Berkeley Greek Theatre

Evening at Berkeley's Greek Theatre
••• Evening at Berkeley's Greek Theatre. Tim Horton/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The official name is the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre, but it's known locally as simply the Berkeley Greek Theatre. It's an 8,500-seat amphitheater owned and operated by the University of California, Berkeley, and an excellent place to enjoy a summer concert.

The Berkeley Greek Theatre Concert Event

Some concerts at the Greek Theatre are offered through Cal Performances, but others are organized by promoter Another Planet Entertainment.

The mix of performers is eclectic. Artists performing there have included Yo-Yo Ma, Placido Domingo, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Legend, Radiohead and Idina Menzel.

At the classical performances, Berkeley audiences are among the best at any California venue we've visited. They're quiet and attentive and nice to each other, but they are not always punctual. Too many people arrive late, which can delay the start of the performance.

The Berkeley Greek Theatre Venue

The Greek Theatre structure has been around for more than 100 years, constructed in a classic style. The hillside location has great views of the San Francisco Bay and parts of the university campus (but only from the very top of the property).

The Greek Theatre is wheelchair user accessible. The ramp is in front of the Ticket Office, and there's a drop-off point at the North gate.

Reviews, Likes, and Dislikes

Everyone agrees that the views from the Greek Theatre are spectacular, with views of the university campus, Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, San Francisco and - on a clear enough day - Mount Tamalpais in Marin County.

I like the Greek for its size and the wide range of performers they attract. Parking can be a nuisance, but the tips below may help minimize that.

Read their reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor.

Tips for Enjoying Concerts at the Berkeley Greek Theatre

  • Seats in the numbered sections are on simple concrete steps with no backs or cushions. No matter what kind of cushion Mother Nature may have provided you, something soft to sit on is a must. Cushions are available for rent, but for a steep price - or bring your own.
  • If you're sitting in the concrete step section, it's best not to arrive too early - it just extends the amount of time you have to sit.
  • Food is available for sale, but you can also bring your own as long as you carry it in an approved container. Large backpacks, ice chests, and picnic baskets aren't allowed inside, and you can't bring in any alcoholic beverages - or cans and bottles no matter what they contain.
  • These items are not allowed: strollers, large blankets, structured stadiums chairs, lawn furniture, weapons of any kind, umbrellas. Pets are not allowed, but you can bring your service animal.
  • Doors open for most shows open 1.5 hours before show time.
  • The upper sections have lots of shallow steps and no handrails. If your mobility is limited, it may be better to choose a seat in a lettered section.

Tickets and Reservations for the Berkeley Greek Theatre

Buy your tickets for APE concerts online. Check the calendar for performances at the Greek and get tickets to the Cal Performances shows at their website. You also can buy tickets in advance at the Cal Performances Box Office at Zellerbach Hall on the University campus, with no fee.

The Box Office at the Greek Theatre is only open on the performance day - 1.5 hours before show time - for tickets sales and will call pickup.

 

Layout of the Berkeley Greek Theatre

The theatre is laid out in a semicircle with these sections:

  • A flat floor near the stage (The Pit)
  • The lower tiered sections - A through F - have folding seats
  • A row of concrete "throne seats" runs along the top of the first tier
  • The upper tiered sections - 1 through 10 - are backless, concrete steps only. Seats in row 20 (the top row) have a wall behind them that you can lean back on, but it's chillier up there because it's less sheltered - and if you're in the seats on the sides, outside noise can creep in from the street below and even the railroad across town.
  • A grassy lawn area is behind and above all the seats. It has the best views of the surroundings and is closest to the bar and restrooms.

Seating Options

If you read online reviews, especially if the reviewer has only attended one concert, it can be confusing.

Some talk about the place being general admission only while others talk about reserved seating. Both are true, depending on the specific concert you attend. The sections below explain how each one works. If you need more information, seating charts are at the APE website

General Admission Only Setup: For some shows, all seats are "General Admission" which allows you flexibility to dance close to the stage or enjoy the show from farther back. For those shows, seating is first-come, first-served and Greek Theatre veterans recommend arriving early so you can be first in line. To get in faster, use the gate up the hill next to Bowles Hall instead of the one near the box office.

Reserved Seating Setup: For some shows, only the seats near the stage are reserved and for others, the second tier is also reserved. The lawn area is always general admission.

The Basics

How to Get to the Berkeley Greek Theatre

The theatre is at 2001 Gayley Road in Berkeley, near the University of California campus.

Using BART: You can get directions to the Greek using BART on their website. It's about a mile walk to the theatre from the BART station on Shattuck, which will take about 20 minutes.

Driving and Parking: You'll find some tips for where to park at the Cal Performances website.

Some Greek Theatre veterans suggest parking on the nearby streets instead of the parking garages. It's a strategy that can save you money but can be a frustrating experience when something else is happening on campus. Depending on the time and day of the week, parking for part of all of your visit may be free, even when there's a meter at the curb. Parking enforcement in Berkeley is diligent, especially on concert days. It's best to be sure you won't overstay the time limit and that the meter is paid until the fees are lifted.

More Things to Know

If you're going to Berkeley for a concert, you'd might as well stay a little longer and this Berkeley Weekend Getaway Guide will help you plan your trip.

Berkeley is only one of many places in California to enjoy a  California Summer Concert or an Outdoor Evening Theatre Performance. And a Greek Theatre concert is only one of many ways to enjoy Summer Nights in San Francisco.