It’s hard to beat the Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theatre, two of the world’s most famous outdoor concert spaces, but Southern California is home to dozens of lesser-known open-air venues worth exploring. During our (usually) dry and warm summer months, musicians serenade concertgoers in parks, gardens, beaches, piers, and amphitheaters all across the region. Even better: many of these locations allow you to picnic, are free or low cost and provide plenty of room for kids—and adults—to dance.
Here are seven summertime favorites, stretching from San Diego to Santa Barbara:
At the edge of Palos Verdes Peninsula, the cliffside Terranea luxury resort offers live music for free every weekend, complete with stellar views of a historic lighthouse, brilliant sunsets and (if you’re lucky) passing pods of whales. Food and beverages are available at booths outdoors or next door at Nelson’s, a casual, dog-friendly restaurant. Live music is also offered on the patio of the Lobby Bar.
Catch performances for free at the Original Farmer’s Market Summer Music Series every Friday night from 7 to 9 p.m. from May 31 through Aug. 30 on the West Patio. Bands include Latin jazz, World Beat, Swing and Brazilian. Parking is free for two hours with validation. Guests can choose from dozens of food stalls that serve Cajun and Korean food, plus donuts, ice cream and more.
A few blocks away, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) hosts free outdoor jazz concerts near the tar pit excavation sites every Friday night starting at 6 p.m. Picnicking is encouraged at these family-friendly events, but food and drink are also available in the LACMA courtyard.
Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge hosts weekday summer concerts beneath its ancient oaks, free with garden admission. Lawn seating after 5:30 p.m. is first-come, first-served, and you can bring a picnic or purchase food on site.
Ford Theatre’s Jam Sessions combine eclectic styles of music (such as samba, hip-hop, Mexican Folklorico, Japanese drumming) with participatory interactive movement and play suitable for all ages. Free performances are held Monday evenings at the Ford Theatre, across from the Hollywood Bowl, with other series performances in Newhall, San Fernando, and Marina del Rey.
Santa Barbara Bowl, which hosts concerts from April through October, wins raves for its mellow ambiance and stunning sunset views of the Pacific. This historic 4,500-seat stone and wood beauty sits high on a hill in a natural bowl and features many of the same bestselling acts that sell out the Hollywood Bowl on adjacent nights. Food and drink are available from Bowl vendors.
On San Diego’s Shelter Island, Humphreys by the Bay Concerts seats up to 1,400 music lovers on the waterfront patio of Humphreys Half Moon Inn, a palm-studded Hawaiian-themed hotel. Concerts are held April through October, rain or shine. No cameras or outside food or drink allowed, but hotel stays and dining packages offer discounts. Top acts scheduled for 2019 include Willie Nelson, Violent Femmes, Sebastian Maniscalco, Rob Thomas, and Little Feat.