I learned how to tailgate by the time I was 6, out in the parking lot, where it was cold and it was windy and my hot dogs blew away.

"But coming here? This is like a whole new level. This makes me proud."

By design, this was a soft opening, an event that drew 48,765 to a stadium that will hold 70,000 during the NFL season.


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This was a chance to see how ready the stadium was for the onslaught of crowds -- a house-swarming party. For the first time, people navigated their way to 30,000 parking spaces (compared with 18,000 at Candlestick), ascended the 38 escalators (compared with six), and lined up at the 370 concession stands (compared with 239).

Perhaps most importantly, they also tested the 1,135 restroom fixtures, and fans were flush with excitement. "The bathroom was immaculate -- immaculate!" Kershner said, a phrase never once uttered in the history of Candlestick Park. "I didn't have to go. I just went in to see it."

The 49ers will get a football dress rehearsal Aug .17, when they play a preseason contest against the Denver Broncos. The first regular-season game is Sept. 14 against the Chicago Bears.

Some of the 49ers couldn't wait. Offensive linemen Joe Staley and Adam Snyder, and punter Andy Lee were part of a sizable contingent of current players watching from some of the stadium's 9,000 club seats.

That group was part of an odd hybrid crowd. Large swaths of fans in 49ers jerseys came to watch soccer. (Kaeper-kicking?) They were here for a sneak peek at their team's future home, with many of them conceding they could never afford tickets for the real thing.

Peter Scalise, a longtime 49ers fan, reclined in a cozy spot in Section 104 and wolfed down a bowl of curry from the concession stand. That was not something he did much of when his dad took him to Kezar Stadium in the 1960s.

"Kezar? Kezar was just benches," Scalise said. "There were no seats."

Not every seat was comfy. Sheryl Boardman and her family got on a northbound VTA light rail train at the Snell station in South San Jose at 5:41 p.m. and expected to arrive at the stadium at 6:37.

But things became intense when the train was delayed at the River Oaks station, where the VTA operator had to turn off the power and reset. When they did, the air conditioning did not go back on for almost 30 minutes.

"It was a sardine sauna," she said.

Meanwhile, as they waited, two women started panicking and crying.

"People were pounding on the walls and yelling for them to open the door," Boardman said.

She and her family finally arrived at the stadium stop at 7:10.

Ira Yeldin and his wife, the grandparents of Sounders player DeAndre Yeldin, were in Brazil for World Cup and said that was more manageable, even with the language barrier.

"They spent $1.2 billion on a stadium, and I have to park on a golf course? ... The traffic was ridiculous."

Paul and Sophia Fraher -- the early gate-crashers -- had an easier time. They drove from Pleasanton, arriving about 4 p.m., largely to be part of history. Paul's father, Phil, attended the first Giants game in San Francisco after the team moved west in 1958.

So Paul figured this would be a great 10th birthday for Sophia, a soccer fan.

"Fifty years from now, we'll be able to say that she was here," he said.

"I think it's awesome," Sophia said.

Staff writers Patty Hannon and Bud Geracie contributed to this report.