10 Stunning Outdoor Concert Venues

Outdoor stadium with steep cliff in the background
Photo: Capture Light/Shutterstock

Concert venues are usually defined by their list of past acts and their ability to draw current chart-toppers. Fans who frequent modern arenas, modest music bars or grungy warehouse-like clubs may be concerned with acoustics and proximity to the stage, but other than that, the surroundings don’t matter as much as the music.

In a few instances, though, a stage’s surroundings can steal the spotlight, like these outdoor concert venues, where the amazing views and idyllic natural surroundings are an important part of the experience. Some of these forest, seaside or mountain-top venues have become bucket-list items for performers and fans alike, while others are still relatively unknown to all but the most-dedicated music fans.

Here are some outdoor concert venues in the U.S. with amazing natural surroundings.

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Jones Beach Theater, New York

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Since it first opened as Jones Beach Marine Theater in 1952, this amphitheater in the borough of Long Island has had multiple names. Currently sponsored by Northwell Health, it was formerly known as the Nikon Theater and Tommy Hilfiger Theater. The design of the 15,000-seat venue has also changed over the decades. Originally, the stage was on the water and performers had to be transported there by boat. Parts of sets literally floated around the stage.

Jones Beach has played a major part in the careers of some of America’s best known acts. Jimmy Buffett and Aerosmith have both played here more than 20 times each. The summer brings shows from some of the most popular names in pop and rock. The music is not, however, the only reason to make the trip. The seating area overlooks panoramas of the adjacent Zachs Bay, the state park and the famous 6.5-mile-long sands of Jones Beach Island. The island is connected to Long Island by several ocean parkways.

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Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado

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This venue’s namesake sandstone slabs create ideal acoustics for concerts. Red Rocks hosted its first performance in 1906 and has seen acts like the Beatles, Tom Petty and U2 over the years. The early 20th century performances were held on a temporary stage, and the amphitheater itself opened in 1941. Despite its notoriety, this is a relatively small venue. It seats only 9,500 people. In fact, concert trade magazine Pollstar calls its annual award for the best small concert venue the Red Rocks Award.

The cinematic surroundings, easily visible from the 6,500 feet of elevation, steal the show at Red Rocks, but the property consists of much more than the amphitheater. Red Rocks Park covers 868 acres. The park has trails, including a 1.4-mile path called the Trading Post Trail that passes near to the famous red-hued sandstone. There is also a visitors center that is free and open to the public.

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Gorge Amphitheatre, Washington

Photo: Daniel/Wikimedia Commons

The Gorge Amphitheatre opened in George, Washington in 1986. This is the central part of the state, about 150 miles from Seattle and a similar distance from Spokane. Why have multiple music magazines, both consumer and trade, called this the most scenic concert venue in the country? The theater overlooks the Columbia River, the Cascade foothills and the venue's namesake, the Columbia River Gorge.

Because of its location, the Gorge Amphitheatre is often used for multi-day festivals. Fans can stay at the campground adjacent to the venue. The Gorge has its own fests, the Sasquatch! Music Festival and the EDM-centered Paradiso Festival. It has also hosted traveling events such as the Vans Warped Tour and Ozzfest (in addition to regular concerts).

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Hollywood Bowl, California

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Perhaps less scenic, but certainly more famous, the Hollywood Bowl is in the Hollywood Hills in the Los Angeles metro area. The easily recognizable Hollywood Sign is in the background behind the iconic bandshell. The “Bowl” in the title refers to the natural depression inside which the venue was built in the 1920s. The current capacity is approximately 18,000, but in the first years of existence, much smaller audiences sat on temporary benches and the acts played on makeshift stages.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic plays their summer season here, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association oversees the venue’s operations. Mainstream musical acts are on the calendar, and musical legends like the Rolling Stones, Louis Armstrong, Elton John, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Doors are a part of the Bowl’s history. An on-site museum provides insight into past performers.

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Ravinia Park Pavilion, Illinois

Photo: Krystyna Cygielska/Wikimedia Commons

Ravinia Park hosts what has become America’s oldest outdoor music festival. The Ravinia Festival, which takes place during the summertime (from June through September), hosted its first event in 1905. The park, in Highland Park in northern Chicagoland, is named after the shoreside ravines that run to nearby Lake Michigan. During the summer, different tents are set up inside the 36-acre greenspace, but the main stage is the 3,400-seat Pavilion, an outdoor theater with both traditional seating and lawn seating.

The lawns, gardens and wooded landscapes make this seem more like a parkland that a music venue. Indeed, attendees will often choose to sit on the lawns with a picnic while listening to the music. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is a regular at the festival grounds, though the calendar has a wide range of genres, including folk, jazz, blues, pop and rock. Past acts have ranged from Duke Ellington to Yo-Yo Ma to Frank Zappa. Ravinia hosts approximately 150 events per year.

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Mountain Winery, California

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The Mountain Winery was founded in California’s Santa Clara Valley in the early 1900s by famed winemaker Paul Masson. Ironically, the winery took a five-decade hiatus starting in the 1950s. During this time, the property’s owners built a concert bowl and started a music series with the surrounding farmland and classic architecture as a backdrop for the performances. Famous acts like Ray Charles, Diana Ross and Willie Nelson played this stage over the years.

More than 60 concerts take place each summer (between June and September). The bowl is an intimate space, with seating for only 2,278 people. The theater is framed by the original winery building, which was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Because the location has a higher elevation, attendees can enjoy panoramas of the Santa Clara Valley as well as seeing what's going on onstage.

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Wolf Trap National Park, Virginia

Photo: Ron Cogswell/flickr

National parks are not usually associated with concerts, but concerts are the main events at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Fairfax County, Virginia. Philanthropist Catherine Filene Shouse donated the land to the National Park Service in the 1960s because she wanted to protect it from suburban sprawl. Originally called Wolf Trap Farm Park (the named was changed in 2002), the property was the first, and remains the only, national park for performing arts.

Wolf Trap’s main stage is the Filene Center, a partially covered space that seats around 7,000. Half of the attendees sit in a covered pavilion and half can sit on the lawns behind this area. Performances have included operas, folk music festivals, ballet, jazz and symphonies (including performances by the National Symphony Orchestra). Besides the Filene Center, Wolf Trap has a children’s theater.

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Mishawaka Amphitheater, Colorado

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One of the most intimate entries on our list is the Mishawaka Amphitheater (“the Mish”), which is in the mountains about half-an-hour outside of Fort Collins, Colorado. The location might seem rather remote, but the venue, on a bank of the Cache de Poudre River, has been hosting concerts for more than a century. The first show was in 1916. Shows take place on a small, log-cabin-like stage, and the river and mountains are clearly visible in the background.

The Mish also has a restaurant, which is open year round. Despite its rural location, the venue attracts top tier talent. Joan Baez, George Clinton, Jonny Lang and other folk, rock and blues acts have taken the stage here. The venue also books local and regional acts from Fort Collins and Colorado’s other local music scenes.

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Tanglewood, Massachusetts

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Tanglewood is a music venue in west-central Massachusetts. It has been the summer base for the Boston Symphony Orchestra since the 1930s. Because of its history and its musical training programs, this estate is most often associated with classical music. However, it also hosts pop, jazz and folk acts.

Tanglewood has venues with indoor/covered seating and additional lawn seating. The older Koussevitzky Music Shed (1938) and younger Seiji Ozawa Hall (1994) allow for lawn seating during the summertime. Smaller venues, such as the Chamber Music Hall, also host concerts, and sometimes students from one of the music academies will perform directly on the lawn.

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Empire Polo Ground, Coachella Valley, California

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The Empire Polo Ground, as its name suggests, is a facility for polo matches. It is in Riverside County, about 45 minutes from Palm Springs and two hours from Los Angeles. Since the 1990s, the venue has leased its grounds to the concert company that controls the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and its country music cousin, the Stagecoach Festival. “Coachella,” one of the world’s most famous and profitable festivals, has been held there since 1999.

The grounds have also hosted one-off festivals such as the Desert Trip, a now-legendary event that saw Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Who and Neil Young perform. The Coachella Valley is a desert surrounded by several different mountain ranges. This means that there are views in every direction and little on the valley floor, besides stages and tents, to obstruct those panoramas.