The Hollywood Bowl can be an amazing, magical Southern California experience. Or, it can be a frustrating exercise with long lines to get in, shivering cold temperatures during the show, and a traffic jam at the end. Here are my tips to avoid those pitfalls and make your Hollywood Bowl experience wonderful.
Selecting Your Seats
1. Go for the Aisle Seats
When I look for tickets to a show at the Bowl, I like to get seats that are near the aisle. The vast majority of seating at the bowl (aside from the box seats) is super cramped with very little legroom. It’s a real pain to get in an out of your seat to go to the bathroom or get a drink without causing a ruckus if you’re in the middle of a row.
2. Get Seats on the Left Side of the Bowl
The faster way to exit the bowl is on the left side (when you’re looking at the stage), or “stage right” from the performer’s point of view. Sections that are more towards the left are E, K, J, P, N, U, T, and X.
If you get seats in these areas, exit to the left. You’ll get out a bit faster and avoid the worst crowds on the way out.
3. How To Deal with Cramped Seating
The vast majority of the seats at the Bowl are very cramped bench seats with little leg room or side-to-side room. If possible when you’re booking, try to book in a way that leaves one empty seat next to you. It’s less likely to be taken at showtime.
This may sound extreme (and expensive), but if you can, you may want to just purchase an extra seat next to you so you have room to put your stuff (food, etc.) down, or just some extra room for comfort.
4. Don’t Get Front Row Seats If There Are Fireworks!
Front row seats are great for most shows, but you should NOT get seats in the first few rows if the show has fireworks! The fireworks shoot out from behind the stage, and you won’t be able to see them very well.
During fireworks, I’ve noticed that folks from the first few rows walk towards the back in order to get a view. That’s one case where the cheap seats are better!
5. Check These Photos Before Buying “Obstructed View” Seats (Sections D, E, F)
Wondering if “obstructed view” seats in sections D, E or F are OK or not? Go to this page and scroll down to the photos for your section and see!
What Not to Bring – It Depends!
What you can and cannot bring to the Bowl depends on whether the event is an LA Phil event or a third-party lease event.
1. Third-Party Lease Events – No Alcohol, Cans, or Bottles!
For non-LA Phil events, no outside alcohol is allowed (you may purchase alcohol inside though). You also can’t bring in any glass bottles or aluminum cans, regardless of content.
Below is a list of items you can’t bring to third-party lease events:
2. LA Phil Events (Classical) – Wine and Beer Are OK
For LA Phil events though, you CAN bring alcohol, wine glasses, and beer bottles.
3. Do Not Bring Big Cameras
Once when I went, I had my DSLR camera with me, and they told me that no cameras with detachable lenses were allowed. If you want to avoid the risk of having to walk back to your car (or worse, going home), don’t bring your big camera.
4. Do Not Bring Illegal Substances
Obviously, leave any illegal substances at home! The Hollywood Bowl security will search your bags at the entrance!
Here’s a summary of what you can’t bring on the Hollywood Bowl website.
What to Bring
It’s extremely important to bring the right stuff to the Bowl!
1. Warm Clothing, Even if it Was Hot During the Day
Probably the biggest mistake that first-timers make at the Bowl is forgetting that it can actually get chilly in L.A. at night, even if it was in the 80s during the day. This applies even more to the hills where the Bowl is. Remember to bring a light jacket or sweater. This is really important! Or even better, if you want to really snuggle, bring a blanket. :-)
2. Picnic Food for a True “Hollywood Bowl” Experience
You can buy your food at the Bowl if you want, but it can be expensive, and the lines can be long.
If you want to avoid the lines, you can pre-order your food in advance or order using the Hollywood Bowl app.
If you choose to bring your food, there is some charm in doing it yourself, or even better, preparing it together with your date beforehand!
Usually, people bring light snacks like cheese, crackers, and fruit, along with some wine (if allowed) and dessert. Gourmet sandwiches work well if you want a full meal. Finger foods like chicken strips are also good. I like to get side salads from a supermarket deli as well. Gelsons is a good supermarket for this.
Remember to bring a picnic blanket!
If you’re going to a classical (i.e., non-rock) concert, try to avoid “noisy” food packaging. In the quiet parts of a concert, the sound of a rustling potato chip bag can be embarrassing to you and annoying to others.
3. Dollar Bills for Cushion Rental
If you’re in any of the bench seats (i.e., the vast majority of the seats at the bowl), seat cushions are almost a “must”. You’ll be grateful about an hour into the show.
Thankfully, you can rent cushions at the Bowl for only $1 each, and they are worth every penny. It’s a great option because when the show is over, you can just leave them at your seats. They’re also good for “marking your territory”, as there are no dividers showing where your seating area ends, and the cushion kind of delineates your seating area.
The seat cushion rental area is right at the entrance of each of the seating areas. The lines are short and go quickly.
4. Good Walking Shoes
Wear comfortable walking shoes, because there will be a lot of uphill walking involved. No high heels. I also suggest avoiding sandals. Why? People in the row behind you can easily kick over a glass bottle, sending shards of glass around your feet (this happened to us last time!!).
5. Field Glasses or Binoculars (Optional)
If you have any, bring some field glasses (binoculars) so you can take turns seeing the performers up close.
6. Your Tickets
I forgot to bring the printout of my tickets once without a backup and it sucked big time!! I had to drive all the way home (i.e., to Santa Monica!)
I suggest having your tickets in two forms. For example, bring a paper copy as well as the tickets emailed to your phone or added to your iOS Wallet app.
7. Your Lightsaber (for Star Wars or John Williams nights)
Yes, many people bring lightsabers or even dress in character for these nights!
8. Ear Plugs for Rock Events?
The Hollywood Bowl is not a particularly loud venue, but rock events can get loud enough for some folks to want earplugs. Earplugs are not definitely necessary for classical concerts.
The parking and traffic situation near the Hollywood Bowl is pretty horrendous before and after popular weekend shows. The pre-show traffic can put you in a genuinely foul mood before the concert even starts and the traffic jam afterward can ruin a good night. So, even if you usually drive, you might want to consider some alternatives, such as:
The Park ‘n Ride Bus
The Park ‘n Ride Bus departs from various locations in the L.A. area. I’ve done it before and it does cut down on the stress of driving in rush-hour traffic and parking. But, riding a bus might not be your idea of a romantic date. You’ll have to make the call. Going to the Bowl by bus is perfectly fine and dandy in my opinion, but leaving involves standing in a crowded line and can be somewhat of a downer when you just want to get out of there ASAP. On the other hand, the buses do start leaving very quickly after the show, so you won’t be waiting long.
The cost of round-trip transportation is $7 in advance or $12 at the lot, so buy in advance and save!
The Bowl Shuttle
The Bowl Shuttle is a shorter-distance bus that makes local pickups at the Ventura Annex lot near Universal City, the LA Zoo lot, and Hollywood and Highland. Round-trip cost is $6.
Note, if you want to be able to leave at any moment (in case the concert sucks, for example), don’t do the buses, because they only depart at the end of the show.
Metro Rail Red Line
There’s a Red Line Metro rail stop at Hollywood and Highland. From there, you can use your Tap card to get a free ride on the shuttle to the Bowl, or just walk.
Uber or Lyft
Uber and Lyft are decent alternatives to driving, but still be prepared to walk, as you might save time by getting dropped off further away to avoid traffic.
Similarly, when leaving, for Pete’s sake, do NOT request a pickup right near the Bowl. You could wait forever for your ride to get through the traffic jam. Walk at least a few blocks or more to get to a less congested area where they can pick you up. At a minimum, go to the Holiday Inn on Highland or further down.
Where to Park If You Insist on Driving
If you must drive, I suggest getting there about two hours early (for popular weekend concerts at least) to avoid complete gridlock on Highland Avenue. My other piece of advice is: do not park in the main Hollywood Bowl parking lot! Let me say that again:
DO NOT PARK IN THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL STACKED PARKING LOT!!!
Stacked parking means they cram cars in as tightly as possible with no room to get out until everyone around you does, which could take forever. Even if you do get free early by some miracle, you’ll be trapped in a massive traffic jam exiting the Bowl. This can ruin an otherwise perfect date experience!!! Plus, it can be as expensive as $50/car!
Here are some better parking spots if you insist on driving:
Private Temporary Pay Lots
There are some private businesses on Highland south of the Bowl that offer free parking during events. The cost varies between $30 and $40 but they are worth the cost if you are driving. Look for the signs and guys waving red flags on the West side of Highland. This is not a cheap option, but worth it if you want the convenience of driving without having to wait forever to get your car out. Note that these will fill up so arrive early to grab them!
Hollywood Methodist Church Lot
A very popular parking spot among Bowl-goers is the Hollywood Methodist Church lot. It’s further down Highland, so you have to walk a bit more uphill, but they don’t stack your cars. Cost ranges from $10 to $40 depending on the event, and the proceeds benefit the church.
Hollywood and Highland Structure and Annex Lots
Further down Highland is the Hollywood and Highland parking garage. I’ve used this structure before, and it was fine if you don’t mind the uphill walk. Or you can take a shuttle for $6 to the Bowl.
As I previously mentioned, there are also annex lots at Universal City and the LA Zoo.
A Tip To Get In Faster
Unfortunately, there are often long lines to get inside the Bowl due to the need to search bags and go through metal detectors (thanks a lot Bin Laden). An insanely long line usually forms as you walk up the ramp towards the Bowl.
The best bet is to continue walking up through the parking lot on the right, where there is an alternate line that moves much faster. Ask a staff member for the location if you’re not sure. A police officer gave us this tip and it saved a bunch of time!
Where to Picnic
If you want to picnic at the Bowl (and I believe that is part of any true Hollywood Bowl experience), I strongly suggest eating at a bench or picnic area outside the concert seating area. The concert seats are super cramped and have no room to spread out your food and drinks. If you’re late to the show, you could eat with your food on your lap if necessary though.
On the Hollywood Bowl Grounds
The on-site picnic areas fill up super fast, so if you see a spot on a busy night, just grab it; don’t look for something better. You should get there at least two hours early for weekend shows if you want any kind of picnic spot. Mid-week classical shows might be more forgiving.
Bring a towel or blanket because you might have to dine on the grass though.
Highland Camrose Park
If you are running late, but still want a picnic experience, all is not lost. I would recommend the Highland Camrose Park at 2101 North Highland, just south of the Bowl. It’s basically on the way to the Bowl if you walk up from my recommended parking area, on the left side of Highland right before the Bowl.
It’s a nice park with lots of picnic tables, designed for people who are going to the Bowl. I walked by at 6 PM for a 7 PM concert, and there were still picnic tables available. I would also recommend this park if you’re with a large group of people that wants to picnic together.
The parking lot across Highland does have some open areas with picnic tables. These are not particularly picturesque, but if you parked there, they’re convenient.
Overall, I recommend grabbing the first suitable picnic spot that you can find, because if you try to go back to it later, it will be gone!
Visit the Museum If You Need to Kill Some Time
If you have some time to kill before the show starts, visit the Hollywood Bowl Museum before the entrance. You’ll get to see the history of the bowl and hear performances from every decade that it was open, including performances by the Beatles. It’s kinda neat and worth stopping by. It’s never crowded and not well-known, so keep it our secret! It’s on the left side of the walkway as you head up to the entrance.
Unfortunately, it’s outside of the concert gates, so make sure to leave some time to queue up to get in.
Enjoying the Show
If you took all of my advice, you won’t need to mess around with food too much because you picnicked beforehand. Later, when it gets dark, you should be nice and warm because you brought your jackets and a blanket. Towards the end of the show, your butt won’t be sore after sitting on the hard bench because you brought or rented seat cushions. Oh, and if you need to use the restroom, it should be easy to get out of your row because you chose seats near the aisles!
How to Get Out Quickly
When the concert is over, I like to exit to the left of the stage (aka “stage right” from the performer’s point of view), even though it’s slightly longer, distance-wise. Fewer people go that way, and I believe it moves faster. This is why I like to get seats closer to stage right.
Daytime Hollywood Bowl Rehearsals
Side note: the Hollywood Bowl morning rehearsals from time to time are FREE to attend! Parking is free too (although it is still stacked).
Rehearsals are typically Tuesdays and Thursdays from roughly 9:30 AM to noon. Call 323-850-2000 to confirm the schedule.
Brian’s Hollywood Bowl Quick Tips
So, to summarize, here are the top things you should remember:
- Be prepared for the cold
- Get seats close to an aisle
- Pack your meals and get there at least two hours before showtime to picnic
- Bring or rent seat cushions
- Consider alternatives to driving. If you do drive, do not park in the Hollywood Bowl stacked parking lot!!
- Exit to your left if you want to get out quicker
Any Other Ideas?
I hope these tips help you have a wonderful date at the Hollywood Bowl! Please leave your comments and tips, and tell us about your experience there! – Brian