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California's 7 Best Outdoor Summer Theaters

Drama Under the Stars


One of the best things to do on a California summer night is to watch great theater in beautiful surroundings, snuggling up to your partner as evening chill sets in. These are some of the best places to enjoy summer outdoor theater in California.

California Shakespeare Theater, Berkeley

They stage four plays per season, two by The Bard and two other classic pieces, such as Uncle Vanya or Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband . The location is a natural amphitheater in the hills. They've got plenty of things to explore and places to picnic, and it's a good idea to arrive early to hear what their docents have to say about what you're going to see.

Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival

Courtesy of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival
You can't beat this one for natural surroundings or ambiance. It's held right on the lake's shore.

Mountain Play, Mt. Tamalpias, Marin County

A San Francisco Bay Area favorite held in a natural amphitheater, they produce one play per year, typically a musical performed on weekends, May through June or July. Show time is in the afternoon, but it's an all-day experience.

Old Globe Theater, San Diego

© 2008 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
In 1984, the Old Globe won a Tony Award for excellence in regional theatre. Their summer season includes outdoor Shakespeare performances, but it's perhaps better for the indoor productions it stages the rest of the year.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland

We do realize that Ashland isn't in California, but it's close to the border and such an outstanding company that we wanted to be sure you knew about it. Their season runs for months, from spring through fall, with performances outdoors and in on several stages, making it the ideal destination to gorge on great theater.

Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach

Courtesy of Pageant of the Masters
It sounds simple, but it really isn't: just pick a series of classic paintings and display them using live models. In reality, it takes most of a year to plan and execute, and the results are eye-poppingly realistic.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz

We were so impressed by our first visit to Shakespeare Santa Cruz that we're already planning to go back every year. This repertory troupe performs four plays every summer, two Shakespeare pieces staged in the middle of a redwood grove and two more contemporary productions done indoors.

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