The Hollywood Bowl: The Story of an L.A. Icon

July 4th Fireworks Spectacular at the Hollywood Bowl
July 4th Fireworks Spectacular | Photo courtesy of Hollywood Bowl, Facebook

There are few experiences more quintessentially Los Angeles than spending a summer evening under the stars while catching a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The amphitheater is one of the most famous venues in the world, with a stage that has hosted everyone from Bob Dylan and Barbra Streisand to Prince and Lady Gaga. Scenic backdrop? Check. A certain indefinable magic? Check. In fact, we'll go so far as to say that until you've see a show here, you haven't really experienced Los Angeles.

A Little History

The first known musical event at the Hollywood Bowl, ca.1920
Two women perform on a barn door placed approximately where the bandshell was built, in the first known musical event at the Hollywood Bowl, ca.1920. | Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

After playing home to concerts, theatrical productions and an Easter Sunrise service, the Hollywood Bowl kicked off its first official season in the summer of 1922. It was a barebones experience for spectators, who sat on temporary wooden benches to watch Alfred Hertz conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The scenery and the sounds, however, were hard to beat. Located in a bowl-shaped area of the Hollywood Hills that was once called Daisy Dell, the spot where the venue now stands was chosen, in part, for its natural acoustics. Those are amplified by electronics as well as the bandshell with its distinctive white arches. It's actually the Hollywood Bowl's fourth bandshell - the first two were designed by Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Main Stage

Jim Morrison on stage at the Hollywood Bowl
Jim Morrison on stage at the Hollywood Bowl | Photo courtesy of The Doors, Facebook

Over the years, the Hollywood Bowl has served as the setting for all manner of moments - sweet, stunning and strange. In 1923, to celebrate the final payment on the Bowl's debt, the mortgage to the venue was burned on stage. Three years later, composer Percy Grainger and Swedish poet Ella Viola Strom were married on stage in front of 22,000 people. In 1968, The Doors recorded what many fans consider to be one of the band's best concerts. The Beatles, Monty Python, Van Morrison, Morrissey and Ben Harper have also recorded shows at the Bowl. More recently, Kristin Chenoweth grabbed headlines after inviting a random audience member to join her on stage. The lucky lady turned out to be a voice teacher who dueted with Chenoweth in a note-perfect rendition of a song from Wicked.

A Local Classic

Gustavo Dudamel conducts the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl
Gustavo Dudamel | Photo courtesy of Hollywood Bowl, Facebook

The Hollywood Bowl serves as the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which performs dozens of classical music concerts, mostly on Tuesdays and Thursdays, each season. Several will be conducted by L.A. Phil's Music & Artistic Director, Gustavo Dudamel, who kicks off this year's classical season on July 11 with Dudamel & Stars of Ballet, featuring Misty Copeland. Other highlights include Beethoven's Ninth (July 13 & 18), Wagner (July 20), The Planets (Aug. 22) and Mozart's Requiem (Aug. 24). An unprecedented solo recital on Sept. 12 features Yo-Yo Ma playing Six Cello Suites by J.S. Bach.

The Bowl's popular movie screenings feature live accompaniment by the L.A. Phil, including three Harry Potter films (July 6-8), Raiders of the Lost Ark (Aug. 4-5) and Singin' In the Rain (Sept. 7).

The orchestra is also known for its collaborations with modern musicians, such as Tony Bennett & Dudamel (July 14-15). The tradition dates to 1943, when the orchestra backed Frank Sinatra, the first time a pop singer appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In recent years, the L.A. Phil has collaborated with Arcade Fire, Rufus Wainwright, M83 and Trey Anastasio of Phish.

Sweet Sounds

Following the 39th annual Playboy Jazz Festival (June 10-11), the 2017 season officially kicks off on June 17 with The Moody Blues. Get your tickets early for perennial favorites like the Sound of Music Sing-A-Long (June 24), the July 4th Fireworks Spectacular with Pentatonix (July 2-4), John Williams: Maestro of the Movies (Sept. 1-3), and the Fireworks Finale: The Muppets Take the Bowl (Sept. 8-10).

Concert highlights include: Reggae Night XVI feat. Ziggy Marley (June 18), Blondie with Garbage (July 9), Jack Johnson (July 16), Kool & the Gang + The Time + Village People (July 21-22), Diana Krall (Aug. 11-12), Herbie Hancock with Kamasi Washington (Aug. 23), Bryan Ferry (Aug. 26), Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue (Aug. 30), Café Tacvba with L.A.’s own La Santa Cecilia (Sept. 17), and Cosmic Journey feat. Solange (Sept. 24).

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dancing in Griffith Park in "La La Land"
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dancing in Griffith Park in "La La Land" | Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Throughout the year, the Hollywood Bowl hosts fantastic Lease Events, aka non-LA Phil-produced events. On May 26-27, Lionsgate is launching La La Land In Concert, a worldwide tour that will premiere at the Bowl on Memorial Day Weekend. Academy Award-winning composer Justin Hurwitz will conduct his score, which will be performed by a 100-piece symphony orchestra, choir, and jazz ensemble, accompanying the film’s original vocal recordings. Lionsgate is encouraging concertgoers to dress in the style of the movie or in vintage Hollywood garb.

Other Lease Events include Dead & Company (May 31-June 1), New Kids on the Block with Boyz II Men and Paula Abdul (June 2), Queen + Adam Lambert (June 26-27), Lionel Richie with Mariah Carey (July 31), Chance the Rapper (Oct. 3-4), Depeche Mode (Oct. 12,14,16) and the Zac Brown Band (Oct. 28-29).

Buying Tickets

Aerial view of the Hollywood Bowl
Photo courtesy of Hollywood Bowl, Facebook

The Hollywood Bowl season runs from June through September and tickets go on sale in early May - unless you're a subscriber. The perks of membership mean you can buy tickets before the general public. The question of where to find the best seats in the venue is hotly debated. For the four-person boxes near the front of the stage, be prepared to spend more than $100 per person. If you're looking for value, you can still score $1 tickets in the Bowl's nosebleed section on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. When a show is sold out, arrive at the box office on the day-of and you may be able to snag spare tickets.

Getting There

The most difficult part of attending an event at the Hollywood Bowl is getting in and out. Parking is expensive ($18 - $50) and afterward, expect a lengthy wait before you pull out into traffic. Rideshare services are an option, or you can stash your car at one of the Bowl’s 14 Park & Ride lots located throughout the city from Torrance to Chatsworth. (It costs $7 for a round-trip if you reserve at least 48 hours in advance; $12 for walk-ups.) You can also park at either Universal City or at Hollywood & Highland and hop on a Bowl Shuttle for the ride to the venue ($6 round-trip, no reservations). If you have the pedal power you can bike to the Bowl, or Go Metro and take the Red Line to the Hollywood & Highland Station and walk up the hill.


Hollywood Bowl picnic from Joan's on Third
Photo courtesy of Joan's On Third

At least half the fun of any show at the Hollywood Bowl is picnicking. Unless it's a Lease Event, you're welcome to bring your own food and drink, including alcohol. If you want a pre-made, upscale picnic basket you can pick up baskets packed with salads, sammies, and even caviar at Joan's on Third, the Oaks Gourmet Market, Little Next Door, Tender Greens and Petrossian, among other eateries. Once you get to the Bowl, you'll find 15 official picnic locales with tables and benches. Areas 6 and 7 are the most coveted because they're closest to the stage. Arrive at least an hour (maybe two) before showtime if you hope to claim one. You can also bring your comestibles to your seat. Pour a glass of rosé, bust out the snacks and make friends with people sitting nearby.

Dine, Don't Dash

Supper In Your Box Seats at the Hollywood Bowl
Supper In Your Box Seats | Photo courtesy of Hollywood Bowl, Facebook

In August 2015, the L.A. Phil announced a ten-year culinary partnership with The Lucques Group, helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Suzanne Goin and Restaurateur/Wine Director Caroline Styne. The Lucques Group provides exclusive food and wine services throughout the Bowl, from the wine bar and onsite restaurants to the marketplace and concessions. Concertgoers can expect the high-end seasonal menus and exceptional wine pairings that gourmands enjoy at the duo's L.A. restaurants: Lucques, a.o.c., Tavern and The Larder.

Did You Know?

The Muse of Music at the Hollywood Bowl
The Muse of Music at the Hollywood Bowl | Photo courtesy of Karol Franks, Flickr

Morning rehearsals at the Bowl are occasionally open to the public. If you have the time, call 323.850.2000 and find out when.

Have a moment to spare? Before reaching the main gate, take a slight detour and pop into the Hollywood Bowl Museum to hear recordings of shows that have been performed at the amphitheater, including clips from Miles Davis and Pink Floyd.

Built in 1940, the Art Deco monument Muse of Music, Dance, Drama at the entrance of the Hollywood Bowl features a fountain and a 15-foot granite statue of the Muse of Music. The monument was designed by George Stanley, who also designed the Oscar statuette and sculpted the Sir Isaac Newton statue at the Griffith Observatory.

Feel like splurging? For a minimum donation of $2,000 per season, enjoy non-stacked valet parking and enter through the Bowl's VIP West Gate, where you're likely to spot celebs heading to their box seats.