Festival Outsider: Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Palm Springs

Your guide to the desert backdrop of one of the biggest parties of the year.

Travel Features Coachella
Festival Outsider: Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Palm Springs

The stages are set for perhaps the most famous of American music festivals: Coachella. This year’s edition of the see-and-be-seen celebrity-laden gathering in the California desert will feature reunions of both LCD Soundsystem and Guns N’ Roses. As you prepare to take your trip down to Paradise City, consider these suggestions for other things to do while in town.

Setting the Stage

Once known as the “Hub of the Valley,” Indio is now referred to as the “City of Festivals.” Indio came to be in the 1870s as a result of the need for a water stop (for the engines) along the railroad line between Yuma, Arizona and Los Angeles. Agriculture is big business in the area with the Coachella Valley producing 95 percent of all dates grown in the United States. Riveting stuff, right?

Located in the Inland Empire’s Coachella Valley, the grounds are in reasonable proximity to accommodations, eateries, and activities in places like Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and Indian Wells.   

The Main Event

Because one weekend isn’t enough, the 2016 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival offers the same acts back-to-back the weekends of April 15 and 22 at the Empire Polo Fields. In addition to the aforementioned, much-anticipated reunions, the something-for-everyone-in-your-friend-group lineup also includes Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding, Ice Cube, Chris Stapleton, and Rancid.

Festival passes (tens of thousands of them) sold out in less than an hour this year, but all is not lost if you procrastinated and have now decided you can’t miss the fun. Your best last chance to get into the fest may be ?Outstanding in the Field. It will cost you, but it will also provide you with a tasty meal and unique experience. 

Valley Music Travel is a source for other last-minute options, including hotel packages and shuttles from Los Angeles’ LAX airport. 

Parties occur everywhere. From the campgrounds to the hotel pools to the backyard of the house you and your pals have rented. But there are a couple notorious ones (namely Brent Bolthouse’s Neon Carnival and Jeremy Scott’s shindig) that will be drawing major crowds. If you’re not on those guest lists (or if you haven’t got a wristband to Coachella and are just looking for a free party) Pandora has you covered.

Speaking of covered, a bandanna is highly recommended for both blocking dust and soaking in available tubs of ice water to help cool you down. Oh and it’s on-trend, so that helps.

It gets hot and dry on the fields. Hydration is key, as is sun protection.

And don’t forget to pack your frayed jorts and flower crown if you’re hoping to fit it.

Eat It

coachella eat it.jpgPhoto by Brian Feinzimer (Courtesy of Coachella Music & Arts Festival)

Another important matter? Staying fed. Helpful tip: keep snacks in your room. Once the fun is over at the fest—and you get out of the parking lot—it can be hard to find late night eats. (Read: the line at the nearby Del Taco gets LONG).

Gourmet hot dog spot Frankinbun promises later hours during the festival weekends with a vegan option, homemade condiments, and ice cream sandwiches also on their menu. 

For festival day fuel-ups, TKB Bakery and Deli is an award-winner located in Indio serving popular sandwiches (including gluten-free and veggie options) to the masses. Also nearby, Tacos Gonzalez features several tacos priced under two dollars, homemade salsa, and breakfast until 2 p.m.

For burgers, head to the old Greyhound bus depot that houses cash-only Tyler’s Burgers. They’re rumored to be Palm Springs’ best, and a veggie version is available as well. Another spot for burgers—and whiskey and craft beer, too—is Eureka! in Indian Wells.

For something a little fancier, try the farm-to-table specialty pastas and pizzas at Birba, or the Thursday night flatbread and beer special at Dish Creative Cuisine. You might want to leave the jorts home for these venues. Or not, you certainly won’t be the only one.

If you’re really in the mood to treat yourself, Rooster and the Pig is a current hot spot featuring an ever-changing menu of Vietnamese-American fare and craft beer. 

Reservoir, located inside one of Palm Springs’ hottest new hotels, Arrive, offers California cuisine and a well-rounded brunch menu. Other brunch possibilities (because let’s get serious, that’s the most important/convenient/realistic meal of a festival weekend) to consider include Cheeky’s), Elmer’s, and, if you’re in the mood for French fare, L’Atelier Café

Poison and Wine

coachella poison and wine.jpegPhoto Courtesy of Bootlegger Tiki

It’s easy to find drinks any time of the day in Palm Springs. When poolside drinks just won’t do, hotel bars like Amigo and Morgan’s will. If you’re looking to taste some local desert delights, Indio’s breweries and wineries offer more ways to quench your thirst. 

Happy hour kicks off at fun o’clock at Bootlegger Tiki (pictured above) where rum runs smooth, while whiskey and scotch fans will fare well at Bar

Closer to the fest, Neil’s Lounge and The Tack Room are local favorites in Indio, and Red Barn offers the dive-bar feel for post fest celebrations.

coachella top of page 2.jpgPhoto by David McNew/Getty

Forget the Fest

Before the sun heats up the day and the music heats up the night, there is plenty of fun to be found off the field. You can combine history and yoga—for free!—at Sunnylands. The former Annenberg residence has played host to several entertainers (Frank Sinatra was married there) and politicians (including Presidents Eisenhower and Obama, and Queen Elizabeth II). 

If you feel the need for speed, you can put the pedal to metal at one of only two BMW Performance Driving Schools in the country. 

Meanwhile, a slower ride offering a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area can be found on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. If you like what you see, perhaps a drive out to Joshua Tree National Park is in order. While you’re out there, a stop at the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum is highly recommended.

You Can Take it With You

Photo by David McNew/Getty

From art galleries and antiques to boutiques and outlet malls, the shopping is prime in Palm Springs. On Thursday nights, downtown transforms into VillageFest, lining the main drag with booths offering an array of goods and goodies.

For decades-old duds, Dazzles, Deja Vu Vintage Finery, Mitchells, and Wonderama have plenty for both men and women, and will complete any Coachella outfit.

Finally, Shields Date Garden offers a variety of local fruits, and the ability to say you brought home a date from Coachella.

But Leave Something Behind

For those wanting to give back to the area that hosts hyper hipsters every year without complaint, drop-in volunteer opportunities are available at a couple of places around town.

Festival-goers are welcome to help the city of Palm Springs on either weekend with recycling projects, their farmers market booth, or—on the second weekend of the fest—a special screening of the film Bikes vs Cars.

In addition, the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, the only non-kill animal shelter in the valley, is always looking for extra hands. And if bigger breeds are more your speed, volunteers are welcome during the morning classes at the Pegasus Riding Academy). Working with the therapy horses on the ranch could bring your weekend on the polo fields full circle, and all before Axl and Slash have a chance to rock your face off.

Lead Photo by Derek Horner (Courtesy of Coachella Music & Arts Festival)

Mary Anne Bargen is a freelance writer based in Nashville. She likes to choose her own adventure.

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