Every April, music lovers make their pilgrimage over to Indio, California, to visit one of the world’s largest and most talked-about music festivals: Coachella. I attended Coachella's weekend one event and wanted to share some tips that are not only useful if you're planning to come down for weekend two, but, as Coachella stays pretty standard year to year, can be helpful in the years to come. If you’re planning to make the trek for the first time this year, you’ll want to consider how you get there, where you’ll stay, and how to maneuver the festival once you’re at the venue. Prepping for Coachella doesn't stop at checking off the larger to-dos on your list—some of the simplest tips can help you enjoy the experience to the fullest. Up ahead, we’ll walk through what to expect from Coachella, including what to bring, what to leave at home, and how to get around.
If you’re in the California area, the best way to get to Coachella is by car. I took a 2019 Chevy Blazer on my way to Coachella from Los Angeles, so my travel buddy and I would have plenty of room in the back to bring our (overpacked) bags, snacks, and a case of water. (You can’t bring water through the Coachella ticket gates, but I’d suggest keeping a pack in your room for staying hydrated before and after the festival.) The long-ish drive from L.A. was made so much more pleasant by taking a drive in this sporty SUV—it felt like a luxury ride and provided a totally seamless drive through the desert.
On our way over, we used the Chevy Blazer’s Apple Carplay to connect with directions and music that displayed directly on the car’s touchscreen dash, instead of having to fiddle around with a phone while on the road. We left Los Angeles around 9 p.m. on Thursday night to miss traffic on the way to Palm Desert, which took a little less than two and a half hours.
If you’re thinking of flying, Palm Springs has a small airport for mostly domestic flights that tend to be a little pricier than LAX options. On the airport's site, you can see a list of airlines and destinations that it serves. LAX is pretty much the standard for finding your way over to Palm Desert, particularly if you’re visiting internationally. Valley Music Travel offers an LAX airport shuttle pass for $75 that runs from the airport to a list of popular hotels in Palm Desert. It also offers an Any Line shuttle pass that will get you to and from a list of hotels to Coachella grounds for $80, which covers all three days and can save you on calling for rides. Additionally, there are shuttle passes to further cities, like San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose, available on Bus.com for one-way tickets priced at $75.
A portable charger is a tech necessity for the festival.
Accommodations at Coachella fall into two categories: camping onsite at the festival grounds or finding accommodations off-site.
Camping will save you from both pricey hotel options and the price of traveling to and from the festival on surge-priced ride-shares. There are a few different camping options. The most popular is car camping, which costs $125. This year Coachella is also offering “preferred” car camping that will situate you closer to the venue entrance for $325. Showers and restrooms, Wi-Fi, food and drink vendors, and refillable water stations are available onsite. Tent camping is also an option for $125. For something between camping and a hotel, Coachella offers Lake Eldorado, lakeside tent camping that has more spacious accommodations. Price points for Lake Eldorado vary depending on how many are in your group and what kind of tickets you opt for.
Most hotel options are available closer to the Palm Springs area. We stayed at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa located in Palm Desert, a four-star hotel situated about 20 minutes from the festival grounds. For a trendy option, Ace Hotel Palm Springs is a popular boutique hotel with beautiful grounds.
Save yourself the pain of using hotel shampoo and conditioner—bring your own travel kit.
Keep a surplus of snacks and drinks in your room to save on pricey food at the venue.
On the Grounds
Fair warning: Getting to the festival grounds from the drop-off locations is still a trek. There are motorized bikes offering rides to and from lots for $10 a person—the prices are steep but worth it on the way back after a day of standing. Bikers don’t accept cards, so have a little cash on you.
Once you’re at the festival, there are two main paths to follow, and for 2019’s festival, these were color-coded as yellow and green. The yellow path leads to and from the VIP area that also passes through Uber’s pickup lot. The green path leads to general admission and also stops through Lot 13, the friends and family pickup and drop-off point, which will give you access to Lyft. Day parking is also offered for free on the grounds, just be sure to move your car by 2 a.m. or risk getting towed.
There are a couple general stores on-site that provide the basics (medicine, toiletries) if you forget any necessities. Wi-Fi is available at the venue in select spots, along with charging stations—just be sure to bring your own cable.
Highly recommended is a beach towel or blanket you can sit on while eating, as table space is scarce, or while waiting between acts.
True to its desert climate, Coachella runs very hot during the day and cold at night. We had a couple of festival-goers ask if we had any hair ties on us, so have a couple stashed in your bag.
Don't forget sunscreen for both face and body. This Supergoop set comes with the brand's Unseen Sunscreen, a clear, matte product that doesn't leave a white cast. Also included is its Defense Refresh Setting Mist that can be reapplied over your makeup for all-day sun protection.
Food and Drink
Unsurprisingly, food is heavily marked up at Coachella—think amusement park prices. A variety of foods like burgers, pizza, and poke bowls are available on grounds. Vegetarian options are plentiful, and while vegan and gluten-free options do exist, take a glance at the stand's menu before waiting in line. Multiple bars are also located on grounds, along with ID checkpoints you’ll have to stop at every day to grab a new wristband. Beer, wine, and cocktails start at a minimum of $12, and bottled water is being sold at most stands for $2. VIP food and drinks are located to the left of the main stage and supply pretty much the same range of food offered in the GA area. You’ll need to swipe your wristband to get into the VIP area, which also provides additional standing room to see the main stage.
Festival grounds have free refillable water areas, so bringing your own water bottle can save you some cash and cut down on using plastic water bottles.
Packing and Dressing
Style advice aside, there are a few points of practicality you may want to consider when outfit planning. Flat shoes, especially ones that are closed toe, are highly recommended, again especially when exiting the grounds. Opt for materials that are easy to clean, like leather, as the festival grounds will leave your shoes coated in dust. Bring a pack of bandages with you just in case (especially if you’re wearing new shoes), as there will be a ton of standing and walking. Temperatures drop at night, so bring a jacket or sweater for the evenings. The grounds offer locker reservations for the weekend at $55 to store your belongings, and as steep as that sounds, it’s worth a reservation if you’re planning to be on the grounds all day.
Leave the designer sunglasses at home. Instead, bring a pair that you can toss in your bag and wouldn't be heartbroken to lose.
Avoid bringing shoulder bags to the festival, which will feel heavy by the end of the night. Instead, opt for a fanny pack or backpack and try to keep them as light as you can.
A more obscure but necessary item: a bandana, or even a small silk scarf or handkerchief, to cover your mouth when walking back to your car at night, as dust and dirt spreads easily, especially as winds pick up in the evenings.