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COVER STORY

Relax. Enjoy. Really.

The Bowl's a hassle, yes. But there are ways to do it.

June 19, 2008|Jason Gelt, Jessica Gelt, Pauline O'Connor, David Ng and Margaret Wappler

CARVED into the side of a canyon, the Hollywood Bowl has the majestic permanence of a geological formation. Yet as the Bowl officially starts its 87th season Friday, musical change is afoot.

The opening night gala features a new principal guest conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins, leading a lineup that includes flutist Sir James Galway, singer Liza Minnelli and bluesman B.B. King. In July, Bramwell Tovey begins his tenure as the L.A. Philharmonic's new principal guest conductor at the Bowl, succeeding Leonard Slatkin. The season will also see the less-than-predictable Stone Temple Pilots, Gnarls Barkley, Radiohead, Nick Cave and Cat Power, plus a concert version of "Les Miserables," featuring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Rosie O'Donnell in August.

But in exchange for such pleasures, the capricious Bowl gods often demand pain. During any given pilgrimage, you might encounter some unholy combination of snarled traffic, stacked parking, overloaded buses, insane lines and general crowd chaos.

How to navigate this mess? We're here to help.

WHERE TO SIT

Out of the 17,376 places to sit, every single one of them is a pretty good place to park your buns -- even if it's in front of the guy who spills Cabernet all over your back. Still, many subjective preferences go into selecting a seat. And, like which car you drive or how you shop in the grocery store, they reveal something about your personality.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, June 20, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Kidzapalooza: An article about the Hollywood Bowl in Thursday's edition of The Guide stated that the Kidzapalooza event on Sept. 28 would include Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. Tweedy had to withdraw from the event.

Are you a symphony aficionado who likes to hear every hair of the bow hit the violin? Try up front in the garden or terrace box sections -- even if the din of picnickers there can be distracting. Those seats sell out quickly to subscribers, so the next best thing is to grab front-row seats in sections F3-K3. Extra points go to section G2, next to the perennial sweet spot known as the soundboard.

Do you like to be close but don't need the stuffy seating vibe? Go for sections D and E, the bench sections on either side of the terrace box seats.

Bringing a group of friends who want to eat, drink and be merry, without being silenced librarian style? In the bench sections, the energy is more laid-back, especially during classical and jazz shows.

Finally, for generalists who just want the experience, and who don't mind seeing it all through binoculars or on screen, head to the very back section, the V2-X2 highlands. Don't knock it till you've tried it, especially when these seats are $1 for many classical and jazz shows.

HOW TO GET THERE

As any battle-scarred veteran can tell you, driving to the Bowl is an ordeal akin to salmon spawning. On-site parking is very limited; all four general parking lots are stack-parked; and there is no early exit. (Sounds ominous, doesn't it?) Even if you're a fat cat who can shell out $2,000 to $5,500 to join the Phil's Donor Valet program and get a designated, non-stacked spot, you'll still have to fight your way home along with the masses.

Fortunately, there are alternatives, and cheap ones at that. With the Bowl's Park & Ride buses, L.A. Phil-goers can park their car at free lots in 14 locations throughout L.A. County, such as Chatsworth, Torrance and Rowland Heights. (For other events, there are six lots.) You can pay as you enter the bus, but those already holding tickets get preference, so it's better to buy a $5 round-trip ticket in advance.

Closer to the Bowl, you can leave your car at one of four lots and hop on a BowlBus Shuttle for $3 round-trip, no reservations required. Parking is free at all shuttle lots, except at Hollywood & Highland. Speaking of which, some folks have been known to park at the mall, buy a cookie to get parking validation and walk.

The Metro Red Line is another excellent option. BowlBus Shuttles depart from the Hollywood/Highland Orange Court near the station every 15 minutes, starting about 2 1/2 hours before performances begin, until show time. You can transfer for free with a round-trip Metro ticket or Metro Pass, or you could simply walk -- it's less than a mile from the corner of Hollywood/Highland to the front gates of the Bowl, albeit mostly uphill. Hey, it builds character.

You could also ride a bike or motorcycle -- though with the latter, you'll have to pay the same parking as for a car, $14. Or rent a private parking space from a nearby homeowner -- Craigslist is rife with such postings.

FOOD AND DRINK

At first glance, Bowl-goers might appear to feast effortlessly. Don't be fooled. Nourishment for your eyes and ears may come with the price of admission, but sustenance for your belly is something best foraged for in advance.

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