California’s elegant, historic, and beautiful stages are ready for their close-up
California virtually invented the movie business, so it knows a thing or two about putting on a show. Discover more about the state’s most remarkable performance spaces, many of them worth a visit on their own (check websites for details on behind-the-scenes tours).
Theaters for design buffs
At the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts , a decade-long renovation transformed the 1930s-era Italianate post office in Beverly Hills into a dazzling arts complex with two intimate theaters, a sculpture garden, and a copper-colored concrete and glass annex of educational classrooms.
It’s no surprise that one of the country’s most cutting-edge acoustic venues, Bing Concert Hall , calls innovative Silicon Valley home. Designed for Stanford University by the architect/acoustician dream team of Richard Olcott and Dr. Yasuhisa Toyota, the dramatic oval hall has 842 terraced seats that put you incredibly close to the musicians—a truly thrilling experience. See the venue on this virtual tour .
San Francisco’s Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall , designed by Pietro Belluschi, is a master do-over of the city’s original symphony hall. This time around, it’s built as a building within a building to insulate against exterior noise and vibration. Take a tour (offered on Mondays; small fee) to learn about unique features, like the individually tunable acrylic sound reflectors suspended above the orchestra.
Another performance gem built on a university campus is the Mondavi Center at UC Davis, where a boxy sandstone exterior conceals a stunning glass lobby and the 1,800-seat Jackson Theater, paneled from floor to ceiling in virgin Douglas fir originally logged in the late 1800s.
Stages under the stars
At the Redlands Bowl , in the Inland Empire city of Redlands, a gracefully curved amphitheater flanked by cypress trees houses California’s oldest free concert series, which runs all summer long and showcases everything from classical music to foot-thumping bluegrass bands. Bring a picnic to enjoy on Redlands Bowl’s sloping lawns, then relax and enjoy the show.
One of the state’s best-known open-air stages is the Hollywood Bowl , Tinseltown’s larger-than-life band shell showcasing classical greats like Yo Yo Ma and flavor-of-the-month bands like Vampire Weekend. An onsite museum is a great place for visitors (especially families) to learn more about the Bowl, with music-making exhibits, slideshows, and movies. Follow the self-guided Bowl Walk to see historic photos and exhibits. In summer, families can bring kids to (respectfully) listen to rehearsals .
Magnificent Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall , on the campus of CSU Sonoma, in rolling wine country, is patterned after the world-renowned Tanglewood Music Center near Boston. Like Tanglewood, Weill Hall has a back wall that, for warm-weather concerts, can be opened to reveal a lush expanse of terraced lawn, where patrons can spread out a blanket and listen to world-class music.
A sense of history
From the towering mosaics on the building’s façade to golden reliefs decorating the interior walls, every Art Deco detail of Oakland’s Paramount Theatre has been exquisitely refurbished. Home to the Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Oakland Ballet, the theater also presents variety shows, theater, and other live acts.
The United Artists Theatre, an early movie palace first opened in 1927, is being reincarnated as the heart of L.A.’s Ace , a boutique hotel slated to open in early 2014. In addition to the swanky guest rooms, the hotel will include the original 2,214-seat theater, now reincarnated as a luxurious, 1,600-seat performance space.
A handful of the historic Fox Theaters that dotted the state during Hollywood’s Golden Age have been brought back to life after years of standing empty. The cities of Oakland , Pomona , Riverside and Visalia all boast a restored movie palace that hosts a variety of performing arts.
Also restored to its former glory is the spectacular Warnors Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Fresno. The ornately embellished 2,104-seat venue, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and showcased here on a virtual tour , features a pipe organ designed to replicate the sound of a full orchestra, and interior light displays choreographed to music.
BONUS: Big Stages For Big Names