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Coachella Festival Guide: What to Know & How to Have the Best Time

Photo of a group of friends dancing at a festival. Music Festivals

In two decades, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has become one of the most iconic names in entertainment. The festival stretches across two weekends bringing the hottest musical acts, emerging fashion trends and entrancing art installations into the desert each spring. 

This Coachella Festival Guide will help chart your path to Indio, Calif., and the Empire Polo Club while offering valuable tips for surviving the crowds. 

What is Coachella?

Coachella is an annual music and arts festival that began in 1999. Paul Tollett and Rick Van Santen founded the festival and Goldenvoice, a subsidiary of AEG Presents, is the organizer. The Coachella lineup includes a diverse group of artists from genres like rock, pop, indie, electronic dance music and hip-hop performing across multiple stages. 

The inaugural event in 1999 featured Beck, Tool and Rage Against the Machine as headliners and drew 37,000 people in two days. After a year off, Coachella returned to the valley with Jane’s Addiction headlining a single-day festival. 

Between 2011 and 2017, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival earned Billboard’s award for Top Festival every single year thanks to acts like The Black Keys, Snoop Dogg, Muse and Guns N’ Roses taking the stage. The festival is colloquially known as a sort of heat check to determine the top artists in a given year. 

Coachella Lineup & Schedule

Coachella organizers typically release the lineup as close to New Year’s Day as possible making it the first big festival of the year to do so. Coachella’s lineup poster is iconic in its own right with headliners at the top and descending lines of supporting acts. Some of the biggest names in music have performed in the Coachella lineup like Paul McCartney, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Harry Styles and Billie Eilish. Repeat performers include Rage Against the Machine, The Cure, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Muse.

The 2024 headliners include Lana Del Rey, Tyler, the Creator, Doja Cat and recently reunited ska band, No Doubt. A few of the other high-profile performers in the Coachella 2024 lineup include Jhené Aiko, Blur, J Balvin and Peso Pluma.

Image of 2024 Coachella Lineup Poster

When is Coachella?

Coachella is typically held over two weekends in April. In 2023, the festival ran from April 14-16 and April 21-23. The current format of two three-day weekends was introduced in 2012. Each weekend is ticketed separately but features an identical lineup. Coachella began as a single-day event in 2001 and added a second date in 2002. By 2007, it expanded to three days beginning somewhere between April 15 and May 1. What time does Coachella start? Daily sets typically begin around noon and run through midnight or 1 a.m.

How Many People Attend Coachella?

In 2016, the Indio City Council raised the Coachella attendance cap from 99,000 to 125,000 per day after selling out for two consecutive years. As expected, 125,000 guests descended on the dessert the following year meeting the new capacity and grossing a record $114.6 million with headliners like Radiohead, Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar.

Coachella Festival Passes

A Festival Pass is a wristband that is worn all three days of your selected weekend. It is required to enter the parking lots, camping areas and venue grounds. Wristbands are non-transferable and must be registered in the Coachella Mobile App after purchase. Primary ticket orders are limited to four Festival Passes and two camping sites per weekend.

Preparation – Before the Festival

The key to festival preparation is research. Starting before tickets even go on sale, it is smart to begin planning how to go to Coachella and where you will stay once you get there. This festival is known for its massive crowds so know that you will be competing for flights and hotel bookings if you choose those options. Watching low-far calendars or booking through services like HotelPlanner that allow you to bundle your travel costs may be helpful. 

Calculating your own budget is important before you begin coordinating with friends because there are several different choices ahead ranging from travel to lodging. We will dive deeper into those below.

The next task is to check the weather and plan what to pack for Coachella. With the Coachella location lying in the Colorado Desert, festivalgoers should expect warm days and cool nights. Plan to pack layers so you can adjust your outfit accordingly. The three-day slate is a marathon so make sure to prioritize comfort and hydration to ensure that you can see your favorite acts with no issues.

Here are a few ideas of what to bring to Coachella:

  • Reusable water bottle
  • Hydration and electrolyte additives
  • Flashlight
  • Eye mask
  • Sweatshirt or jacket
  • Portable fan or cooling cloth
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat or sunglasses

How To Go To Coachella

If you are coming in from out of town, look for flights to the Palm Springs International Airport or Desert Resorts Regional Airport for the quickest access. Both are within a 30-minute drive of the venue. Ontario International Airport and LAX are located 92 and 144 miles away, respectively. If you choose to fly into LAX, there is an airport shuttle pass available to take you to the venue and back at the end of the weekend.

Once you’re on the ground, the best plan is to just start driving toward the Empire Polo Club. More specific instructions are available to guide festivalgoers to different Coachella parking options including free and preferred lots. Organizers suggest reviewing the festival map and closely following the signs as you approach the Empire Polo Club. If you don’t plan to bring a car, consider snagging a shuttle pass that will safely transport guests from hotels near Coachella to the festival gates and back.

Can You Camp at Coachella?

Yes! Coachella is one of the most popular camping festivals. The three main camping options at the festival are car camping, tent camping or a booking at Lake Eldorado. 

Car camping is the most popular overnight option because of its flexibility and affordability. Camping sites measure 30 feet by 10 feet and allow for one car and unlimited tents within those bounds. Sites are assigned in order of arrival though, so it takes some pre-planning to get a good spot. If you want a closer camping site, you might consider upgrading to a reservation in the preferred lot. 

Tent camping is a good option if you aren’t planning to drive or just want to relax in a vehicle-free environment. If you are in the latter group, this pass does include one overnight parking space in an adjacent lot. Tent camping sites measure 15 feet by 10 feet and allow for unlimited tents. 

For an elevated experience, some festivalgoers will book a camping bundle at Lake Eldorado. Guests can choose between a two-person lodge or a four-person tent furnished with cots, sleeping bags and pillows as well as other exclusive amenities and a parking space. 

Safari Camping is another high-end option with fully-furnished, air-conditioned tents behind the venue. This also includes private restrooms, private parking, and golf cart transportation around the campsite. Safari Residence is new in 2023 with studio-style accommodations on the Safari Campground.

Photo of the Coachella highway exit sign.

Setting up Your Camp

Now, we’ll focus on car camping and tent camping since they need the most preparation. Both offer their own benefits and the choice comes down to your budget and preferences. 

If you choose to camp in your car, consider purchasing fitted cushions and blackout curtains to help you sleep comfortably and recharge at the end of the day. Blankets and pillows, as well as eye masks, may help if you’re a light sleeper. Your car will serve as home base for the duration of the festival so make sure it is stocked with water, food and whatever else you may need to keep the fun going all weekend long.

If you choose to bring a tent, many of the same guidance applies. The biggest difference, however, is that this option will leave you more exposed to the elements so plan to bring fans or heaters to help control the temperature.

Either way, you will want to make sure that your campsite is easily identifiable. Decorative tapestries, lights and flags are popular options to add some personality and help you differentiate between cars and tents as you make your way around the grounds. 

Tips for Coachella

There is so much to do at Coachella that it may be helpful for you and your crew to map out the options before you get there. This could include checking lineups for each stage to ensure that you see everyone you want to see, scheduling meals or rest times, and coordinating to choose a meetup spot in case you lose someone in the crowd. 

A well-planned daypack is a Coachella essential since it is accessible within the festival grounds. Experienced festivalgoers often publish tips for packing your daypack with items like sunglasses, sunscreen, water bottles, portable chargers and battery-powered misting fans. Of course, any medications you may need or menstrual supplies should be added too, as well as cash or credit cards and transit cards.  

Food Options at Coachella

The main destination for food and drink is the Indio Central Market. This shaded food hall features an impressive list of local and international vendors bringing their own unique twists on street food. If you are a real foodie, stop by Outstanding in the Field which is a farm-to-table experience in the VIP Rose Garden. Guests enjoy a four-course, family-style dinner with wine pairings served each night.  

Most Popular Music Festivals

Due to the success of Coachella, Indio Valley is also home to the Stagecoach Festival. It is one of the largest country music festivals in the country joining the ranks of Country Stampede, the CMA Music Festival and Bourbon & Beyond. Rocklahoma, Lost Lands, and the Imagine Festival are other popular camping music festivals that cater to the rock and electronic dance communities. Bonnaroo features a more eclectic lineup and is generally regarded as the best camping festival. It is held at Great Stage Park in Machester, Tenn., and has drawn artists like Foo Fighters, U2, Pearl Jam, and Billy Joel to its stages. 

Music Festival Tickets

Music festival tickets sell out quickly so it is best to start planning as early as possible. For a lower-stress approach or to find last-minute festival tickets, consider a secondary marketplace like TicketSmarter where you can still find passes to the best music events of the year including Coachella.