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How to Hack Coachella

Tips for experiencing the annual music and arts festival, with or without a pass

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It takes less than a day for passes to Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival to sell out. The annual music festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio has grown from an independent experiment to the Goliath of festivals, drawing more than 150 musicians, dozens of celebrities, and hundreds of thousands of fans to Greater Palm Springs each spring.

But even without a coveted wristband, you can still partake in the festivities: Head to one of the parties taking over Palm Springs hotels or book tickets to a pre- or post-Coachella concert in Los Angeles or San Francisco. No camping required.

Join the party

When the Coachella crowd wakes up, the party gets started. Some fest-goers skip the smaller acts for daytime fetes in Palm Springs. Though these events aren’t technically on the lineup—and some keep a pretty tight guest list—they’re as much a part of the festival as cut-off shorts and fedoras.

Find your poolside headquarters by checking out special Coachella-weekend events at Palm Springs’ hip hotels, like the Instagram-bait Saguaro painted in rainbow colors or the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, a mid-century-boho hangout with a pool full of floaties. Arrive Hotel hosts regular events like new moon yoga and dive-in movies alongside special Coachella bashes, and the pool at the Hilton Palm Springs transforms into a Vegas-style day club during the music festival, complete with DJs pulled straight from the Coachella roster and legions of fist-pumping fans.

If celebrity-spotting is your sport of choice, an array of invite-only bashes presents the best opportunity, along with the annual Neon Carnival, a late-night soiree that keeps the party going into the wee house for VIPs and lucky invitees. For the most complete listings, check out local newspaper The Press-Enterprise’s Coachella coverage, hit Eventbrite’s Palm Springs page or browse the party guides on Travel Grom, a blog dedicated to travel, surf and festival culture.

Finally, don’t despair if you’re rolling without a bunch of exclusive invites. You never know who will have an extra pass or a plus-1, or where you might end up once the weekend kicks off.

Catch a spillover show

With so much musical talent converging on California, you don’t have to beeline it to Indio to reap the benefits. In the days surrounding their Coachella sets, many artists are playing extra shows all over the state.

Goldenvoice is the producer behind Coachella, so you’ll find the vast majority of spillover shows at venues the company books. In San Francisco, that includes the Great American Music Hall, The Regency Ballroom, Slim’s and The Warfield. In Los Angeles, check The Fonda Theatre, Shrine Auditorium, The Roxy Theatre, El Rey Theatre and The Novo. Goldenvoice also books The Fox Theatre in Pomona, where Coachella headliners have been known to play extra gigs.

If you’re heading to the desert without a fest ticket, don’t miss Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Whether or not Coachella is in town, this barbecue joint and music venue showcases live bands five nights a week, and everyone from Robert Plant to Vampire Weekend has stopped by to play.

Set a festival strategy

Got your wristband and fest-ready footwear? Before the gates open, check out who’s actually playing beyond the boldface names on the poster’s top lines. Take a listen to genre-specific YouTube playlists, and when the schedule drops, sketch a rough plan for any acts on your must-see list.

Between those sets, wander away. Follow your ears to a new discovery inside the Mojave tent, ride the Ferris wheel, snap a selfie with large-scale art works and sit down for a meal (and some shade) inside the Indio Central Market or one of the pop-up restaurants. Taking breaks is crucial to surviving the weekend, and your feet will thank you when you’re still dancing well after midnight.

Insider festival tips

Expect traffic. If you’re not camping onsite, catch a shuttle to the Polo Club or, by all means, carpool.

Stay hydrated. The desert heat is exhausting and potentially dangerous, so bring an empty water bottle (no glass or metal) in your Coachella kit, and fill it up for free at a hydration station.

Make a plan. With spotty cell service and more than 100,000 daily attendees, it’s easy to lose your crew. Set a time and place to meet up before you arrive so you can regroup at some point during the day.

Bring a portable cell charger. You’re going to need juice for photos, communication, and recording those surprising concert moments.

Rent a locker. Need somewhere to stash your sweatshirt/hat/extra pair of insoles? Reserve a locker in advance and skip schlepping a full bag around all day.

Consider your outfit. Coachella is a marathon run in the middle of the desert. Make sure your Instagram-ready attire is equally equipped for long hours in 100-degree heat.

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