Coachella is: all the crowds, all the music and all the heat. Every April thousands of festival lovers take over the Palm Springs area. One of my favourite ways to kick off a summer of festivals is to jet down to Coachella for 2.5 days of sun, fun, stellar music, crazy art and big, beautiful crowds. Coachella is the first big American music festival of the summer season and usually harkens the first hot hot hot weekends in the Coachella Valley, located about three hours east of Los Angeles and 45 minutes from my one of my favourite US Sun destinations: Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.
Located in Indio, California the 17 year-old music festival is one of the best organized, greenest and cleanest festivals I’ve attended. The grounds are generally immaculate thanks to the festival’s posh hosts, the Empire Polo Club. Cochella’s grass is shorn like a navy boy’s haircut and the palm trees perfectly hug the funktastic art installations and five plus music stages.
With temperature soaring to the high 30s and early 40 degree Celsius range plus tens of thousands of people, Coachella demands respect. It’s easy to loose your friends and bank account to the mega ebbing and flowing crowds and overpriced booze gardens due to the beating sun. I was lucky enough to attend Coachella three times in the past few years (2009, 2010, 2012). Each time was both beautiful (Lykke Li sunset set of 2009) and mind-boggling (I’m looking at you Tupac hologram) and each time my ‘Chella posse grew. I attended the fest with one other person, with three others and then with five others. I wouldn’t recommend going with any larger of a group because then the potential for war-like logistics and compromise spats grows exponentially.
I love Coachella and really want you do have a great time – whether you want to sway slowly to TV on the Radio and dagger to Major Lazer (just kidding, kind of), there are so many bands to see and sunny hangs with friends to be had. Below you’ll find my guide to a having a fantastic and kinda frugal time at Coachella. *Caveat: I’m not a Coachella camper, this guide is aimed at people is staying off-site.*
For the love of Jeebus please pack sunscreen, a hat and other cancer or heat-stroke preventing accoutrements and drink water. Lots of water! Also, get creative on how to stay cool. Meet up at the DoLab to be sprayed by Mad Max hippies regularly, plan shade breaks, dance on the shady edges of the tent-covered stages. Bring a light breezy sarong to either sit on or cover up with. Or be a ninja: each night rinse wash clothes in water and freeze them folded in quarters. The next day, when you leave for the festival, put them in ziplock bags wrapped in your spare sarong/tee-shirt/thin layer to keep them as cool as possible. Stick them in your purse or backpack. When you get to the festival and park so far far away, put the frozen washcloths on your head, forehead or neck. It’s like your own little air-con clothe for about 20 minutes. Then once they’re cool, pop them into your ziplock bag and rinse & re-use for the day. For real, this battles the 42C heat big time.
Scrimp on during-Coachella accommodation
Here’s some #Realtalk: if you are remotely keen music fan and don’t sleep until 3:00 p.m. each day, you won’t spend that much time at your hotel or vacation rental during Coachella. Festival days are long and involve a lot of walking, standing and dancing. There’s also some sitting, a lot of sweating and a tiny bit of boozing. Basically you sleep, shower and maybe eat one meal at your hotel/vacation rental and then head to Coachella, hopefully not too late each day (our average was between 2:00-4:00 p.m. depending on the band sets of the day). So do yourself a favour and don’t spend all your money on the honeymoon suite during Coachella. Save your funds for the two day of chilltox after Coachella (see below). We used AirBnB and VRBO to stay in La Quinta and Palm Springs to stay somewhere where we basically have a cooling pool dip and prepare a meal before heading to the festival.
Have a hearty brunch or lunch around noon. My friends and I found it hard to eat in the oppressive sun, so we’d nosh up around 11, which left some good pool, nap, getting ready time before we left for the festival each day. My fuel up suggestion: breakfast tacos, mimosas and fruit (see note about appointing a designated driver below) or a big, buxom salad that won’t give you the bloat. Pack some nuts or trail mix in your bag for day time snacks. You’ll likely get hungry after sunset, once it starts to cool off so be sure to nab some great food from the many delicious vendors. Bring an empty plastic water bottle – you can refill it throughout the grounds.
Park far away
There are two reasons for this: 1) it’s easier to get out of festival traffic at the end of the night if you’re parked in the furthest parking lots. 2) It’s easier to have a tailgate party – i.e. have a couple of beers before you head in to get your giggle on and avoid expensive drinks noted above.
Plot your days
There are SO MANY bands that play Coachella. The big bands, the little bands, the medium every year bands. If you have the time to plot out who you HAVE to see, who you WANT to see and who you’re ‘MEH’ about then it really helps everyone figure out your days. Stick to the buddy system – if you want to veer off on your own, suss out a rendezvous point for the whole weekend, so that you can meet there whenever you separate. Also, before you head to the festival figure out a designated driver. We didn’t end up drinking that much during any of my three Coachellas, but it was always useful to know that a sober person was driving home, just in case you decided to spend $12 on few watery drinks or sweaty beer.
Dance dance dance
Please dance. Dance crazy, dance slow, just dance. There’s nothing worse than watching your favourite band surrounded by zombies. There is so much room to dance, people. And if you don’t dance, do throw judgey looks at the people who are tearing a strip into the polo lawn next to, behind or in front of you.
Book an après Coachella chilltox
I CANNOT stress how fun this is. Each year I’ve attended Coachella, we’ve checked out of our affordable accommodation on the Monday after and spent two days/nights at an even radder location like the The Saguaro or the Ace Hotel and Swim Club just chilling on the pool patio, getting spa treatments, riding bikes around town, checking out the local desert modern architecture and smiling. There’s something super rad and bonding hanging with your besties at kinda-swank hotel so you can all compare notes and relive your avourite Coachella moments.
Want more Coachella tips? Check out what my blogger bud The Pretty Secrets suggests what to pack for Coachella.
Have you been to Coachella? How do you maximize your summer festival fun?