First Time at Coachella? How to Navigate the Festival Like a Pro

by Jillian Finley

Festival season is upon us, kicking off with Coachella’s annual dual-weekend hipster exodus to scenic Indio, California. If it’s your first time navigating the manicured, flower-crown-packed polo grounds, our go-to guide of essentials and street smarts will ensure your trip is trouble-free. Here are our tips for navigating the fest like a pro. 

Stay Happy

Check in with yourself and get real honest with your accommodations comfort level. Long days in the hot, hot heat take their toll. The festival grounds offer plenty of campsite options, from “glamping" in a decked-out safari tent to rolling with your own set up. As campsites go, the rates skew on the pricier side. If air conditioning and amenities are more your speed, we recommend hitting up Airbnb in lieu of a hotel. Scoring a pad your whole crew can enjoy will give your group options throughout the weekend. You’ll have a kitchen and stocked fridge to appropriately refuel day to day. If anyone gets burned out, no problem—just hit day parties or chill by the pool. 

Dress Like You Mean It

Festival dressing is a mixed bag of feather headdresses, outrageous costumes, and groovy throwback accessories. Express yourself. Embrace fringe. Channel your inner Penny Lane. Whatever you do, keep your shoes closed toe and walk-proof at all times. Your toes will get trampled at worst, dust covered at best. Drama-free footwear is a thing of beauty that will keep your mind where it belongs: on the music. 

What to Pack

- An empty water bottle. The grounds are flush with refill stations which will save you a pretty penny and ensure you are consistently well-hydrated. 

- A bandana. In the event of a dust storm, this will be your saving grace. When the heat of the day hits, soak it in water and tie it around your neck for soothing, cool vibes. 

- A hat and sunglasses. This is an obvious must for hours on end spent under the relentless sun. 

- Rain gear. Toss some extra socks and large garbage bags in your pack or invest in a lightweight, compact poncho. If the rain kicks up, these small luxuries will be a godsend. There are no swift exits. 

- A backpack. Forgo the purse in favor of a satchel or backpack, which will be hands-free.

- Earplugs. Protect your precious ears from multiple days of marathon sound-hounding. 

- Cash. Don’t get caught up in exorbitant ATM fees within the festival grounds. Hit up the bank en route to the fest with enough cash to sustain your eating and drinking habits for the full day or weekend.

Commute Smart

Last year’s fest marked the debut of Uber in Palm Springs. Drivers will be flocking to the desert and are most definitely your best bet for navigating the party scene outside the polo grounds. If staying outside Indio, shuttle services offer a beautiful alternative to driving, enabling you to skip the lengthy wait times getting in and out of parking lots. If driving, be sure to allow plenty of extra time for traffic. The route to the fest is slow going, even on the midnight ride home. 

Hit the Parties

Most major resorts and plenty of posh digs will play host to a wide range of day and after parties. The venues tend to be pretty popular, so unless you are super well-connected, it can take time to get inside. Go with only your top-tier choices, arrive early, and dress to impress. The desert can get chilly at night, so pack extra layers or at the very least a light jacket in the event of a sudden temperature drop. 

Go Off Course

Every mission needs a good plan; however, deviating from your charted course is in keeping with the true spirit of the fest. Go with the flow and explore. If you’re absolutely dead-set on catching a certain band, make it happen. Just know there’s much more to take in at the festival than sweet tunes alone. Given the sheer scale of the grounds, maneuvering between main stages can be time-consuming. Map out a realistic plan of attack and catch acts at neighboring stages, or work your way from one end of the fest to the other throughout the course of a day. Rushing back and forth between field after field of partiers is so not the move. 

Pace Yourself

Intense heat and long hours can take a major toll on your body’s ability to metabolize alcohol and what-have-you. Keep tabs on your intake and take it slow. Coachella is a marathon, not a sprint. Free VIP drinks can have you paying dearly in other ways come the following morning. 

Take Cooling Breaks

Have a plan to escape the heat of the day. Peak heat hours are a great time to get hydrated. If the heat is getting to you, check out a day party and save your strength for killer evening headliners and/or after parties. 

Have a Rendezvous Point

Establish a pre-designated meeting time and spot for your group. The day will get away from you and odds are everyone will go their own way at some point. Have check-ins set throughout the day to meet up, reassess, and compare survival notes. If nothing else, you’ll have a built-in storytelling hour to regale friends with all the best acts or which new viral YouTube sensation you witnessed in person. 

Have a favorite Coachella tip? Tell us in the comments below. 

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