The Rady Shell San Diego at Jacobs Park, in all its majesty, represents another crucial step in the maturation of San Diego from a sleepy seaside resort to a major world city. With an equally worthy symphony already in place, the stage stands ready to become a destination for tourists and locals alike any day of the week, any time of the year.
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Known colloquially as ‘The Shell,’ the newest addition to San Diego’s waterfront opened its doors to a new season in August 2021. The San Diego Symphony had performed in the same location—on Embarcadero Park South, behind the Convention Center—for years, but the venue had always lacked a certain elegance. The new structure, a substantial investment of largely private money, promises to delight in ways the old place never could.
The Rady Shell San Diego – Explore The Site
To begin, I cannot say enough wonderful things about this venue, especially compared to the muddy space its previous incarnation often became. The Rady Shell offers a dynamic, unique vision along the waterfront of San Diego covering more than half of South Embarcadero Park, making excellent use of every part of it.
Layout of The Shell
Once inside, there is a large pavilion given over to outdoor dining to the left, with an open space around the seating bowl filled with walk-up carts selling merchandise, food, and drinks among several trees. There is a festival, park-like atmosphere throughout the concourse that makes it a joy for everyone.
Two sweeping staircases frame the rear entrance and are surrounded by turf on each side, which curves up the side of the hill and continues throughout the bowl. Climbing these stairs, visitors receive a view that frequently takes one’s breath away. Below a wide turf lawn for blankets—complete, as everywhere in San Diego, with beverage carts and places for larger parties—red stadium seats and table sets are arranged nearly to the foot of the stage, all set along gentle terraces that provide excellent viewing for all patrons. Approximately 3,500 people can enjoy the show from here, with many others in the water or on the sidewalks outside.
There are two main sections at the Shell, the seats and dining tables from where you can watch the show. In the back, you will find the concession stands, more seating, and restrooms. Entering from the roadside, there are two major entrances. Here, patrons present tickets and undergo security screenings before entering the Shell. The process is quick and convenient, utilizing the same knowledgeable security staff seen throughout the city.
Seating at The Shell
The best way to approach the stage is from the back, in the area with the walk-up carts. The land leads up a slope towards the back over the restrooms. (This should cheer anyone who remembers the portable toilets of previous years.)
Spaced along the sides of the bowl are light and speaker towers, and the stage is flanked by two large screens that either show video components of a show, or rotate among the various performers of an evening.
On some summer nights, the show will begin approximately at sunset. The lights will dim in time with the darkening sky, a feature that made me almost forget I was at an outdoor venue. The sound and lights are high quality. You will have a great experience at any seat at the Rady Shell. Patrons can see and hear everything from anywhere in the bowl.
Views from Jacob’s Park
To the left, of course, lies San Diego Bay, with Coronado visible in the distance, where several boat owners anchor to listen to concerts. To the right, the magnificent cityscape overlooks the place, providing the perfect backdrop to an evening performance.
As a final nice touch, when the stage falls silent, the Rady Shell becomes a city park open to the public. There are benches along the waterfront that remain open at all hours, and it is not uncommon for passersby to enjoy the music, if not the stage, from there during a concert.
However, starting in Spring 2023, park visitors can no longer bring any chairs, carts, and other bulky things on the walkway around the Embarcadero during concert times. This is an order from the Fire Marshall to keep people safe in case of an evacuation of the area. I can’t say I disagree. During some of the popular concerts, the walkway was packed with spectators, chairs, carts, and even tables and walking through was almost impossible. If you are looking to enjoy a concert at the Rady Shell “for free”, you can check the open rehearsal schedule and see the symphony practice – for free!
Shows at the Rady Shell
Like any good venue, the Shell thrives on its sheer variety of entertainment options. This is not a stuffy, elitist orchestra by any means. Alongside Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and Mozart, one can find the likes of Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and even modern pop culture films and rock concerts. Anyone who has never considered the symphony for a night out would do well to check their listings to experience something fresh and world-class.
The variety and number of shows this season is fantastic. You can attend concerts at The Shell several times a week. In fact, since the season began, I have attended four shows. I also purchased tickets to a fifth, with no intention of slowing down.
Due to ongoing renovation work at the Symphony’s primary home on B Street, the use of the Rady Shell has shifted into overdrive. Instead of moving indoors during the winter of 2021/2022, the Shell will continue hosting events throughout May. Thanks largely to our beautiful climate, we get even more opportunities to enjoy this elegant space. Check for tickets and show schedules here>>
Restaurants at the Rady Shell San Diego
Around the dining area, small restaurants and kiosks offer to-go food items, grab-and-go drinks, and even full meals provided by celebrity chef Richard Blais. You can sit under string lights, listen to soft music playing, and enjoy your dinner before the show. Or how about a picnic? If you prefer to stay at your seat, your food can be delivered to tables in the specialty seating areas of the Shell. Visitors can also pre-oder food before a show to make dining even easier.
The layout lends itself well to browsing the various stalls and picking up items. Visitors can order through a mobile ordering system and receive the food delivered to individual seats. The app feels awkward and unfriendly at first glance, but it is quite usable. And, as a note, the venue is entirely cashless, so plan accordingly.
These concessions can leave something to be desired. The food is excellent with an exceptional range. However, it tends to run on the more expensive side, with sandwiches and tacos costing close to twenty dollars a plate. Alcoholic drinks will likewise approach ballpark prices.
A complaint is that visitors cannot bring food or drink (even water) into the venue, although this is hardly surprising. The best option for a night out maybe to dine somewhere in the city beforehand if expenses are an issue. Dozens of restaurants are a brief walk from the venue, featuring all sorts of cuisines.
The location lends itself well to public transportation. The San Diego Trolley, with stations at either Gaslamp or Convention Center on both the blue and green lines, offers convenient access to the waterfront with a quick walk over or around the Convention Center (remember, those steps can be tough, but you can also use the elevator).
There is parking available, although it can be expensive. It may be more convenient to park in the Gaslamp district and walk over. The Shell provides a small lot, as well as valet services, There is also space in the garage under the Convention Center. Ride-sharing platforms also have a convenient drop-off area right at the entrance for those who prefer that mode of travel.
If you get the chance, take in a show: With so many options—and with such frequency—there is no doubt something of interest coming soon. The venue is excellent, the sound and video quality phenomenal, and the unique location and arrangement of the Rady Shell will keep it locked in your memory forever. Take the trolley or walk, make sure to go early to explore all the site has to offer, and add a nearby restaurant to round out the evening.
Last Updated on July 25, 2023 by Maria Haase