Renaissance Riding: Local Roads and Shakespeare Out West

I was pleasantly surprised a couple of years back when I wrote a travel piece for Rider  called “Chasing Shakespeare: An Elizabethan Tour of the American West.” I thought I was writing for a very small (maybe even solo) niche of touring riders who enjoy Shakespearean theater. As it turns out, reader reaction was enthusiastic and responsive to the idea of mixing bikes and the bard. It just goeth to show what we always suspected: Rider readers are multidimensional, fully-evolved Renaissance riders.

Well, I figured it is time to put a few more western theatrical gems on your bucket list. While the Oregon and Utah festivals featured in that original article remain the high-profile annual destinations for Elizabethan entertainment pilgrimages each summer in the West, there are many smaller local and regional theaters that deserve your consideration. Here is a sampling of a few other stages that will satisfy your desire for comedy, tragedy and history.

It is no coincidence that each of the theaters below resides in motorcycle-friendly cities that have sunny climates and access to some great rides. So strap on your helmet and secure your codpiece or lace up your corset, as we travel from the Old Pueblo in Arizona up the coast of Southern California in search of more riding and rhyming.


The Rogue Theater in Tucson is what a local theater should be – intimate, full of character and refined. Photos by the author.

Rogue Theater, Tucson, Arizona

The Venue: The Rogue is a great local theater in the heart of Tucson’s vibrant downtown arts and entertainment district. It is the smallest of the venues on this short list and holds the charm of intimacy with the actors. It is a short walk from the lively bars and restaurants on Tucson’s famed 4thAvenue so you can have some well-crafted street tacos and microbrews before watching a well-crafted tale.

What I Saw: My visit to the Rogue was for the tragedy of King Lear. The acting was top-notch—so much so that the actors carried the setting rather than elaborate sets and props. The director made the decision to stage the tale of royal desperation and distraction in a stark and clean setting and it worked perfectly. Check the Rogue’s website for upcoming performances.

Great Rides in the Area: When staying in Tucson, there are several tantalizing rides just outside the city. One is the up-and-back featuring the hairpins of Mount Lemmon. The 27-mile Sky Island Scenic Byway climbs from saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert to the tall pines in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Other great riding in the region is to the south of Tucson through the historic towns of Bisbee and Tombstone.


This beautiful spot near Saguaro Lake is a mere 25 miles from the Mesa Arts Center making for a great ride before a great performance.

Southwest Shakespeare Company, Mesa, Arizona

The Venue: The SSC’s Main Stage performances are at the Mesa Arts Center. The theater is a modern, visually appealing and comfortable facility that hosts plays throughout the year. The impressive theater is part of an arts and entertainment cluster that offers up a myriad of experiences in the visual and performing arts.

What I Saw: It can be challenging to cover any new ground with a performance of the oft-told tale of Romeo and Juliet. However, the SSC staged a great classic performance of the tragedy of the young lovers with a few nice, new elements. One of my favorite artistic choices was to have a garment draped on stage after each main character’s demise. It was a powerful moment at each death and a great visual reminder of the tragedy throughout the play. Consult the SCC website for future performances.

Great Rides in the Area: Resting on the east side of the Valley of the Sun, Mesa is a gateway to several outstanding rides into the lake and mountain country northeast of Phoenix. There are day rides to picturesque Saguaro and Roosevelt lakes in Tonto National Forest that will keep you entertained before evening Shakespearean performances. Like Tucson, the Phoenix area is best visited on motorcycle in the fall, winter and spring.


A visit to the Old Globe in San Diego is a tiny step back into Elizabethan England.

The Old Globe, San Diego, California

The Venue: Within San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park rests a fantastic little cluster of theaters. The Old Globe stages a range of plays throughout the year including a nice handful of Shakespearean performances. You will want to schedule at least a full day to see all that Balboa Park has to offer, including its automotive museum which includes an impressive motorcycle section.

What I Saw: The Old Globe’s open-air theater was the perfect place to take in the tragedy of Hamlet. The creative, moveable stage props and strong performances made for a spirited retelling of the plight of the Melancholy Dane. Find future performances at the Old Globe’s web presence.

Great Rides in the Area: California Routes 78 and 79 in the mountains around Julian can be combined into fun and scenic loop rides out of San Diego. Another great route east of the city involves Lyons Valley Road and Route 94. It doesn’t take long to get out of the city and into great riding.


The South Coast Repertory has a reputation for world-class Shakespearean performances.

South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, California

The Venue: The David Emmes/Martin Benson Theatre Center is a scintillating arts and entertainment facility in Costa Mesa. The theaters are impressive and the stage construction and design can be elaborate and creative.

What I Saw: Purists may scoff, but I enjoyed a fine production of Shakespeare in Lovepresented by the SCR.  The set was period-perfect and the acting was what you would expect from a theater drawing from the Los Angeles talent pool. The SCR stages a number of plays annually and the current lineup and future plays can be found on the organization’s website.

Great Rides in the Area: California’s Highway 1 is famous for a reason, and the theater’s Costa Mesa location makes for easy access to the iconic Pacific Coast ride in both the north and south directions. Palos Verdes Drive north of Costa Mesa is also an entertaining ride that hugs the coastline.

An added bonus to San Diego’s Balboa Park is the San Diego Automotive Museum which houses dozens of rare and vintage motorcycles.


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