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Santa Barbara Bowl

A historic amphitheater hosts top performers

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Built in 1936 as part of the federal Works Project Administration and extensively renovated with modern upgrades, the Santa Barbara Bowl is one of California’s most appealing outdoor venues. The bowl originally hosted events for Santa Barbara’s annual Old Spanish Days Fiesta; these days it headlines with leading performers—from Bob Dylan to Phish.

Compared to a massive stadium, it’s an intimate musical experience; even for shows with standing-room ticket sales, the bowl’s capacity is below 5,000. Musicians play on a distinctive stage pavilion with cut-stone piers and a copper roof, with carefully tended drought-tolerant and California native species painting the hillside venue with seasonal color. On-site food choices are a big notch above usual stadium far: Dine on banh mi sandwiches at The Blue Owl or burritos from an outpost of Santa Barbara’s popular El Zarape.

Insider’s tip: Rent bikes (with lights) and pedal to the Bowl; Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition will offer free, secure parking near the entry gate.

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