Cal Shakes: An East Bay jewel

Nothing beats the exhilaration of outdoor theater. You never know if it’s going to be hot, cold, misty — and in the case of Orinda’s California Shakespeare Theater — foggy. But, that unpredictability is part of the charm and challenge for the audience and the actors. Cal Shakes, a nationally recognized regional theater, is one of the East Bay’s cultural jewels. Catching a seasonal performance at its outdoor amphitheater is a great way to experience theater as it was intended.

Cal Shakes

Founded in 1974, Cal Shakes has continued to evolve into a venue that not only offers seasonal productions of some of Shakespeare’s most prolific plays, but also serves as a backdrop for an all-out adventure. This summertime theater experience runs through September and into October, and every year the various productions and special events never disappoint.

Cal Shakes

Gates open two hours before “curtain,” allowing guests time to explore and picnic on the scenic grounds of the Siesta Valley and the rolling East Bay hills. With a free shuttle service transporting ticket holders from BART’s Orinda station, through the parking lot and gates to the picnic grounds, there’s no question that taking BART is a convenient way to go.

Cal Shakes shuttle from Orinda BART

Once you disembark from the train at the Orinda station, hop on the Cal Shakes shuttle bus and enjoy the quick, 2-minute ride. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes until 30 minutes before the beginning of the performance. When the show is over, just hop on the shuttle that is waiting at the edge of the parking lot (golf carts are provided to transport guests from the theater to the shuttle) and board BART to head home.

Cal Shakes

To enjoy the full experience, pack a picnic and take it along on BART. The grounds are set up for pre-show dining and have tables, benches and open spaces to place a blanket and enjoy the lovely outdoor setting. A newly renovated cafe is available for anything you might have forgotten, and the new cocktail station will take care of any forgotten libations. You can also take your picnic (and drinks) to your seat, which is great for the upper tiered seating that have beach-type chairs that are lower to the ground. Don’t pass up the free use of blankets even if it’s warm when the show starts because by the time intermission rolls around, it is often cool enough to need one.

Cal Shakes

If you didn’t have time to pack a picnic you can still grab food and drink at the cafe. Hot beverages and pastries are also available, and just like all the other food items, they can be brought back into the theater. Attire is super casual so dress according to the weather. This is the Bay Area after all so think closed toe shoes and layers, but don’t forget sunscreen and a hat if it’s hot. The better prepared you are, the more you’ll be able to enjoy the show!

Cal Shakes

Tip: Most performances run under three hours so there’s plenty of time to board the shuttle and head back to the Orinda BART station, but do monitor the time in case there are delays. (You don’t want to miss the last train!) If you do need to leave before the performance ends, ask a Cal Shakes employee to radio the shuttle driver and she’ll be glad to give you a ride back to BART.

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