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California's 8 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

At Lake Tahoe, the Shakespeare is stage on the lake's shore, with the sky for a roof and Mother Nature for the walls. The players are good, but it's easy for the surroundings to upstage the acting. In a place as pretty as the shores of Tahoe, that's just fine with us.


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

This repertory troupe has scaled back in recent years, but they are still doing Shakespeare pieces staged in the middle of a redwood grove.

Theatricum Botanicum

Their location in a wooded canyon is almost reason enough to go, no matter what they're doing. But don't get me wrong, the show is well worth the trip, too.


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