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Inside San Diego Symphony’s New $85 Million Outdoor Music Venue

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park is the first permanent bayside concert venue operated by a symphony orchestra in the nation
Jenna Selby

By Erica Nichols

This isn’t your typical shell to wash ashore in San Diego. It’s a little tougher, made of steel, and a little bigger—57 feet high and 92 feet wide. But much like the pearl scallops you might find along the water, this shell protects something precious within. In this case, it’s music.

San Diego Symphony’s impressive outdoor venue broke ground in 2019 and, like many things in 2020, was delayed by the pandemic. But CEO Martha Gilmer says that ideas for the venue go back almost 17 years and have been in development for the nearly seven years she’s been with the symphony. “How we’ll create those experiences for people and what that will mean to them—it’s very moving to me; very emotional,” she says.Greg Mueller, owner of local architecture firm Tucker Sadler, was the principal designer on the project. Its shape is a pleasing curve tightly stretched around a steel frame, but what’s most captivating about this new icon is how it sounds.

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park has two loudspeaker systems at play: The first, by L-Acoustics, is situated above the stage and on six towers placed at specific angles to direct the music to every section of the audience.

The second, by Meyer Sound, is installed above and around the stage to allow the musicians to hear themselves as they perform. The state-of-the-art microphones, speakers, and digital processing of both systems accurately replicate the sound of an indoor acoustic concert.

It’s unlike any other outdoor music venue in the country, says Gilmer, noting its unique location right beside the water and the sound quality that she says puts The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park on par with iconic symphony orchestra venues like Chicago’s Ravinia, Boston’s Tanglewood, and the Hollywood Bowl. “That’s where we want to place ourselves,” she says. “We think San Diego deserves that.”

Though this sweet shell by the seashore has yet to welcome audience members, it’s ready to make history in its new home. “Everything we’re now imprinting on this venue will be part of its history,” Gilmer says. “A shell is a home. The living being inside our shell is the creation of music, the audience, and all the memories that will be made there.

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park

200 Marina Park Way, South Embarcadero 

The Shell

Jenna Selby

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