A Night Under the Stars at the Hollywood Bowl

Ultimate Guide to the Hollywood Bowl

An evening of music under the stars doesn’t get much better than when you’re sitting in a natural amphitheater, and one of the more legendary ones is the Hollywood Bowl.

The Hollywood Bowl (2301 North Hollywood, Hollywood, California) was originally built in 1922 and consisted of simple wooden benches in the natural hillside of Bolton Canyon.  That same year, the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra began its first season of “music under the stars,” a tradition that continues today as the Bowl serves as the summer home of the orchestra.

Hollywood Bowl
Hollywood Bowl

Today, with seating of about 18,000, the Hollywood Bowl is also home to the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and is a prime venue for other events, including music festivals, commencement exercises, movie filming, fireworks, movies set to music, and concerts representing a variety of musical genres.  The popular SummerSounds, a summer arts festival for children, is also held at the Bowl.

Seating is available in three different categories:

  1. Box Seats consist of canvas-covered chairs, assembled together in groups of four or six, and located toward the front part of the stage.
  2. Super Seats are molded plastic chairs located in the middle of the floor plan.
  3. Bench Seats are numbered seats on a metal bench and wrap around the arc of the amphitheater toward the rear of the floor plan.

The grounds themselves are part of the Los Angeles County park system and are open year-round free of charge, 9 am – 4 pm.  Concerts are generally presented from late June to early October on Tuesdays through Sundays.  The Bowl is also leased out to a variety of concert promoters at various times throughout the year.  You can check out the schedule of events and ticket information to find something that will interest you.  Some of the orchestra concerts during the Summer Festival season offer tickets as low as $1 a seat!

The Hollywood Bowl is a great venue for a concert, and you can bring in your own food, or purchase on-site.  You will need to check the specific performance to see if alcohol is permitted, but many times you are allowed to bring in a bottle of wine along with your picnic.  And don’t forget to look up to these hills — you’ll see the famous Hollywood Sign overlooking the area.

Tips for Bringing Kids to the Hollywood Bowl

There is no minimum age requirement for the Hollywood Bowl, though kids over 2 must have a ticket. I will say that generally, kids need to be able to sit quietly through the concert (you would be surprised how quiet the audience is while the LA Philharmonic plays), so most people seem to leave their younger kids at home. Besides, most shows don’t begin until after most toddlers’ bedtime. My niece started going when she was about 5 or 6.

That being said, you can certainly bring your younger kids to the Hollywood Bowl. One of the best-kept secrets (probably not as well kept any more) is that you can actually bring your young kids to a FREE daytime rehearsal at the Hollywood Bowl. They can listen to music, or run around in one of the picnic areas. You can bring food with you, and since it’s during the day, parking is substantially easier than attending a nighttime show.  Besides, if the summer heat starts getting to you and your kids, you can cool off in the air-conditioned Hollywood Bowl Museum.

Hollywood Bowl Museum

Also on the grounds is the Hollywood Bowl Museum, an exhibit covering the history of the bowl, along with changing musical exhibits.  It includes an interactive exhibit that allows children to try their hand at making music.  The museum is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 4:30 pm, and till 8:30 pm on concert nights, and is free.

Hollywood Bowl Museum
Hollywood Bowl Museum

Now, if you are looking for tips on enjoying a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, read on…

Bring Your Own Food (and Wine, of course)

With 14 picnic areas to choose from, make the most of your visit and bring a picnic basket. Anything goes. Homemade, In n Out Burger, take out from a fancy restaurant…whatever you like. Some people go all out with napkins, flowers, etc. Some people prefer eating in their seats or just bringing something to drink instead. The sky’s the limit.

My mother-in-law has been coming to the Hollywood Bowl every year for decades. She has her Hollywood Bowl visit planned to a T. She arrives exactly 2 hours ahead of time, bolts up the three escalators to the top picnic areas, and immediately claims a table upon which she spreads a tablecloth and homemade goodies. As her friends and family arrive, each grabs a plate or adds a dish (or bottle of wine) to the potluck, so it’s a festive fun event.

But Make Sure You Check the Website

If you are seeing a third party event (i.e. not hosted by the LA Philharmonic), they do not allow outside food or beverages. It’s easy to figure this out, just check the Hollywood Bowl website or your ticket.

Don’t Freak Out if You Leave Your Picnic Basket at Home

They sell plenty of food, beer, and wine at the venue itself. You can even pre-purchase meals online for pick up throughout the venue, or make a reservation at Lucques or the Tavern. These options can be quite pricey, though. I noticed that the box dinners they have on an option run between $30-40. Still, James Beard award-winning Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne designed the culinary program. It’s hard to argue with good food.

About the Restaurants There

The takeout spots do not require reservations or pre-order. If you want to visit the backyard (which smells amazing) or The Wine Bar by a.o.c. definitely make a reservation ahead of time.

Arrive Early

It’s a busy area of town. The Bowl opens 2 hours before the start of the concert, and it’s good to get there early, simply because of traffic. Besides, if you arrive early, you get your choice of picnic spots, which is especially important if you have a large group (picnic areas can fill up quickly, especially the shady spots).

Don’t Drive to the Hollywood Bowl

I know, everyone drives in LA. You must think, parking can’t really be THAT bad. Well, I will say that the first two times I went to the Bowl, we drove and parked. I almost never went again. Here’s why:

  • Most of the parking is stacked. That means you are in a giant field of cars, each parked bumper-to-bumper, and in order to leave you to need approximately 15 cars surrounding your vehicle in all directions to leave first. People get a little cranky.
  • In order to reach the parking lots after the concert, you need to pass through what I have affectionately called “The Walking Dead Tunnel.” It’s a tunnel underneath the roads. All I can say is that at night, it’s very dark, very crowded, and very creepy. I am not super claustrophobic, but I seriously almost never returned to the Bowl after passing through that tunnel.
  • It’s expensive, $20-$30. And on the day of the concert, it is cash only.

Instead of driving, consider one of the other options

Personally, I am a big fan of the Bowl shuttle service. Parking is widely available, it’s cheaper, and you don’t have to deal with the Walking Dead Tunnel or driving around the Bowl itself. Check out the options for your concert here on the Hollywood Bowl website.

A quick note about rideshares (like Uber or Lyft). Getting rideshare to the concert is usually fine, but plan on a potentially long wait once the concert is over. Your ride may have trouble finding the venue or even getting into the line in order to pick you up. Angelenos love using their rideshare options, but that means it may take you a while to get home.

Bring a Sweater or Blanket

“Hot town, summer in the city” definitely applies to Los Angeles during the summer days. Despite that, up in the hills at the Bowl, the air is often 10-15 degrees cooler and there can be a breeze after the sunsets. If you don’t want to shell out for hot chocolate or shiver uncontrollably for the last half of your concert, bring a sweater or blanket.

The seats at the Bowl are not the most comfortable. Most are bench or cement block seats, and 2 hours can cause some serious booty discomfort. You can rent a seat cushion from the venue itself (very inexpensive) or fold up your blanket and sit on that.

Don’t Plan on Leaving the Concert too Early

With limited parking options and a lot of people using shuttle services, it won’t be too easy to get your car out early and the shuttles don’t really leave until they are full at the end of the evening. That being said, there is a noise ordinance in the area of Los Angeles around the Bowl, which stipulates that all concerts must end by 10.

Accessibility Options

There is a section of the website on accessibility services. It may be set up on a steep hill, but they go out of their way to ensure everyone can enjoy the concert.

Wear Comfortable Shoes

The first time I visited the Hollywood Bowl, I wore a cute sundress and heeled espadrilles. Big mistake. The Hollywood Bowl is set into the side of the Hollywood hills. These are not molehills, FYI. It’s a steep climb up or down from the entrance to your seats. And after a glass (*ahem* or bottle) of wine, you may feel you are losing your footing en route to the bathroom…not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.

Don’t Worry about Sitting Way Up Front

The seats near the front of the venue usually offer table service before the concert, but they have a price tag to match. The acoustics at the Hollywood Bowl are incredible–you can hear everything no matter where you sit. If you worry about seeing what’s going on, there are 2 giant screens on both sides of the stage so you won’t miss anything. So save some money and sit further back.

Stop to Appreciate the View

One of the best things about climbing all those stairs and hills is the view. Ignore the marine later, and just enjoy a beautiful SoCal sunset before the concert begins. Sometimes when you’re stuck in Los Angeles traffic or looking out over the sun-baked landscape, it can be easy to forget why people moved out here in the first place. The great views from the top of the Hollywood Bowl can renew your faith.

Don’t Skip Visiting the Hollywood Bowl

Whether you’re visiting Los Angeles with your kids, your family, or taking a trip with a large group of people, visiting the Hollywood Bowl is an iconic experience that is completely worth the time and money. Whatever you choose to attend, I think you’ll love it.

Have you visited the Hollywood Bowl before? Do you have any questions about it? Leave me a comment below!

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