No trip to Hollywood would be complete without a visit to the world-famous Hollywood Bowl. For over 70 years, the Hollywood Bowl has been the scene of some of the most memorable musical moments in Los Angeles history... symphonies, opera, jazz, ballet, presidential addresses, rock concerts...
This is the world's largest natural amphitheater, virtually hidden away in the folds of the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains, yet it's mere blocks from busy Hollywood Blvd.
The Bowl was built in 1919 in a natural amphitheater/canyon which was called "Daisy Dell." The first shell was designed by Lloyd Wright (the son of Frank Lloyd Wright), who also designed another local landmark: the Wayfarer's Chapel in Palos Verdes. The Beatles became the first rock & roll band to play here on August 23, 1964.
The landmark has been seen in a few movies as well, including 1945's "Anchors Aweigh", where Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly climb down the hillside to sneak into the Bowl's seating area. Other films shot on location there include "Beaches" (where Bette Midler is rehearsing on stage when she gets bad news about her friend), "Double Indemnity", "Some Kind of Wonderful", "Xanadu" and the 1937 version of "A Star is Born".
It's easy to reach - located just a few blocks north of Hollywood Boulevard (on Highland) - and although the Bowl's famous summer concerts are held in the evening, you don't have to wait until after dark to simply stop by for a visit.
The Hollywood Bowl and its grounds are open free to the public during the daytime. So if you've never been there for a concert, you should at least drop in the daylight hours to take a free look at this world-renowned amphitheater and its famous white shell. During the summer months, the Bowl offers rehearsals every Tuesday, Thursday & Friday, from 9 AM to noon. And there is no admission charge for these rehearsals.
On most other days of the week, though, there isn't much going on at the Bowl during the daylight hours. In fact, it can get down right deserted at times, especially during the winter. But if you happen to be in the Hollywood area, snooping around the empty, historic amphitheater can make a fairly interesting stop - albeit a brief one. Bring a friend along, though; it gets pretty lonely there at times.
Ride the long, outdoor escalator (actually a moving rubber conveyer belt) up past ivy-covered slopes, to the middle section of the Bowl's seating area. You're bound to experience a flash of deja vu when you first walk through that short tunnel and see the Hollywood Bowl for the first time. Who hasn't seen this famous half-dome before in photos or movies, with its background of forested hillsides? Go up a few rows, walk over towards the west side, and you will be able to spot the Hollywood Sign perched on Mount Lee, behind the Bowl.
The stage of the Hollywood Bowl is easily reached from the seating area. There is a small sign asking people to stay off the Bowl's stage "for your own safety," but I've noticed that tourists can't seem to resist taking a stroll across those famous boards. Unless there's a rehearsal going on, there is usually no one around to enforce that rule, and visitors routinely ignore the warnings and take photos of each other standing on the Bowl's world-famous stage.
You may be surprised to see just how many seats there are here: some 17,680 box seats and bleachers in all. That's more than five and a half times the seating capacity of the massive Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center.
Alas, I have to report that in the daylight hours, the Bowl is not quite as glamorous as most tourists might imagine. It's clear to even the casual observer that the facilities are beginning to show a little wear around the edges, and the Bowl's box office area looks dated and rather spartan. The box seats are made of weathered redwood and metal; the uncomfortable wooden bleachers are gray and faded.
But it's still "The
During the day, the empty Bowl may look somewhat forlorn, but at night it comes alive. It's a completely different experience, sitting under the stars on a hot summer night, the orchestra tuning up as an excited, capacity crowd files into their seats... the sweet smell of eucalyptus trees... fireworks bursting over the glowing Bowl as the cannons thunder during the 1812 Overture... It's an ideal spot to enjoy classical music.
Pre-concert picnics are a part of the Hollywood Bowl tradition. You can bring your own, or you can order special picnic baskets in advance - pick them up when you get there, or even have them delivered to your box seat. There are picnic tables scattered throughout the Bowl grounds, and there is also a full-service Patio restaurant located near the museum, as well as a snack bar.
Virtually all of the lower box seats provide excellent views of the orchestra. But that can't be said for the many rows of bleachers above them. Up at sections Q-R-S-T and above, the view of the stage from the seats is - shall we say - limited.
The Hollywood Bowl is the summer home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. (They spend the winter at the Music Center). Their Bowl concerts begin in late June and continue through mid-September. A second resident orchestra, the new Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, features lighter selections from the likes of Gershwin and Rogers & Hammerstein, and usually plays on Saturdays.
There are fireworks at many special concerts (e.g. on the Fourth of July, for Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," and on closing night.)
Some concerts involve
Hollywood celebrities as well. "Star Trek"'s Captain Picard
himself, Patrick Stewart,
played King Arthur at one year's fireworks finale. Debbie
Reynolds was the guest at the next year's
finale. Carol Burnett hosted
a salute to Broadway at the Bowl, and Bill Cosby
has shown up for two decades to host the annual Playboy Jazz Festival
A few tips about the evening concerts: be warned that there is usually a fairly long walk from your car to your seat for these performances, so wear comfortable shoes. And California nights are usually chilly, even in the summer, so bring along a sweater, just in case. Also, those hard, wooden benches are very uncomfortable during long performances, so be sure to bring a seat cushion (or you can rent one at the Bowl). In all cases, arrive early!
There also are a
couple of special festival events held on the Hollywood Bowl grounds: in
May, you can attend "A Taste of Hollywood," a food festival
offering a feast of culinary delights from assorted Hollywood restaurants.
And in June, there is the annual Hollywood Bowl Arts Fair, a free
event featuring arts and crafts from all over the world, as well as performing
Getting there: The Hollywood Bowl is located just to the west of the Hollywood Freeway, off Highland Avenue (just north of Odin Street), as the freeway passes through the Cahuenga Pass from Hollywood into the Valley. / From Hollywood & Vine, go three-quarters of a mile west on Hollywood Boulevard to Highland Avenue. Turn right (north) on Highland Avenue, and drive a few short blocks to the Bowl. Look for the large sign in the center divider of Highland Avenue (just past Odin Street), then turn left into the Bowl's parking lot. / From the Hollywood (101) Freeway north, take the Highland Avenue/Hollywood Bowl offramp, and keep to the right as the road curves around back around and deposits you on little Odin Street. Go west on Odin Street (back under the freeway) one block to Highland Avenue. Turn right (north) on Highland Avenue, then quickly turn left (west) at the first stoplight, into the Bowl's main entrance.
If you visit the Bowl when there isn't an event going on, parking is very
easy. There is free parking before 4:30 PM, in a very convenient lot right
next to the main entrance and box office. But parking can be a real problem
during their crowded concerts. Parking at the Bowl is very limited,
in a series of steeply- terraced parking areas to the south of the box
office. And after the concert, you must wait until the buses leave before
you can get out of the parking lot. In fact, the "Park & Ride"
bus service (or their Bowl shuttle from local parking areas) is a good
idea if you want avoid the hassle. Phone for bus & shuttle information.
Hours: The grounds of the Hollywood Bowl are open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM. Free concert rehearsals begin the second week in July, and take place from approximately 9 AM to 12 noon on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings during the season (July to mid-September).. / The ticket box office is open from mid-May through September, Mon-Sat: 10 AM - 6 PM (until 9 PM beginning in July), and Sundays from 12 noon - 6 PM. Evening concerts take place from July through September, Tues-Sat (and some Sundays), usually at 8:30 PM. Plan to arrive by 6:30 PM to beat the crowds and have time for a picnic in the park.
Admission Price: Morning rehearsals are free (on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays). The (empty) Bowl is open free to the public on most other days before 4:30 PM.
Tickets for regular concert performances at the Bowl can be had for as low as $1 (for back row seats on Tuesdays and Thursdays) to as much as $95 (for the best box seats on a Friday). Most available bleacher tickets go from a low of $3 to a high of around $20. You can buy tickets by mail or by phone (via Ticketmaster), or at the Bowl box office. Tickets go on sale at Ticketmaster in mid-April and later at the box office (in mid-May). If you want decent seats, it pays to order your tickets as early as possible. (Ticket prices for special pop concert can be significantly higher - a recent Rod Stewart concert cost over $200 for the best seats.)
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