Off-Ramp®

A weekly look at SoCal life covering news, arts and culture, and more. Hosted by John Rabe

How to picnic like a regular at the Hollywood Bowl

by Kristen Lepore | Off-Ramp®

Longtime picknicker Antonio Anderson shows off his coffee cooler on Wednesday, August 5 at the Hollywood Bowl. Kristen Lepore/KPCC

There’s nothing like a summer night at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s the seasonal home to the L.A. Phil, and big names this summer range from Heart to Erykah Badu.

And then there's the food. If you've been to the Bowl, you've seen it in action: These people have been picnicking for decades. It's a sport. There's even a Twitter account dedicated to it. 

We stopped by a Jamie Cullum jazz concert to learn the tricks of the trade. 

1. The early bird gets the worm

Or the best picnic spot. If you want to eat your food overlooking the Hollywood hills, you better get a move on it. Gates open at 6 p.m.

"When we open up our gates at the beginning of the day, we'll see people run up the hills to try to get some of the more primo areas," said Tom Waldron, the Hollywood Bowl's house manager.

Picnic areas inside the park are first come, first serve. (You can reserve group tables across the street.) Wear comfortable walking shoes. The Bowl is the largest outdoor amphitheater in the U.S., and the picnic grounds are just as impressive. Prepare yourself for one very serious incline.

Pro tip: Check out this map before you go. Picnic area No. 7, also known as the "tree house," has great views and is perfect for a date night.  

2. It's chilled. Not cold.

Think about how your food will travel. Thermal bags. Insulated picnic baskets. Coffee coolers. Anything is game when you're picnicking at the Hollywood Bowl. 

Tina Dahl has been picnicking at the Bowl for 20 years. She explains how she keeps her salade niçoise perfectly chilled.

"We want to keep it chilled, not cold.... We just took an ice pack — one of those flexible ones that you put on your muscles when you’re achy — set the container on top of it and wrapped it all up in a towel," she said. 

3. Presentation is everything

I saw fabric table clothes tailored to fit the box seat table tops. There were lavish napkins, candles and plates. Longtime picnicker Antonio Anderson is so hardcore that he was featured in the Hollywood Bowl brochure. He’s got 25 years under his belt. 

Here's his setup:

How have his picnics evolved? "From plastic to fine china and better sparkling wine," Anderson told me. 

Off-Ramp host John Rabe has box seats at the Bowl. He prefers bamboo plates and silverware. They're cheap, lightweight and they look good. Pro tip: If you forget the plates or utensils, don't panic. Stop by one of the restaurants and ask; they'll likely give you some for free. 

Hollywood Bowl regular Rafael Gonzalez had freshly picked flowers in a cute little vase on his table. He and his wife also theme their picnics.
 
"Especially if there’s Latin music, we’ll have Latin food. If there’s country music, we’ll do a little country-fried chicken," he said. 

4. You need wheels 

Orange County resident Taylor Debevec has a picnic basket for every occasion. She found this gem in an antique shop outside of Charleston, South Carolina.

But if you don't pack lightly, you'll need at least one cooler on wheels. Wheels make it way easier to swiftly walk the grounds (especially after a couple drinks). 

This is Naome Leibov. She was wheeling around warm chicken, cold sushi and pillows to sit on. Her advice? Don't bring as much as she did. Pro tip: You can get a seat cushion from the Bowl for $1. 

5. Don't forget the organic honey

Teamwork makes the picnic dream work. Case in point: I found a table with a designated bartender. Deirdre Delrey explains how to perfect the drinks:

"Start light. Think about the heat of the early evening. Something with citrus or cucumber — like a Pimm's cup or Moscow mule," she said. "A nice wine with the meal and then something flavorful at the end to wrap it all up."

Her friend and fellow picnicker is responsible for the cheese, crackers and organic honey. The latter is a must-have item, according to Delrey. 

"She brings organic honey that she dribbles on the goat cheese, and with the fig-encrusted crackers, it’s magical; it’s beautiful. And then with nectarines and peaches," she said with a huge smile on her face.

Are you drooling yet? Pro tip: You can purchase the Fig & Olive Crisps from Trader Joe's

Too hot to prepare a picnic? Order food at the show. Refer to the 2015 Hollywood Bowl dining guide from Patina Restaurant Group for options. One woman I spoke with raved about the Berkshire pork chop, which you can see half-eaten on the right in the photo below. 

6. And the boxed wine

You can never, ever bring too much wine to the Hollywood Bowl. Mainly because it's pretty expensive to buy a bottle at the venue. (The cheapest red was around $70 when I was there last month for the John Fogerty concert.)

That's why Briana Madden suggests boxed wine from Bevmo. A 3-liter Bota Box will cost you under $20. Or you can purchase 1.5 liters for $10, which is probably a more appropriate option for a school night.

7. Forget parking. Take the shuttle

Don't picnic and drive. Take a Hollywood Bowl bus or shuttle. From Chatsworth to Torrance, the Bowl makes it pretty easy to commute back and forth. Find everything you need to know here.

How hardcore is your picnic? What are your picnic must-haves? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #myLApicnic. 

Let's picnic! And brag about it.

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