Whether you’re a festival aficionado, a part-time raver or a newbie to the music scene, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of Coachella – and you probably have it on your bucket list.
With past headliners like Beyoncé, Eminem and Radiohead, and this year’s line-up including Tame Impala, Ariana Grande and Childish Gambino, the pre-Coachella FOMO hits us every year around this time. If you’re lucky enough to have a coveted wristband for 2019, or if the desert fiesta is in your five-year plan, these ultimate Coachella tips will help you survive and thrive during the best weekend of your life.
Pick a weekend
First up, you gotta choose a weekend, and both weekends have their benefits. The first weekend will be packed with surprises from set-lists and stage set ups to the hottest celebs wanting to be snapped by the paps, if that’s what you’re into.
I’m a Second-Weekend-Warrior™ and I’ll tell you why. As well as any first weekend technical kinks being ironed out, the second weekend festival-goers can learn from their predecessors’ mistakes in terms of the logistics of where to go and when, which smaller artists are worth seeing, and what food trucks are serving up the best bites (see tip #6 for that one.) Or, as our little friend from the Old El Paso taco ad said, why don’t we have both?
This is going to be in-tents
With your choice of weekend scribbled into your calendar (it should probably say ‘best three days of my life’), it’s time to gather your friends and figure out where to stay. Coachella offers camping passes (with and without a car space) and sleeping in a tent at the festival is definitely a part of the authentic Coachella experience.
It’ll set you back about $125USD for a camp pass that gets you a camping spot for as many people as you can fit, as well as your car, so it’s absolutely the best bang for your buck in terms of accommodation options. We’ll talk more about how to survive tent life further down the page.
Did someone say upgrade?
If you fancy yourself as a bit of a flashpacker, or if you’ve recently come into an unexpected windfall of cash, Lake Eldorado is the onsite teepee glamping set up A.K.A the tent city of dreams.
It’ll cost about $2500USD for two people in a teepee or $3300 for a four-person tent BUT that includes festival passes (worth $475 each), parking and your accommodation for the whole weekend, so it ends up being reasonably cost-effective. Lake Eldorado is an exclusive members-only area with all the luxuries, like flushing toilets, a free WiFi tent, charging stations, a general store and supermarket shuttles. Sounds like paradise!
Gimme that air-con
While desert camping is an awesome experience, some people do prefer a roof over their heads, air con and an actual mattress. There are plenty of hotels and apartments for rent in suburbs near the Empire Polo Club, like La Quinta, Palm Springs, Indio and Indian Wells.
You can book a shuttle pass in advance and that’ll get you to and from the festival from any of the main hotels in the area, as Uber will be on surge pricing the whole weekend.
If you’re driving, be sure to prepare your car and fellow road-trippers for Carpoolchella! Every year Coachella works with Global Inheritance, a non-profit focused on creativity and empowerment, to run a carpool competition for cars with four or more people to win lifetime passes to the festival.
Just make sure you’ve got at least three other car buddies, spruce up your vehicle with colours and patterns, make sure ‘CARPOOLCHELLA’ is easily visible on your car and you’ll be in to win the grand prize or loads of smaller goodies like VIP upgrades, merch vouchers and all access passes.
Get in my belly
Let’s talk about food! While festival food is famous for being sloppy, unhealthy and expensive, Coachella’s a whole other story. From cult-classic food trucks to all-American chains, vegan hot spots to the famous Tiki bar, the food and beverage scene is pretty much a festival in itself.
The full food line-up is yet to be announced, but it’ll include trucks scattered around the fields, plus the Indio Central Market which is home to 15 restaurant stalls, pop-up eateries and more. Don’t miss Backyard Bowls’ breakfast smoothie bowls, burgers from Cassell’s Hamburgers and ice cream tacos from Sweet Rolled Tacos. Yes, I just said ice cream tacos.
If you’re camping, you can save some dosh by being smart about the food and drink you bring in. If you’re over 21 you can have one case of beer cans or one box of wine per person, but no glass and no spirits are allowed. You can bring any food in without limits, and car camping spots can have one small propane cooker per spot provided you follow all the rules (found here). Cookers aren’t allowed in tent camping spots or Lake Eldorado.
A good Coachella food survival kit would be: Gatorade, coconut water, water bottles (non-metal if you want to take it into the festival), muesli bars, nuts, fruit, bread, sandwich fillings, and maybe bacon and eggs if you have a cooker. You’ll probably find that you’ll have breakfast at the tent, snacks during the day and find dinner from a food truck when you’ve got a music break.
There are also general stores in the camping grounds, so if you run out of any necessities you’ll have easy access to stock back up.
Camping survival guide
Let’s be real for a moment: camping with multiple people in small tents where morning temperatures reach the mid-30s can be… testing. Here are a couple of things that might save your friendship, and your sanity.
- A first aid kit with pain relief, bandages, electrolyte powder and Imodium
- Hand sanitiser
- Face wipes for dust
- A hammer for the tent pegs
- Zip ties for any miscellaneous breakages
- Sun cream
- A power strip, so you can charge multiple devices at the charging station
- A camping table and chairs
- A small blow-up paddling pool, perfect for keeping drinks and bodies cold, just top it up with ice from the general store
- USB-powered mini fans
- Insect repellent
The best shower of your life
The campground has free showers in various lots, some are 24 hours and some are open between 7am and 2pm, then again from 8pm to 2am. The latter are cleaner, but also have longer lines. I can’t stress enough how worthwhile it is to wait in the shower line when they first open at 7am after being cleaned, when you’ve just woken up in a 50° tent and have a thick layer of dust all over your body. I queued for an hour and a half for a five-minute rinse, but it was hands down the best shower of my life.
What can I bring to Coachella?
The festival itself does have pretty strict rules about what you can bring inside, but most of it is common sense. No professional cameras (any with detachable lenses), no drones, no drugs, no chairs, no metal or aluminium water bottles, no aerosol cans, no selfie sticks, no signs and no large blankets are allowed.
You CAN (and should) bring GoPros, empty non-metal water bottles (there are refill stations), portable battery chargers, CamelBaks, medium-sized backpacks, small blankets and beach towels, hats, bandanas and wet wipes.
It’s all about the route
Coachella is home to a main stage, an outdoor theatre and five tents with various artists and events on all day and night. To make the most of the weekend you really need to figure out who you want to see, and the best route to make that happen. This is where being a second-weekender comes in handy – get advice from some weekend one veterans who learned the hard way.
The famous Coachella ferris wheel
You can’t go to Coachella without riding Le Grande Wheel at least once, if only for the view of the insane crowds and festival grounds. Bonus points if you can do it at sunset for the best photo opp!
Pro tip: if you’re planning on flashing the festival-goers from the top of the wheel, or doing anything else *ahem* inappropriate (trust me, at Coachella anything goes), just know that people in the booths either side of you can see you quiiiite clearly.
Plan your meet-up spots
At a desert festival with over 100,000 people you just can’t rely on mobile phone signal to have your back. If you’re with a bunch of people, always have a couple of emergency meeting spots and times planned throughout the day and night between big acts. Be specific (“meet outside the taco truck” doesn’t help when there are ten different taco trucks) and make sure everyone writes the time and place on their hand, just in case they get into a situation where a stranger or security has to help them out.
Coachella is an epic place regardless of what you’re eating, drinking or smoking. Know the rules, be prepared for the consequences of your actions and don’t go overboard enough to hurt yourself or others, or forget the entire experience even happened. Do you know what’s less fun than waking up in a 50° tent? Doing that with a killer hangover.
The medical tents are all prepped for any type of injury or illness, and they’re there to help you feel better if you’re not doing great. Don’t be afraid to pay a visit if you or a friend need them, and be honest with the medics about any substances you’ve had throughout the night.
It’s not just about the music
The festival is so much more than the world’s biggest artists performing on massive stages – there are plenty of art installations, chill out spaces and events for you to check out too. From sunrise yoga and silent discos to DIY tie-dye stalls and art classes, there’s literally something for everyone. Events each year are announced in the festival guide and on the Coachella app.
The ultimate Coachella wardrobe
.One of the most talked-about aspects of Coachella is what everyone’s wearing, and it’s become THE place for celebs, influencers and your local fashionistas to show off their threads. You’ll see everything from boho to Soho, cowboy to space-inspired, 90s matching tracksuits to 70s hippie couture, or maybe even just full body-paint. Basically just do you, but make sure it’s with comfortable footwear.
Damn, that heat!
Be smart about sun and heat protection as soon as the festival kicks off. Take a hat, a non-metal water bottle, sunnies, sunblock and chapstick everywhere you go, and stay hydrated throughout the day. Expect temps of up to 35° during the day, hotter air in the tents, and lows of between 13 and 17 at night, which might require a light jacket if you’re out in the open. Heatstroke and sunstroke are real party-poopers so don’t underestimate the effect that the temperature can have on you, and again, use the medical tents if you need them
Lock it up
There are lockers available on site that you can pre-purchase for the three days. If you’re camping then it’s best to leave stuff at your campsite, but if you’re staying off site then a locker can be handy for holding snacks, chargers, jackets and anything else you don’t want to lug around the whole time. Costs are around $55 for three days for a medium locker, and you get a $10 deposit back from that when you return the key.
Take a security snap
Type your full name, address, tent lot and a friend’s number into your phone notes, screenshot it and set it as your background. You’ll be tempted to change it to a basic (no judgement, we all do it) photo of you and your bestie in front of the ferris wheel with the peace sign in the air, but we guarantee you’ll thank us if you lose your phone and someone actually returns it.
Be a good human
All in all, there are no rules for Coachella (except for, you know, the law). Be kind, have fun, soak up the good vibes, wear what you feel comfortable in, eat yummy food, make friends, capture memories, live in the moment and respect the earth while you do it. Keep safe, look after yourself and look after your fellow festival buddies. It will be one of the best weekends of your life, and you’ll remember it forever. Oh, and can we come?!
About the author:
Alexx is a Kiwi traveller obsessed with finding the ultimate things to see, do and eat in each place she visits. She’s a cheese addict, loves a travel planning spreadsheet, and is allergic to desk jobs. She’s about to take off on an epic 52-week, 52-country travel project, and you can follow her adventures at @findingalexx.