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The Best Theaters in California for Live Performances

The Best Theaters in California for Live Performances

California is home to some of the coolest performance venues in the nation, and here are the best theaters for live performances.

Roubina Al Abashian


5 min read

February 27, 2022

California’s most influential entertainers keep returning to perform in the state that shot them to stardom. And who could blame them? California has the best theaters, and we’re not being objective. From historic venues to contemporary halls, California’s theaters have a character of their own. Even if you’re not catching a show, touring these gorgeous attractions will blow you away. 

Northern California Theaters To Check out

1. Mondavi Center 

Location: 523 Mrak Hall Drive, Davis

U.C. Davis’ Mondavi Center is a grand modern art venue, which can seat up to 1,801 spectators per show. The center has a year-long performance schedule—you can attend a performance by major artists like cellist Yo-Yo Ma or concerts by the U.C. Davis Symphony. The main hall of this California theater impresses with floor-to-ceiling Douglas fir interiors, while the exterior is clad in sandstone tiles. You can get a free tour of the center if you reserve your spot ahead of time. 

2. Paramount Theatre 

Location: 2025 Broadway, Oakland

Paramount Theatre has been Oakland’s premier performing arts venue since 1931. This hidden gem in Oakland is considered to be one of California’s coolest architectural works thanks to the towering mosaic on the exterior and gold details covering the interior. Mega-stars like musician Bruce Springsteen and comedian Chris Rock are used to performing to excited crowds here—but that doesn’t mean that local acts don’t sell out shows at the theater either. If you’re searching for a fun thing to do in Oakland, stop by on the first or third Saturdays of the month to tour this architectural masterpiece.

Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Pietro Belluschi, and acoustical consultants Bolt, Beranek and Newman.

3. Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall 

Location: 201 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco

If you’ve ever walked around San Francisco’s Civic Center, you’ve probably noticed the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. The gorgeous live theater in San Francisco is well-known for its white glass facade, grand music hall, and individually tunable acrylic sound reflectors. Visit the theater to enjoy a performance by the San Francisco Symphony—you might catch the famous Fratelli Ruffatti concert organ in action. You can also tour the iconic S.F. architecture every Monday to admire its unique details up-close.

4. Warnors Center For The Performing Arts 

Location: 1400 Fulton Street, Fresno

Touring the Warnors Center For The Performing Arts is one of the most exciting things to do in Fresno any time of the year. The 2,100-seat venue was opened in 1928 with the intent of hosting vaudeville shows—that is until Warner Brothers bought it in 1929, making it the second Warner’s theater in the Golden State. This California theater’s Spanish, Italian, and Moorish Revival architecture create a combination of elaborate details that one can admire endlessly. 

5. Berkeley Repertory Theatre 

Location: 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley

Berkeley Repertory Theatre is not your average live performance venue; it’s a Tony Award-winning one. Since its opening in 1968, this California theater in Berkeley has seen 10 shows that made it all the way to Broadway. Meanwhile, over a dozen productions have arrived from Broadway to its stage. Catch one of the seven productions the theater runs each season or check out the theater’s school and see if you can make it big. 

Southern California Theaters To Visit

The Hollywood Bowl is known for its band shell, which is set against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills and the famous Hollywood Sign.

6. Hollywood Bowl 

Location: 2301 North Highland Avenue, Los Angeles

People love the Hollywood Bowl because it’s the best live theater in Los Angeles. Surrounded by lush greenery, the largest natural amphitheater in the Golden State boasts panoramic backdrops of the iconic Hollywood Sign. The likes of Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, and the LA Philharmonic have graced the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, where our memories were ingrained with unforgettable performances. 

The Greek Theatre won the Best Small Outdoor Venue award seven times in the past eight years, awarded by Pollstar Magazine.

7. The Greek Theatre 

Location: 2700 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles

Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and one of our favorite singers from Hollywood, Billie Eilish have all played at the Greek Theatre. The popular live theater in Los Angeles is modeled after a Greek temple and is located at the southern part of Griffith Park, which is a top L.A. attraction itself. Established in 1930, the theater continues to host major events and sold-out shows. And if attending a concert with almost 6,000 spectators doesn’t earn the Greek a reputation as the best theater in Los Angeles, we don’t know what will.

8. Soka Performing Arts Center  

Location: 1 University Drive, Aliso Viejo 

The Soka Performing Arts Center combines modern design and sustainability in its 1,000-seat venue. The hall is designed with Alaskan white cedars to enhance the acoustics, and we have world-renowned acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota to thank for that. The venue also uses solar energy, making it one of the most environmentally-friendly concert halls in the state. Head to Orange County’s best live theater in Soka University to enjoy a night of classical and jazz music. 

A place where the magic happens - the place where award-winning plays are staged at all times. RightCowLeftCoast, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

9. La Jolla Playhouse 

Location: 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla

La Jolla Playhouse is where award-winning plays are staged year-round. This live theater in San Diego hosts six mainstage productions each season; you can also expect workshops and page-to-stage readings throughout the year. The playhouse consists of three different theaters—the Mandell Weiss is the biggest, the Mandell Weiss Forum is an open stage, while Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theater is a black-box theater and the latest arrival.

10. San Diego Civic Theatre 

Location: 1100 Third Avenue, San Diego

If you’re a fan of Broadway shows, you’ll fall in love with the San Diego Civic Theatre. This venue has been bringing your favorite shows to Southern California since the 1960s. Located in Downtown San Diego, the 2,967-seat hall is the home of the prestigious San Diego Opera. This California theater frequently partners with civic, cultural, and business entities to bring the area’s performing arts scene into prominence. 

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