The Ultimate Coachella Guide
As written by someone who went in 2017.
Coachella 2020 update: Due to growing concerns over a COVID-19 outbreak Coachella has been cancelled this year. Its organisers have every intention to return in 2021 from 9-11 April and 16-18 April. Stagecoach is returning on 23-25 April.
If this is your first ever time heading to Coachella, (especially if you're heading in from overseas), you've no doubt got a lot of questions.
And here at Finder, we decided to do what we do best, find your questions and answer them.
Here is any question you've ever had about Coachella written by someone who went in 2017, including a checklist of must-bring items. And if there is a question we haven't answered, just ask us in the comments.
What would you like to know about Coachella?
Which weekend is better?
That's a tough one. Both have their good and bad points. I went during the second weekend, and I was really pleased with my choice. Here is my thought process:
Desert weather is tricky. It’s super hot during the day and freezing at night. I opted for the second weekend so the weather would warm up slightly more. I was hoping the evenings wouldn’t be as cold. This plan worked out pretty well. The first weekend saw the evening temperatures hover around 13 or 14 degrees, but the second weekend was a much more comfortable 16 or 17 during the evening. Both weekends reached about 40 during the day, so there’s no avoiding that.
Weekend two was also great because all the kinks and failings were ironed out. Apparently during the first weekend, Radiohead had terrible sound-system issues. But when I saw them on weekend two, they’d fixed it all and played an amazing set.
However, weekend one is usually when all the special guests come out on stage with the main acts. During weekend one, Pharrell came out with Hans Zimmer, Migos and Drake performed with Future and Kendrick Lamar brought out Travis Scott. Anyone going on weekend two missed out on this excitement.
It comes down to this. If you want slightly more comfortable temperatures and a smoother experience, then pick weekend two. If you don’t mind dealing with some sound and organisational issues because you really want to see some special guests, then go with weekend one.
How does the ticket come? Is it a paper ticket or just a wristband?
The only piece you really need is your wristband. I received a cute little box that had my wristband, an instruction list, a small book with a map and info about stages and food. There were also some fun puzzles and stuff. This should be mailed to you or will be available to pick up at your accommodation.
I would also advise bringing in the small book with the map. Most of the info you need is on the app, but if your phone dies, you’ll be glad you brought the book.
On the day of the festival, download the Coachella app and register the number on your wristband with the app. This sounds confusing, but you will receive very clear and easy-to-follow instructions with your wristband. Once you've done this, put your wristband on securely. DO NOT LOSE IT. DO NOT TAKE IT OFF. DO NOT PLAY WITH IT. Your wristband is your entry ticket. You won’t get in without one and you won’t get in with a broken one. If you do something wrong in view of security, they will cut off your wristband and that will be it for you.
Security guards also come around to groups and check for wristbands. I was sitting by the lockers at one point and a random security guard appeared behind me and pulled up my sleeve. They can be pretty ruthless about it.
There are instructions in your little Coachella book about what to do if your wristband is compromised by accident, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Be careful with it.
Where should I stay? How far from the grounds is too far?
Being from Sydney and constantly dealing with Sydney traffic made me think that staying 20 miles out from the festival was too far away, but it’s not. It only takes about 30-45 minutes on Californian roads to cover 20 miles (32km).
So anything within 20 miles is close enough.
Nearby neighbourhoods include Indio, Indian Wells, La Quinta and Palm Springs.
I stayed at the Agua Caliente and it took me about 40 minutes to get to the festival.
Are the hotel packages worth it? What about Airbnb?
I’ll touch on camping below. Here, I’m just going to look at Airbnb vs hotels vs the hotel package. I opted for the hotel package because I am a fan of convenience. It was really expensive, but here’s how I broke it down.
My hotel package was around US$2,800. This included accommodation for me and my boyfriend, both our tickets and our shuttle passes. The tickets are $500 each and the shuttle passes were $100 each. So the cost of the accommodation alone was actually $1,600. This is still pretty expensive for three nights, but given the inflated prices of every other hotel and home stay during this period, we really didn’t pay that much more.
The official hotel packages also give you the convenience of a concierge to help you through your stay as well as room service and easy access to restaurants and bars. Also, a lot of the hotels, especially the ones with pools, have Coachella pre-parties and after-parties for all the festival guests.
I am the type of person that will always choose a hotel because there’s just something so nice about a hot shower and silky soft sheets after a sweaty, dusty day at a festival.
If you want your creature comforts but the hotel packages seem a little too steep for you, you can find other hotels (not part of the official Coachella packages) or Airbnbs cheaper – although not much cheaper. The key here is to book as early as possible. The cheapest places always book out really quickly. Try looking at some of the less other booking sites like Homestay or Homeaway, which are similar to Airbnb, or a site that aggregates search results from multiple sites like HotelsCombined.
Also, join the Coachella Facebook groups and the Coachella subreddits. You’ll find a lot of people looking for extra people to fill spots in rented houses or cover spots for friends that have dropped out. It’s a great way to meet people, and you can get some good deals.
What's camping like?
I would honestly rather die than camp at Coachella, but I’ll try to be as objective as possible.
I will admit that staying on the festival grounds and avoiding the whole aspect of travelling to the festival each day is appealing. You don’t need to worry about traffic or travel times. Just wake up, walk out of your tent and you’re there. It also saves you money on transport costs.
It’s also great for anyone with fomo – fear of missing out. You’re in the centre of everything. You’ll be right next to any groups partying on into the night, and it’s a great way to make friends and meet people.
The reasons why I personally didn’t camp came down to convenience and hygiene. Flying in from Australia meant that I’d either have to bring camping gear with me or find time to buy it all before the festival. This was way too inconvenient for me but might not be a hassle for some people.
Also, tents tend to amplify the elements. You’ll go to bed freezing during the desert evening and wake up in a pool of your own sweat around 10am when the temperature in your tent is 35 degrees. I’ve heard the shower blocks are decent, but they’re still shared shower blocks. Don’t venture in without shower shoes – same with the toilets.
And your only food options will be unhealthy festival food that will have you begging for a salad at the end of the three days. So make sure to bring some apples or something.
Of course, there are the premium camping options like the teepees and the fixed tents with aircon. You won’t need to bring camping supplies if you’re staying in the premium camping, plus you have access to private showers and bathrooms, but these options are more expensive than the hotels.
I guess it’s just a question of how much you like to party versus how much you like hotel sheets. I love a party, but I love luxury bed linen even more.
How do I get there?
If you’re not camping, you’ll need to organise getting to and from the festival.
My best piece of advice is to get a shuttle pass.
Beg, borrow or steal a pass because this is one of the most valuable pieces of Coachella paraphernalia. The official Coachella shuttles stop at most of the hotels involved in the hotel packages. But you don’t need to stay at one of the hotels to get one. Even if you’re in an Airbnb, you can buy one and then make your way to the closest stop.
Those who choose to rely on Uber or taxis are going to have a bad time. Especially when you’re trying to get home – you’ll be waiting for your Uber for over an hour. Ubers and taxis are expensive and hard to come by. The total cost of car transport will make the US$100 shuttle pass look cheap as chips.
I realised the true value of the shuttle pass on the first night when we waited just 15 minutes in a bus line and hopped on a comfy coach while watching the poor tired people in the kilometre-long taxi line.
How do the shuttle buses work?
Your pass should come with instructions as to where all the bus stops are. These bus stops are hard to miss because they’re filled with festival employees in fluoro vests and dozens of festival goers. Truly, you can’t miss them.
At the stop, the festival employees will tell you the name of the route. When I went, I was on the Agua Caliente route.
On the way out of the festival, there are dozens of signs pointing you in the right direction for the buses. You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind to miss them all. Once you get to the shuttle bus area, you just need to jump into the queue for the correct route, which should be the same route that you arrived on. The bus driver will loudly announce the names of each stop, so you’ll know which one to get off at.
Don’t lose your shuttle pass. You need to show this to the drivers to get on and off the buses.
How can you get there without a shuttle pass?
Public transport is challenging in this region of California and you will have to rely on ride-sharing services like Uber and taxis, hire a car and drive yourself, or carpool.
Ubers and taxis aren’t impossible to find, but they will be challenging to get during peak periods such as at the end of the day.
The other option would be trying to carpool with other people you find on the Coachella Facebook groups and subreddits.
But really, just get a shuttle pass.
What's the traffic like?
It depends on when you go. On day one and day two, I left around midday and got there before one. On the third day, I left at 5:30pm and got stuck in horrible traffic. We didn’t get there until 7:30pm, and one of the acts we’d wanted to see had already started.
My advice would be to leave so you get there before 3pm to miss the traffic. Even if you don’t want to see the daytime acts, just go and enjoy the art installations, soak up the atmosphere, look at shops and sit by the trees. There’s a lot to do at Coachella besides the music.
Ideal times to leave to get there: Leave at 11:30am-12pm for an early start. Try not to leave after 3:30 or you’ll hit traffic.
Do you receive a map?
You’ll get a map in your Coachella box, but there’s one on the app too.
How many stages were there?
There were two big ones, three medium and four smaller ones. They’re all a long way away from each other so make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
Were there a lot of set clashes?
The only big one for me was Justice and Kendrick Lamar, but other than that, I felt all three days had been organised really well. There were very few overlaps for the more popular acts.
Do you receive set times?
Set times come with the map. They’ll also appear on the app ahead of time, so you can plan who to see.
How much walking did you do?
I arrived each day around 1pm and left after the last act, so I was doing roughly 30,000 steps a day, which is something like 20+ kilometres. The festival site is big, and it’s a long walk between the food, bathrooms, lockers and stages. In fact, I felt like each of these key features was at a completely different end of the festival ground.
Food and Drink
What's the food like?
Not great and pricey, just like any festival.
You can get burgers, fried chicken, noodles, pizzas etc. There’s a decent selection of food from multiple cultures, so you do have options. I just found the portions were small, most dishes lacked vegetables and it was all expensive. A pizza about half the size of a dinner plate was $15.
There was only one stand selling fruit at the entire festival. I bought a huge watermelon wedge, and as I was eating it, about 30 people asked me where they could get one too. When the crowds discovered it, the line ended up about a kilometre long. So if you want fruit, get in quick.
It’s not a bad idea to bring a few of your own snacks if you’re not really into bad festival food.
Can you bring your own food in?
Yep. At least you could when I went in 2017. You couldn’t bring in your own water or aerosols though.
Are there water stations to fill up water bottles?
Yes, so bring a few empty bottles to hang onto.
You’ll get a little Coachella map with all key points of interest mapped out. Our map showed six or so water stations, but I only managed to find two. The lines for the water stations were unbelievably long, which was slightly frustrating. We ended up buying bottles of water instead because they were $2 and there were bottled water stands everywhere.
The earlier you arrive, the less busy the water stations are. They end up quieting down around 5pm or 6pm. If you want to opt for the more environmentally friendly free-water route, then fill up as many bottles as you can. Hopefully, this should cover you until the line dies down in the evening.
What’s the bathroom situation like?
It’s a fair walk to the toilets from the stages, so beware. There are some port-a-loo stations next to some of the medium-sized stages, but the main toilet block is closer to the entrance, which is about a 10-minute walk from the main stage.
The line for the main toilet block can get really long, but it moves unbelievably quickly. I never had to wait more than 30 seconds. Literally, it was under a minute wait every time. The toilet blocks are really clean and even have bathroom attendants – not something you see at Sydney festivals!
Do I need to wear sunscreen?
Yes. Or you will get more burned than you’ve ever been in your life.
I rarely wear sunscreen because I’m naturally dark, but I applied it every four hours and I still got burned. Apply an extra coat on your nose or you will regret it.
Heads up. Heatstroke is a real issue.
I’m an Aussie girl with a Mediterranean background. I’ve grown up in the sun and live for the heat. I thought I was exactly the type of person who would be completely immune to conditions like heatstroke or heat exhaustion – I was wrong.
My boyfriend and I had gotten up super early on the second day to go and have a posh breakfast at a nearby restaurant, so I started the day feeling tired.
I then tackled the day like a champ, walking 35,000 steps in 45 degree weather with barely any time resting in the shade. I’m 5’4 and my partner is just under 6 foot, so walking those distances is certainly more challenging for me than for him. By the last act, I knew I was not well. I was shivering more than I had in my life, and everything felt cold. Trying to stand was too much, so I sat down in the middle of the crowd but couldn’t get comfortable – lying down and sitting both hurt. I soon realised all my muscles just ached. I could only take tiny sips of water because I was worried that I would throw up anything more substantial. Finally, I told my boyfriend, and he helped carry me out of the crowd and back to the hotel because I couldn’t walk.
I got to bed at about 12:30am and slept until 3pm the next day, but at least I woke up feeling better.
When I reflect on how I felt, I realise now exactly how bad that situation was. Heading to a hospital would not have been out of the question.
Coachella is a three-day festival in the desert. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. A lot of young people think they’re invincible and won’t bother taking the precautions to avoid something like heat exhaustion. But this is something that could not only ruin the once-in-a-lifetime experience that is Coachella, but it could also put you in hospital.
Try and stay rested. Drink lots of water. Take breaks to sit in the shade. Make sure you eat something and don’t push yourself too much.
How’s the phone reception?
Great. No issues with reception at all. Battery life is an issue though, and I didn’t find any places you could charge your phone. I’m sure they have them in VIP, but I couldn’t see any in general admission.
I’d advise that you bring a small portable battery. I did and it saved me.
Are the lockers worth it?
I believe so. My boyfriend and I got one. It was US$75 for three days.
It made the experience easier and more comfortable. I stashed a jacket for the evening in the locker plus a few extra water bottles. We also used it to hold our wallets and just carried a small amount of cash.
What to Wear
Let’s be real. For many of us, Coachella is a bit of a fashion parade. But this fashion parade happens during 45 degree heat in the dusty desert, so you need to know the line between comfort and style.
The outfits I opted for were a playsuit, a long-sleeved dress and a crop top with a denim skirt. My playsuit outfit was easily my favourite. The covered shoulders and long sleeves stopped me from getting burned plus you can sit and run in them without worrying about flashing your knickers. I wore mine unbuttoned with a detailed bralette on display. It was comfortable, breezy and very on trend.
I liked my dress and skirt outfits too, but they were harder to sit in and you had to be conscious of these blowing up in the wind.
I paired all three outfits with hard-wearing ankle boots, heaps of flash tattoos, a tonne of boho jewellery and a boater hat. I felt pretty good about my clothes and felt that I’d really managed to find that comfort and style balance.
Of course, there were people walking around with sheer maxi skirts, full glitter makeup, fringed belts, leather skirts and crochet dresses. They all looked amazing, but I was not willing to sacrifice my comfort quite that much.
What you wear needs to represent you. Some people love the band tee and shorts look. Some people love the bralette and boho skirt look. Anything and everything goes when it comes to Coachella fashion.
After my experience, here are the things I would keep in mind:
- Try to cover your shoulders so you don’t get burned. Wearing just a bikini top is great if you want to spray yourself with water to keep cool, but you risk pretty bad burns. So if you are wearing something skimpy, bring a tee that you can tuck and tie around a belt or stuff in a backpack to cover yourself when you’re standing is direct sun.
- Don’t pick anything too short when it comes to dresses and skirts. They’re an absolute pain to sit down in. If you do want to go short, maybe wear bikini bottoms underneath so you’re not flashing everyone a lacy G-string – unless that’s your thing of course.
- Also, don’t pick anything too long. It will get ripped and dirty and just generally be a pain to deal with.
- Don’t wear sandals. Opt for enclosed shoes unless you enjoy the feeling of people trampling your bare feet.
- Backpacks are more convenient than shoulder bags. They give you more freedom to dance and walk. Plus you can stash way more water bottles in a backpack. I bought an adorable festival-style fringed one from Cotton On.
- Bring a bandana. You’ll need to wear this over your face most of the day to avoid breathing in all the dust. If you don’t, you will be coughing up dirt for the next week and you can even develop pneumonia, like I did.
- Try and incorporate a hat. No amount of sunscreen will stop you from burning. You really do need a hat.
What’s all this about a bandana?
Do not ignore this piece of advice. I bought one ahead of time and it cost me $1.50. They’re cheap as chips and they will save you.
You’ll see a lot of people wearing bandanas around their mouths and noses at Coachella. It’s because the thousands of festival goers kick up all the desert dust, and you end up breathing it in. Don’t believe it? Blow your nose after just 10 minutes at the festival and you’ll see what I mean.
I decided not to wear my bandana on the first day because I wanted to look “pretty”. I quickly changed my mind and kept that bandana on at all time unless I was taking photos.
I still ended up developing pneumonia due to all the dust I’d inhaled, but it could have been a lot worse if I hadn’t brought that bandana.
Is there shopping there? Like markets for clothes and accessories?
Yes, there are a few shops here and there. There will be merch, knick-knacks, fashion and other stuff for sale at a set of shops clustered together. You’ll see it on the map.
- An empty litre bottle of water or two smaller one to fill up at the water stations.
- Sunscreen but not aerosol since security will confiscate any aerosols.
- Granola bars and an apple. These aren’t the most appetising, but they’ll withstand heat and dust and make a nice break from pizzas and burgers.
- Your phone and a portable battery for when your phone charge inevitably runs low.
- Cash, not just a card. Some of the water bottle stations only take cash and when the water-refill line is 200 people long, you’ll wish you had some cash.
- A T-shirt if you’re wearing a skimpy top, so you can cover up if you feel like you’re burning.
- A bandana to protect from inhaling the dust.
- Your Coachella map.
- A zip-lock bag to protect your phone in case you get wet or sprayed with water.
- A small bottle of hand sanitiser.
- Some makeup basics if you choose to wear any – I just wore glitter.
- Lip balm.
Also consider bringing a jacket for the evenings, especially if you are the type of person who feels the cold.
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