Late summer in Los Angeles is relentlessly hot. The impatient car horns and exhaust from heavy traffic on Highland Avenue seem to add a few more degrees to the already sweltering temperature. Yet eager concertgoers still swarm the entrance of the Hollywood Bowl, a steady stream of Panama hats and gauzy dresses carrying picnic baskets of fine cheeses and wine. They can feel the heat of the pavement through their shoes and briefly wonder if an outdoor concert today was a good idea.
Moments later, once settled at their comfortably shaded seats, they’re overtaken by both the literal and figurative coolness of the Hollywood Bowl. There’s a stillness to the surrounding hillsides and it suddenly feels like a different season as the magic hour sun hits the Hollywood sign in the distance. The Hollywood Bowl is an FAA designated no-fly zone, which may be another contributing factor to the bowl’s enchanting atmosphere.
It’s called a “bowl” for a reason. It was strategically built into the natural amphitheater of what was called Bolton Canyon in 1919 and it officially opened to the public as the Hollywood Bowl in 1922. It’s been the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic ever since. Through the decades, the venue has hosted almost every legendary artist from The Beatles to Yo Yo Ma to Kanye West. In 2018, Rolling Stone magazine named the Hollywood Bowl one of the 10 Best Live Music Venues in America.
The iconic band shell has had multiple renovations through the years, including early designs by Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. and later contributions by Frank Gehry. The Muse Fountain, which has stood outside the Hollywood Bowl’s main entrance since 1940, was designed by sculptor George Stanley, creator of the Oscar statuette. The Hollywood Bowl Museum, which is free to the public, opened in 1984. It showcases vintage photographs, vintage sound equipment, newspaper clippings, postcards, live audio and video recordings, and celebrity memorabilia. When it’s closed, visitors can still walk through “The Bowl Walk” which features a timeline of facts and historic photographs.
It’s well known that patrons can bring their own food and drink into the Hollywood Bowl, as long as it’s not a leased event, and pre-show picnicking at one of the 14 picnic areas is a tradition for many Angelenos. In addition to the inside concession stands, there are also three Plaza Marketplaces where guests may pick up their pre-ordered picnic boxes or purchase specialty sandwiches, salads, artisan baked goods, cheese and charcuterie plates, or beer and wine. On-site restaurants include Ann’s Wine Bar, the Backyard, and Lucques at the Circle.
Events at the Hollywood Bowl take place nearly every evening May through October and, depending on the acts, tickets can start as low as $1 for a spot on the lawn. The venue is maintained and managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation in partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which means it’s technically a public park and open during the day and off-season for recreation. During the concert season, lucky visitors can sometimes catch a mid-day sound check if they happen to stop by at the right time.
Driving to and from the Hollywood Bowl can be tricky since the surrounding streets and 101 freeway get clogged as the masses travel in from near and far. Parking at the bowl is limited but multiple lots nearby offer public parking for around $20 flat or $40 if it’s a big ticket night. There are also designated ride share pick up/drop off locations. Since 1953, the Hollywood Bowl has had a partnership with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation authority to provides the public with a Park and Ride green alternative to driving where buses shuttle patrons in from designated locations throughout the city. For those who prefer public transportation, metro bus 156 has a Hollywood Bowl stop and it’s also a 15 to 20-minute walk from the Hollywood and Highland Metro Red Line station.
As the concert headliner is about to perform a medley of their biggest hits and the illuminated smartphones are striking 10 pm, at this point is when concertgoers tend to reach for that extra layer of clothing. It seems even on the hottest of summer days, the canyon breeze kicks in about the same time as the fireworks spectacle. And just outside the exits, the air grows thick with aromatic bacon-wrapped street food and the inpatient music lover who snuck out early to avoid the congestion stops to buy a $10 bootleg t-shirt. It’s all part of the Hollywood Bowl experience and for those visiting Los Angeles, it’s an experience not to be missed.