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Everything you need to know about camping at Coachella

A festival-goer moves to music played at her tent during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at night.
A festival-goer moves to music played at her tent during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif.
(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)
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The first time I went to Coachella was in 2013. I’ll never forget seeing some of my favorite bands like the Postal Service and Phoenix. Or the adrenaline rush of running between Local Natives and Tegan & Sara and the stress of deciding if I should leave Wu-Tang Clan for Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’ll never forget my first golden hour, watching the sun set behind the mountains, the lights on the palm trees turn on and the giant roaming snail illuminate the grounds. Euphoric.

I’ll also never forget how this incredible weekend was almost being ruined because my best friend and I were woefully unprepared for camping in the desert. In all of the excitement leading up to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., I neglected to research what we should pack. We had our tent and pillows, but no sleeping bags. We had our shower caddy, but no towels. We didn’t bring an EZ-Up (that one was fatal).

Thankfully, I recovered and have camped at the festival every year since (and have become a moderator of the Coachella subreddit). Along the way, I’ve picked up tips and tricks from the best. With presale starting Friday at 11 a.m. PT., here’s an unofficial guide to surviving camping at Coachella.

What are my camping options?

Camp in your car ($149 + fees). Car camping spots are 10 by 30 feet and you can have as many people camping in your spot as you can comfortably fit. You need only one car camp pass per car and spots are good for the entire weekend. Once parked, your car stays in your spot for the entire weekend — there’s no driving in and out. You can’t enter the spot without a car so you should either arrive with your whole group or wait for people to show up in the waiting area past security.

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You must have a normal passenger car, truck or van. (No motorcycles, RVs, trailers, motor homes, buses or U-Haul trucks allowed — see the full list of approved and banned vehicles on the Coachella website).

Yes, camper vans are allowed! These are a convenient way for people coming from out of town to camp without flying with a ton of gear. They come with a bed, linens and small kitchenette with a stove and mini-fridge. Make sure the company removes any butane (the festival allows only propane) and real silverware (that has been confiscated by festival security before).

Camp in a tent ($149 + fees). Tent-only camping spots are a 10-by-15-feet grass area and you can have as many people as you can comfortably fit. Each tent camping spot comes with one overnight parking spot to leave your car across the street.

Camp in a spot closest to the festival, a.k.a. “preferred camping” ($375 + fees). The first 15 to 20 rows of the coveted Lot 8 are reserved for preferred camping, putting you closest to the entrance of the festival. This option gives you the freedom to arrive whenever you’d like during the day and be guaranteed a spot toward the front of festival, which could save your feet by the end of the weekend.

There are other glamping options (Lake Eldorado, Safari), but those are much pricier and often include festival tickets. They don’t follow the same criteria as the GA camping areas, so I’ve limited this article to those.

Campers hug at their tent at night.
Campers hug at their tent.
(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

But what is the difference between car and tent camping?

The only actual difference we’ve found is that car camping gives you access to your car easily, while tent camping does not. You do camp separately, but everyone is in the same main lot. Tent campers have access to everything car campers do, and you can still hang out in the car camping lots.

How many people can comfortably fit in a car camp area?

Two people with a mid-size car and a tent are my personal maximum. I’ve tried it with three people and it was ... cramped.

Do I need a camping pass to access the campgrounds?

Nope. A festival wristband is the only thing required to be in the campgrounds.

Is a tent required?

No. You can sleep in your car, outside under a canopy, a hammock, or on the ground behind your car. What you do in/with your space is completely up to you.

Tents are packed in as people set up camp.
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

What is the security process like?

First, make sure everyone in your car has a wristband, and your camping pass is on display on your windshield. When you arrive on site, you’ll be directed into one of about 20 lines. When you get to the front, security guards will ask you to step out of your car. They’ll check all of your stuff. The lines are rarely consistent — your line may have security opening suitcases, tent bags and coolers or they’ll open your glove box and usher you onward.

Pro tip: I like to offer the security guards water, soda or snack. They are often overworked, understaffed and underpaid. Kindness goes a long way, especially given how hard they could make the beginning of your day.

What camping amenities are available?

The General Store: A large store in the middle of the grounds, selling everyday items you may have forgotten — toiletries, camping gear and bedding, snacks, ice and even a microwave.

A silent disco: Where the party people go at the end of the night.

Activities Tent: Where the early birds flock to for daytime activities like dodgeball and yoga.

Charging stations and an internet café: For those busy bees.

Necessities: Food vendors, Port-o-potties, shower trailers.

A shuttle: It takes you to Ralph’s, the nearest grocery store.

What should I bring?

  • A straight-legged EZ-Up. This isn’t a suggestion. This is a necessity. You will absolutely regret it for the rest of your life if you don’t get an EZ-Up. I also use a canopy wall (just one) for a little privacy and to keep the sun out.
  • Plastic stakes (and a mallet) to stake down your EZ-Up. Metal stakes will 100% be confiscated by security.
  • Frozen water bottles. Use them in your cooler in lieu of ice packs. They’ll keep your food and drinks cold, and when they melt, you’ll have cold water. (Some people swear by dry ice. I’ve never been able to figure it out.) They also sell bags of ice around the campgrounds, either at the general store, or through pickup trucks driving around the site.
  • A food cooler and a beverage cooler. You’ll likely be opening the beverage one far more than the food one, so this should help make your ice last longer in at least one of them.
  • Anything that makes your camp feel like home. Bring rugs, tapestries and inflatable furniture. I use a ton of both solar and battery-powered string lights. Fancy lights make your camp pretty while also helping you find your campsite in the dark.
  • Even more lights. Headlamps. Lanterns. Flashlights.
  • A multi-tool. I also like zip ties, thin rope and duct tape to secure things and to have on hand in case of emergencies. Our camp shower broke in a wind storm last year and we duct taped it to all hell and it survived the weekend.
  • A camping shower. But if you don’t bring one, try to shower as early as humanly possible. Anywhere around 7 a.m. is ideal. Once it hits 9 a.m., you’ll be waiting a while out in the heat.
  • Ear plugs and an eye mask. These are crucial. I just added the eye mask last year and holy shirtballs, that was a game changer for sleeping in beyond the dreaded time when your tent becomes a sauna.
  • A tank full of gas if you’re car camping. Fill your car up just before getting in line to enter. You don’t know how long you’ll be in line for security. To add: I’ll often sit in my car in the morning and do my makeup in the air conditioning (or just to cool off, let’s be real.) Do not keep your keys in the ignition only for too long. It’s very sad when you’re ready to go home Monday morning and your car won’t start. And bring jumper cables! Though if you forget, AAA is on-site.
A music fan brings a bag of ice back to his camp site.
(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

What’s one of the best parts of camping at Coachella?

Day Zero, or the Thursday before the festival. It’s a whole mood. The grounds are electric and energy is at an all-time high as everyone mills around. I love getting to the campgrounds as early as possible to absorb it all. Some key things to do this day are:

  • A vintage merch sale happens around sunset near the Silent Disco, where merch from previous years is sold at a huge discount.
  • Sunset on the hill in Lot 4. Hundreds of campers gather on this beloved landmark to watch our first sunset over the desert.

A party in the tent.
The best Coachella party might just be in a tent.
(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)


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