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Wandering Wednesdays: Where to Watch Great Outdoor Theater in California

March 27th is World Theater Day, and over the past few years, we have tried to get a few outdoor theaters when we could. Which is not as often as we want because many summers were spent visiting family in India (definitely not something I would have given up for anything else!). But we did manage to see a few plays, and in other cases, see the theaters only and hear rave reviews about them after we missed a show there 🙁

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Nevertheless, I know these will be a great way to spend time and I speak from personal experience. I have tried to recreate that here.

The Magic of Outdoor Theater

Imagine a warm summer evening, a gentle breeze rustling through the trees, the soft glow of fairy lights twinkling overhead. As dusk settles in, the stage comes to life with actors and actresses pouring their hearts into their roles, transporting you to another world with their talent and passion. There’s something truly magical about watching a performance under the open sky.

Outdoor theaters offer a unique atmosphere combining the magic of live performances with the charm of the great outdoors. Whether you’re seated on a blanket under a starlit sky or nestled in a cozy amphitheater carved into the hillside, every moment becomes an unforgettable experience. And you’ll definitely have memories to cherish for a lifetime.

Plus, being outdoors offers some extras. Like when the passing breeze carries the scent of nearby flowers, or a chorus of crickets along with the occasional ribbit provides an impromptu interlude. These unpredictable elements only add to the allure. In addition, there is a casual intimacy everywhere, for both the cast and the audience, creates a sense of camaraderie that’s hard to find elsewhere.

So, this season, why not enjoy some outdoor theater performances? With the backdrop of stars and the breeze as your companion, have an unforgettable evening under the open sky as you immerse yourself in stories!

With that in mind, here are

7 Places to Watch Great Outdoor Theater in California

Berkeley: California Shakespeare Theater

We have not been to this one yet but have seen the theater and hope we can make it this summer as we will most likely spend it right here at home in the Bay Area. I have heard so much about it, and we love visiting Berkeley anyways.

Carmel-by-the-Sea: Pacific Repertory Theater

Who wouldn’t want to go to a place called Carmel-by-the-Sea? We love driving down there whenever we can simply to enjoy the quaintness and those pristine white beaches of Carmel. I now simply can’t recall if I went to see a show here or was it another place at this time but we did see a show almost a quarter century ago at one of them and looovved it..

Lake Tahoe: Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival

Simply beautiful backdrop of Lake Tahoe for this theater, and watching a play while in the lap of nature like this: priceless! Not an ad, just what we felt! We watched a fun fun show: the cast took us through a riotous romp of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. And this year’s selection from the Bard is The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Go early to get good parking, spend some time on the lakeshore, and explore the excellent food and drink offerings right at the doorstep (well, not really a door there, but you know what I mean). You can even pack yourself a picnic and eat before the show starts or during the break (so you can focus on the play and not disturb others when the show is on).

We spent time watching the squirrels play for a bit as well.

Check out their schedule and more about the place at their website.

San Diego: The Old Globe

Another place we need to watch a show in but we did get to see this theater when we visited Balboa. You could make it a day trip and culminate a beautiful day spent exploring Balboa (though you need more than one day actually) with a show at The Old Globe.

Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz Shakespeare

We love visiting Santa Cruz and have gone there so many times but have been unable to book tickets to go to see one of these shows at the theater here. Again, the location: stunning; the theater: amazing; and the shows this year: tempting!

They have As You Like It (one of my favorite plays by the bard), Hamlet, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (love this book/movie), and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Solvang: Pacific Conservatory Theater (PCPA)

We went to a show here years ago, when my now 21-yo was all of six months old. He stayed at the hotel room with his doting grandmother (who also didn’t care for the show – it was outdoors, a little chill for her, plus she was not keen on the show, and wanted more time with her first grandchild). And DH and I, we totally enjoyed the show. I simply cannot recall what it was but loved the whole experience. It was the first time I saw an outdoor play here in the United States.

Check out their schedule and more about the theater on their website. We might just head back there as well this summer. They have a cool line up. Plus, also check out Theaterfest at the same location – they have music and more at this intimate outdoor theater, and it is their 50th anniversary celebrations!

(Pic from our visit in Dec 2018)

Los Angeles: Theatricum Botanicum

Oh I know I will love this place! Simply to visit for itself and for the shows as well. A high chance we will get to it in the next year.

Their 2024 schedule is out now. (Theatricum)

Bonus: Great Outdoor Theater in California (Almost!)

Ashland, Oregon: Oregon Shakespeare Festival

We have been here a couple of times now, and attended a pre-show outdoors once with the main Shakespeare show indoors (a modern interpretation of Caesar). The other time, it was a musical outdoors. Both were totally awesome and we all loved it, even our kids who were much younger then. This was the pre-show I mentioned, so much fun!

Plus, Ashland offers so much more to explore and see and do around. Crater National Park is not far off, for one. (pic below from our trip there in 2017)

Related Reads and More

  • While not a play or a live performance, you can set up a theater to watch a movie or show right in your backyard with a screen and a projector.
  • While trying to link you up to the websites of these outdoor theaters, I chanced upon this cool find: The Lost Colony. According to the website:
    • The Lost Colony outdoor drama is the “grandfather” of all outdoor dramas and is produced by the Roanoke Island Historical Association (RIHA), a non-profit whose mission is to celebrate the history of the first English colonies on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, and to honor the founders of The Lost Colony symphonic drama through drama, education, and literature. First staged in 1937, the show is the nation’s premier and longest-running outdoor symphonic drama”

And Now, the End of This Post

Dear reader, have you been to an outdoor play? Have you been to any of the ones on my list? If yes, which one is your favorite? If not, share your own favorite outdoor theater locations you have been to or want to watch a show at. What kind of play would you want to watch in an outdoor theater? Or an indoor one?

13 thoughts on “Wandering Wednesdays: Where to Watch Great Outdoor Theater in California

  1. These sound like great locations to go see a play at. I’ve been to one outdoor play before and it was cool. I was very young though and it would be cool to see it again. They still have the same play going on years later.

  2. You had me transported to a warm summer night, surrounded by twinkling lights and rustling trees as talented performers whisked me away to another world. Looking forward to an outdoor theatre performance in my place soon.

  3. My sister frequents to outdoor theaters and I’ve been once! The experience was super great. I’d love to go to more in the future!!

  4. I would recommend everyone to try to experience an outdoor theater, it is soooooo cool and lots of fun. Can’t wait for the weather to warm-up so we can go again this year.

  5. Outdoor theatre is such a captivating experience, especially with the vibrant atmosphere at local theme parks in Florida. I initially thought this post was referencing drive-ins, but the live performances add a unique and engaging element to the entertainment.

  6. Living in Southern CA, I love watching outdoor concerts at the iconic Hollywood Bowl! I have yet to watch outdoor theater, but the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga, CA is on my bucket list.

  7. It would be so neat to go to an outdoor movie. My daughter went to Europe, and outdoor movies are very common there. We don’t have them near us though.

  8. I have not been to an outdoor theater since I was a kid and you are right as it is such a special experience. If I get to CA I will make sure to check out an outdoor theater while there!

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