The Hollywood Bowl is an awesome and unique Southern California institution. There’s nothing like listening to music in the hills beneath the stars. I’ve done it many, many times. Here are some tips to make your time there perfect.
Which Seats to Get
Go for the Aisle Seats
When I look for tickets to a show at the Bowl, I like to get seats that are at the edge of a section, near an aisle. Unless you’re in one of the expensive sections, the seating is super cramped and it’s a real pain to get in an out of your seats without causing a ruckus if you’re in the middle of a row.
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.
Front Row Seats Are Great – If There Are No Fireworks
If you manage to score expensive box seats right near the front, there is one huge downside if there are fireworks: you won’t be able to see them because they go off behind the bowl. Just something to keep in mind.
What to Bring
Preparation is very important when going to the Hollywood Bowl.
Food and Drinks – Alcohol is OK!
Usually, people bring a light dinner or snack, like cheese, crackers, and fruit, along with some wine (yes, alcohol is allowed) and dessert. Gourmet sandwiches work well if you want a full meal. You can buy everything there if you want, but there is some charm in doing it yourself, or even better, preparing it together with your date beforehand!
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. The Hollywood Bowl is usually not a super loud venue when they are playing symphonic music.
One of the biggest mistakes at the Bowl is forgetting that it can actually get chilly in L.A. at night, even if was in the 80’s during the day. Remember to bring a light jacket or sweater. This is really important! Or even better, if you want to really snuggle, bring a blanket. :-)
Seat Cushions – A “Must”!!!
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 thank me about two hours into the show.
Good Walking Shoes
Wear comfortable walking shoes, because there will be a lot of uphill walking involved. I suggest avoiding high heels or sandals. Why? People above you can easily kick over a glass bottle, sending shards of glass around your feet (this happened to us last time!!)
Field Glasses or Binoculars (optional)
If you have any, bring some field glasses (binoculars) so you can take turns seeing the performers up close.
Picnic Towel or Blanket (If You Plan to Picnic)
Finally, don’t forget to bring your tickets! I suggest getting the Ticketmaster app on your phone as a backup to your printed tickets or getting them emailed to you. One time I forgot my paper tickets with no backup and had to drive all the way home – it sucked!!
Your Light Saber (for Star Wars or John Williams nights)
Yes, many people bring light sabers or even dress in character for these nights!
What Not to Bring
The Hollywood Bowl security will search your bags at the entrance.
Do Not Bring Big Cameras
Last time I went, I had my DSLR camera with me, and they told me that no cameras with detachable lenses were allowed. Policies may differ depending on who is playing, but 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.
Do Not Bring Illegal Substances
Since they might search bags, leave any illegal substances at home! Alcohol is okay.
The parking and traffic situation near the Hollywood Bowl is pretty horrendous before and after popular weekend shows. 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.
Cost for round-trip transportation is $7 in advance or $12 at the lot, so but in advance and save!
The Bowl Shuttle
The Bowl Shuttle makes 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 that 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!!!
It’s stacked parking, meaning they just cram cars in as tightly as possible and you’re trapped until all of the cars around you leave, 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 alternatives 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. These cost about $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. Yes, this is an expensive option, but worth it if you need the convenience. Note that these will fill up!
If you do choose this option, don’t be cheap and save $5 for stacked parking. That is the worst option.
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 walk and parking in a structure. From there, you can take a shuttle for $6 to the Bowl, or just walk, which I have done before.
As I previously mentioned, there are also annex lots at Universal City and the LA Zoo.
Where to Picnic
Another reason to arrive early is so that you can find a picnic spot. This is key because the Hollywood Bowl seats (actually benches) are super-crammed. Once people arrive, it can be difficult to eat at your seats. Eating outside the seating area is a much better experience, if you have time!
On the Hollywood Bowl Grounds
I’ve seen people bring some amazing contraptions like a picnic table that folds into the size of a suitcase. Bring a towel or blanket because you might be have to dine on the grass though.
The on-site picnic areas fill up super fast, so if you see a spot, 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.
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 6PM for a 7PM concert, and there were still picnic tables available. I would also recommend this park if you have a very large party.
The parking lot across Highland does have some open area with picnic tables. These are not particularly picturesque, but if you parked there, they’re convenient.
If you have some time to kill before the show starts, visit the Hollywood Bowl museum. 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.
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 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.
The Things To Remember
So, to summarize, here are the top things you should remember:
- Be prepared for the cold
- Bring or rent seat cushions
- Consider alternatives to driving
- If you do drive, do not park in the Hollywood Bowl stacked parking lot!!
- Get there at least two hours early if you want to picnic outside the bowl
- 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