As we tumble through the last month before Coachella, I’ve found it difficult to think about anything else. I crave green grass and good vibes. And I know the rest of you do too. But there are special congratulations to all the car campers out there. You’ve purchased twice the festival for less than those hotel heathens will be spending on a single Uber to the grounds. God bless you, Surge Pricing. They’ll be spending their mornings anxiously waiting for that one friend who just can’t get ready fast enough. You’ll be spending yours choosing between the dodgeball tournament and a seventh slice of Spicy Pie.
But that kind of freedom comes hard-earned, and there’s a lot of planning to do if you want to have the kind of kickass campsite worthy of the modern-day Woodstock. You’ve got a month. And this Coachella Camping Guide will help you get there.
Before You Go
First thing’s first: Know who you’re camping with. That way, you can split up who brings what and save some money because, let’s face it, Coachella ain’t cheap. Each camping spot is 10’x30′, and you can pack roughly four people in each before it starts getting uncomfortable. For a better solution, have multiple people with their own car camping passes in your group. You only need one per space, so getting a second one doubles the number of people you can camp with, not to mention doubling the room to set up your dream campsite.
It also let’s you divy up who’ll be responsible for bringing what. You don’t need a full setup on every site – Dirty Epic Productions, for example, usually has over a dozen sites together every year and thus builds their own kitchen, dancefloor, rest area, and more. Compartmentalize.
For the record, your packing list should look a little something like this. Add and subtract as needed. Click to expand.
To Enjoy Living
To Bring Into the Festival
Let’s talk money for a second. I listed a bunch of cooking equipment up there, but I also consider the food at Coachella to be part of the experience and normally buy all my meals sans a quick post-festival bowl of noodles. Food at Coachella is between $8-$15, so I budget out about $120 for food all four days that I’m there (plus another $15 for that post-festival In-N-Out on Monday). While I don’t normally drink in the festival (blacking out ain’t fun), I’ll still bring an extra $100 just in case I get sucked into the beer garden, plus another $50 for some merch. All in all, I can expect to spend roughly $300 at/in the festival, though you could easily bring this number down. That number doesn’t include any drugs or camp snacks you buy.
On The Way
The best time to arrive at the festival is early morning Thursday. You’ll have the entire day to enjoy the festival and make new friends before the first act plays a note. Of course, you could arrive later in the day, or even Friday morning if you can’t get off work, but this blows donkey nuts. Get in early and you’ll have the best chance of getting in Lot 8. Get in late and you’ll be shunted off to Lot 4, where you can walk 20 minutes just to get to the entrance, and where the grass is full of spikes.
If you have multiple spots, you’ll have to caravan down to Indio to ensure you drive in right next to each other. Otherwise, there’s no guarantee you’ll get spots next to each other. There is a waiting area for cars just inside the gate if you’re separated, but even then, Thursday morning is such a clusterfuck that there’s no guarantee that the traffic director won’t screw you. Try to stay close. If you’re not leaving together or it’s a longer drive, set a meeting point at a grocery store near the grounds to reconvene. The best meeting point is the Ralph’s just near the Polo Fields:
It’s close enough to the grounds that you can get there later in the morning and still be first in line. It’s also a good chance to stock up on any supplies, like alcohol and snacks. Here’s what you should look into:
- Fruit and vegetables, and lots of them. Nothing like eating healthy to stave off the guilt for the drugs you’re doing.
- More specifically, avocados. They’re a super food, they turn into bowls when you finish them, and you can play mini croquet with the pits.
- Goldfish, jerky, and other salty foods. That water retention will be worth the puffy face.
- Gatorade. Bring water if you want (it’s readily available all over the grounds), but Gatorade and Gatorade powder will do a lot to help your electrolytes. Coachella is as hard on your body as any sporting event.
- Booze. Cases of beer are fine, but if you get liquor, make sure you either put them in plastic or hide them well. No glass allowed in the lot.
If you’re bringing a camping stove (propane only on the grounds), you can also pick up stuff like pancake mix, eggs, maybe even some steak. It’s a little extra work, but there’s nothing like coming back to the campsite after a long day and having a full, home-cooked meal. Share with the neighbors, and they’ll hit you back. If you run out of food, there’s an on-site market with some options, and a shuttle that’ll take you to the grocery store in the mornings.
This meeting spot is also a good chance to write write “Carpoolchella” in a visible spot on your car – preferably the windshield. Secret Spotters are posted at the entrances, and if they see you drive in with four people in the car, you may have the chance to win free VIP tickets for life. What have you got to lose? Make sure you only draw on the windows though, as car paint can fuck with the actual paint job.
You should also fill up your gas tank again before you go into the grounds, since you never know when you’ll need to run your car and you can’t leave once you’re there. The campground opens at 9am the day before the festival. If you’ve done everything right so far (and if you’ve read to here, you should) and you’ve arrived early enough, you’ll get a prime spot close enough to the festival to avoid too much walking, but far enough away from the gates that you avoid the casual looters and the crowds of the main pathways.
Once you arrive, you’ll appreciate having that case of beer. The security line is just one big tailgating party, the kind where you can let out a giant whoop of joy (or just honk if you’re lazy) and start a wave of responses across the entire field. Guards will be tearing apart cars as part of the checks, looking for drugs, metal stakes, glass, and other prohibited items, but while you wait, you can enjoy the sun. There are dogs present, but they seem to be only looking for explosives, or else they’re just total bros who know what it’s like to have their treats stolen. Be cool with security; offer them water. You’ll get through fine. If you’re arriving as early as you should, then you’ll be subject to a search much more thorough than a night arrival, but getting to enjoy Thursday is well worth it.
Once You’re In
If you’ve done everything right Set up your camp however you’d like. I’m not an architect. Really though, go crazy guys. Make your camp recognizable. Put up strings of lights and inflatable toys — this will look cool as shit, but it’ll also make camp easier to find, especially in the dark when you’re stumbling back with a ringing in your ears. Also, stake down your tents and canopies! If the weather acts up like it did in 2012, it’ll be more than the answers blowing in the wind. The best configuration, especially for multiple spots, is to put a car in each corner and string tarps up as a massive roof. It’s shady and maximizes your room.
But don’t worry too much about what you’ve got. The campsite is a magical place full of art, food trucks, and most importantly, other people, so you don’t have to spend too much time at your space. Anything you could want is provided – hot showers (though you’ll need to get up early or very late to avoid the lines), sparkling clean port-o-potties (jokes), charging stations, games, and more.
Once you’ve got everything set up and you know where everything is, you’re on your own. Goldenvoice loves to keep people guessing when it comes to their plans. One minute you can be riding a little carnival in a back corner of the lot, the next you can be rocking out at a silent disco. Don’t get too caught up in what you think you should be doing. Follow your nose. And when your non-camping friends arrive, try not to rub in how much better your morning has been than theirs. But hey, don’t be afraid to rub it in a little.