Built in 1936 as part of the federal Works Project Administration and extensively renovated with modern upgrades in 2001, the Santa Barbara Bowl is one of California’s most appealing outdoor venues. The bowl originally hosted events for the city’s annual Old Spanish Days Fiesta; these days it headlines with leading performers—from Bob Dylan to Katy Perry.
Compared to other venues that book performers of equal caliber—or even other area amphitheaters—it’s an intimate musical experience; even for shows with standing-room ticket sales, the bowl’s capacity is below 5,000. Virtually every seat has sight-line views, and the acoustics are impeccable, making this many a Southern Californian’s favorite place to see a show. 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 with seasonal color. Once inside, head up the hill to the highest seats to grab a drink at the cash-only bar, and enjoy the view of rolling Santa Barbara hills and the ocean. Check the site’s concerts page for upcoming events. If you come with an appetite, on-site food choices are a big notch above usual show fare: Dine on banh mi sandwiches at The Blue Owl or burritos from an outpost of Santa Barbara’s popular El Zarape.
Insider tips: Rent bikes (with lights) and pedal to the Bowl; Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition will offer free, secure parking near the entry gate. If you drive, there is street parking, and spaces are also available at nearby Santa Barbara High School for $15. Get there early, though, as it can fill up fast.