Coachella Music Festival Guide – A step by step guide to living your best life at Coachella.
Ah, it’s that time of the year again. Coachella time! Everyone’s favorite fashion show of a music festival. With a stellar line up, lush grassy venue, clean modern facilities, delicious food for every diet, and pretty people galore, it’s no surprise Coachella is one of the most popular music festivals in the world. After attending the show for over 10 years, I’ve collected all the tips and tricks to guarantee the best time possible, whether camping, glamping, or VIPing.
Check out the scoop below, in this step by step guide to living your best life at Coachella Music Festival.
STEP 1 – PURCHASE TICKETS
Official Coachella Website – You know the drill. Set the alarm for release date, prepare to refresh computer screen every minute, and pray you get through checkout process.
Second hand dealer websites like StubHub – Prepare for ridiculous mark ups from face value. Pro Tip: Prices will drop the closer it gets to the event.
Facebook Groups – Because Coachella tickets go on sale so far in advance before the actual concert, many people end up not being able to go, and will be selling their tickets for face value.
Craigslist – This would be my first choice for finding a ticket. Craigslist has loads of listings selling Coachella tickets for face value. The closer the concert date, the cheaper the price. The ticket is a physical wristband, and can be easily verified online, so there is no need to be scared of purchasing tickets from randoms on the internet. Obviously, never send money before receiving the ticket. In person transactions only! Pro Tip: Score super cheap wristbands from sellers on Craigslist for the second and/or third day of the festival. Some people are unable stay the entire weekend, so they leave their wristband loose enough to slip off and sell to someone.
Sneaking in: The Ticket is a wristband that is required to be scanned-in at multiple check points to enter the concert. It has become increasingly harder, to near impossible, to sneak in as the concert has become larger and larger. I would not recommend wasting your time even trying.
VIP OR GENERAL ADDMISSION?
VIP tickets do not get you closer to any stage, they simply grant access to a VIP bar, restroom area, and special parking lot. **However, if you are planning on driving to the festival each day – which I highly suggest you do NOT – the VIP parking may be worth the extra price. See getting to festival below for the lowdown on parking, or lack thereof. Not driving? Skip the VIP pass, and use your hard earned money for what really matters, like outfits! (check out my full Coachella style guide here)
WEEKEND ONE OR WEEKEND TWO?
While every year is different, there are somewhat distinct crowds drawn to each weekend – with pros and cons for each. I know it’s usually unrealistic for multiple reasons, but if at all possible, I highly recommend attending both weekends. I was only able to do this one year, and it was beyond EPIC!
- Weekend 1:
Many festival goers enjoy the first weekend because the grass is greener (yes, literally), as it hasn’t been trampled by thousands of attendees yet. You’ll hear surprise guest sets first, and you’ll get a chance to see each art installation and performances before they are blasted all over the social feeds. The first weekend crowd is typically a bit more rambunctious, and can often feel more crowded – even though both weekends are always sold out. Most off-site parties, thrown by brands, take place on weekend one. However, this seems to be changing more and more each year, with more parties showing up for weekend two as well.
- Weekend 2:
Weekend 2 has a slightly more chill vibe than the first weekend; less celebrities, fewer off-site parties, and an overall more “love for the music” feel. With every performance highly reported on from weekend one, you will have an easier time planning your “must see” set list. Plus, each artist will have had time to perfect their acts, working out any kinks that may have presented themselves weekend one. Anything that would have been an issue during the festival at the first weekend will be sorted by the time weekend two rolls around. Except traffic and parking, these issues seem to always make an appearance regardless of the weekend.
STEP 2 – RESERVE A LOCKER
Now that you have a ticket, reserve a locker ASAP! This is one of the best things you can do for yourself to help you fully enjoy the festival! Having a locker allows you to store everything you bring (see list below for what you should bring) until you need it. No one likes to jam out while lugging around a bunch of stuff not needed at that particular moment, like a jacket or sunscreen which will eventually need to be reapplied.
Lockers sold out? No need to fret, just opt for a mini backpack and a jacket that can be tied around your waist. For all things outfit related, check out my Coachella Style Guide here!
STEP 3 – SECURE TRAVEL TO INDIO
There are actually quite a few options for airports to fly into to get you near Indio, California. Palm Springs airport is the closest, but also the most expensive. When looking for flights, check out Los Angeles, San Diego, Ontario, Long Beach, Burbank or John Wayne (Santa Ana) aiports to find the best deals.
Distance from each airport to Indio, and ESTIMATED driving time. Pro tip: Driving times can vary widely depending on the traffic. Plan to drive at off peak hours!!:
Palm Springs (PSP) – 25 Miles, 33mins
Los Angeles Airport (LAX) – 145 miles, 1 hour 40 mins
San Diego Airport (SAN) – 164 miles, 2 hours 35 mins
John Wayne Airport (SNA) – 116 miles, 2 hours
Long Beach Airport (LGB) – 132 miles, 2 hours 20 mins
Burbank Airport (BUR) – 144 miles, 2 hours 40 mins
Ontario Airport (ONT) – 92 miles, 1 hour 30 mins
STEP 4 – BOOK ACCOMMODATION
Finding a place to rest your head during Coachella will most likely be your biggest expense of the weekend. Luckily the increase in home sharing apps, like Airbnb and VBRO, provides a lot more accommodation options. Deals can be found if you’re lucky, and book early.
My top three hotel recommendations:
Onsite – Check out a guide to onsite camping here.
Offsite – Check out a guide to offsite camping here.
***Pro Tip: There is a truck stop complete with full bathrooms you can rent, located 2.8 miles from the Coachella festival grounds. Each bathroom is fairly large – we had 4 girls getting ready in one without feeling cramped. These single lockable rooms are complete with a shower, changing area, towels, a wall mounted hair dryer, toiletries, electrical outlets, full mirror, and bright lighting. The years I camped, we would get up early, go shower and get ready at the truck stop.
TA Coachella Truck Stop
46155 Dillon Rd
- Rental Property, like Airbnb/VBRO
Pro Tip: Try to get a rental within 6/7 miles of the Polo Fields, so you can rent a bike for the weekend, and bike to and from the festival each day! Every year we had this option it was a great success! This would be the winner in my book for best accommodation choice.
Still not sure a home share app, like airbnb, is for you? Check out this article comparing hotels to Airbnb, to help you figure out which option is best for you.
*** PRO TIP: Stock whatever place you’ve decided to call home for the festival, immediately upon arrival, with loads of water and snacks from a local grocery store. Even if you don’t par take in “extra activities” like drinking and such, being in the sun all day and dancing through the night will take a toll on your body. Hydrate, and don’t forget to eat (unless on purpose- haha jk)!!
STEP 5 – ARRANGE TRANSPORTATION TO AND FROM THE FESTIVAL
In order of best to worst choice of festival transportation:
Bike – Skip the abysmal traffic and parking situation that happens every year at Coachella by biking to the festival. You will also get to skip the long walks between the parking/drop-off lots and the festival entrance because bikes are allowed to be ridden and locked up directly next to the entry point.
Hitchhike – Get to the main road leading up to the Polo Fields, stick out your thumb or perhaps bit of leg, to hitch a ride with other festival goers. Ditch out of the car once you get to the congested area of the parking situation that takes you in circles around the venue for sometimes hours. Walk to entry gate from there.
Shuttle – Shuttle passes must be purchased in advance, and can be found for sell all places Coachella tickets are sold.
Ride Share – Ride sharing apps, such as UBER and Lyft, are a great option for transportation to and from the festival because they have their own drop off location near the festival entry. Prepare for longer than usual wait times and surge pricing.
Drive – The worst festival transportation option! There is a ton of traffic heading to the festival within Indio, compounded by full parking lots, and poor parking staff communication. We were given the runaround by parking staff in multiple lots that were full. No one seemed to know what parking areas had open spaces or how to get to them. I even had some friends that drove in circles around the festival, in bumper to bumper traffic, for 3 hours before without ever being about to find a parking spot.
**PRO TIP: Once you arrive, regardless of method of transportation, put a note in your phone, make a mental note, AND take a photo of what lot you are meant to go back to when you leave the festival. Different lots around the festival are designated for specific modes of transport. When the festival lets out each night, it will be dark with mobs of people and dust. There are signs and lights pointing to different lots, but they won’t help, if you don’t know what lot you are meant to go to. This may seem obviously but you will be amazed at how many lost tired stragglers are wondering aimlessly searching for their ride.
STEP 6 – OUTFIT PLAN AND PACK
Day pack list:
What you need to bring with you in to the festival, and why you need it
- Sarong/light blanket – for lounging on during more mellow sets or taking a chill moment in the shade of one of the art installations
- Light jacket + leggings – The weather goes from extreme heat to pretty darn chilly. You will need some extra clothes to slip on once the sun goes down
- Sunglasses – Bright sun all day
- Chapstick – The desert air is extremely dry.
- Sunscreen – You will want to reapply to combat the strong sun and high temperatures
- Dust mask/Bandana (especially if biking!) – There is often high winds in the evening that pick up the dust from the desert.
- Goggles (especially if biking) – There is often high winds in the desert that pick up dust, and can make it hard to see without sand blowing in your eyes.
- Headlamp (especially if biking) – Coachella has gotten better with lighting parking lots and walk ways, but a headlamp is still useful, especially if riding home in the dark.
- Mini deodorant – High temperatures and all day dancing can lead to some stinky situations.
- Empty water bottle – There are water fill stations sprinkled around the festival grounds. Stay Hydrated!
- Cash – Every food/merch stand takes cards now, and there are atms available, but cash is much easier and faster when trying to grab a bite/drink in between shows.
- Phone Charger – there are phone charging stations throughout the venue to charge your phones. *Pro Tip– Keep your phone on airplane mode when not using it for calls or texts. Because the phone networks get congested, your phone continuously trying to connect to a poor network will quickly drain your battery.
- Soft flasks – for sneaking in alcohol.
** Stash all of this stuff in the locker, you RESERVED, until needed.
STEP 7 – RSVP TO OFFSITE PARTIES
Yes, all the “cool” kids go, but it’s really a bunch of people standing around being hot, temperature wise and looking wise, while listening to a dj. There’s usually a pool, but no one goes in it because they don’t want to ruin their cool festival hair and makeup. Honestly, if you’re going to stand around in the heat during midday, you might as well be at the festival listening to the live music you paid hefty prices for.
However, if you’re still interested in offsite parties, TravelGrom.com has a great list here. Be sure to RSVP to any parties you’re interested in asap. Alternatively, another way of potentially scoring a spot at a party, is staying at the hotel where the party is being held. Inquire at the hotel before booking to check if party entrance is included in your stay.
One thing is certain, if you’re not on the list, you’re not getting in. So don’t waste your time.
Pro Tip: Being on “the list” doesn’t guarantee entrance to the party. Arrive early!
STEP 8 – LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE INSIDE THE FESTIVAL
Don’t lose your Friend(s):
Pick a meeting spot in case (when) you get separated from your friend(s) -Something super easy to find, like one of the giant art structures. However, make it specific, like under the nose of the giant elephant. The cell towers get jammed during the festival and it may be hard to reach them via phone. Set an amount of time if you get separated before you head to the meeting spot, or use the meeting point to link up before a specific show.
When you send a text message, add the time you are sending it to the end of the message. There can be major delays with text messages going through, and it gets confusing when you say “I’m at the main stage” but the message is received 20 mins later and you have already moved to the Sahara tent.
Offline apps that work like friend finder/chat, without a network, can be useful. While these are a new tool for keeping in touch, the apps have mixed reviews of consistently working. I personally always use the meeting spot as a backup, no matter what.
Since you are looking super-hot in your amazing festival garb, inspired by this post, you might want to get photographed by a major online fashion site. All the major players will have photographers on the hunt for cool street style festival shots. The best place to be seen for a photo is by the ferris wheel and the main stage. Anytime from 3 to sun down, with golden hour being the prime time.
Oh yeah, this is a music festival right? Grab the set time sheet, mark the bands you want to see for sure, but leave room for bands you don’t know. Coachella overlaps sets, which is awesome and incredibly annoying at the same time. However, that means there’s always multiple things on to enjoy. If you’re not vibing with a show you’re at, move on little music head, and test out some new bands. This is where attending both weekends comes in super clutch. It gives you so many more opportunities to see sets you would have otherwise missed.
Check out Coachella 2018 Spotify playlist to test drive some up and coming bands performing:
**Pro Tip: Remember that sarong/light scarf I told you to bring? It will come in handy whenever the mood gets more mellow. You will see lots of people chilling on the grass, either in between sets, or during more chill performances. The grass can get muddy and wet, so it’s always nice to have some sort of light blanket to lie on. Some of my best Coachella memories are of being laid out on a blanket, towards the back of the main stage listening to Portishead, with the stars overhead.
There are loads of modern and clean facilities at this festival. No need to worry about the bathroom situation anymore!
Alcohol is served is designated fenced off areas. Unfortunately, Coachella dose not allow you to take alcohol outside these areas. That means no enjoying a cold one while seeing a band, and exactly the reason I recommend pre partying and/or sneaking in alcohol, if you want to drink during the festival. Sitting in the fenced off bar area in the corner of the field, trying to get a buzz from the weakest, yet most expensive, red bull vodka you have ever had, is no fun.
However, if you still need a fix from one of the in venue bars, you will need to get a verified 21+ wristband from one of the many age checking booths around the concert. I recommend the ones along the paths leading up to the entrance to the festival, the lines tend to be shorter. **For those wanting to use a fake id, the screeners do use scanners to verify the id is real, but don’t seem to be looking that closely if the person in the id is really you. However, this depends on the person checking, and how you look. Use your best judgement.
There is plenty of delicious food available for purchase at Coachella with many vendors accommodating nearly every type of diet. Everyone will be able to find something to eat the they fancy. Well, unless you’re broke. Expect event food pricing – $7 slices of pizza and $12 burritos range. **I find it’s always a good plan to eat before entering the venue, even if you plan on eating there as well. The Ralph’s grocery store, located at 49908 Jefferson St, Indio, CA 92201, near the polo fields makes amazingly delicious, huge, and cheap sandwiches at their deli. These sandwiches have been a staple Coachella pre-meal for my friends and I for many years. Yum!