Drinking alcohol at Coachella isn’t like drinking at your average British festival. Rules, weather and festival logistics has meant the festival has had to adapt to things the likes of Latitude and Glastonbury don’t even have to think about.

There were three factors that made the Coachella drinking culture very different to what I was used to.

  • The legal drinking age in the USA is 21.
  • You camp with your car at Coachella.
  • It’s ridiculously hot.

I wouldn’t write a drinking guide for any festival in Europe but I feel like the laws and etiquette of drinking at Coachella warrant some explanation.

Under 21s

Sucks for you! They seemed pretty hot on not letting anyone take anything in past security or get into the over 21 sections. I’m sure you can use your imagination to get round this but seeing as I didn’t need to, I have no advice apart from just to drink on the campsite, if you get it past the car frisk that is. There’s a good atmosphere just outside the main gates as you queue to get in. I think this is where the cool kids hang out, and by kids, I mean children.

Over 21s

Drinking at Coachella

I was 28 when I went to Coachella for the first time, so well in the legal drinking age. This turned out to be brilliant. The fact that at least 50% of the Coachella clientele is under 21 meant that all the areas cordoned off for over 21s became exclusive.

  • More space.
  • We had the shady trees.
  • Better food options.
  • Shorter queues.
  • Better views

And most importantly, better toilets. In fact the toilets in the Coachella Festival over 21s bit were like the cabins you get at weddings, with mirrors and running water, not the dirty portaloos out there in the under 21s section. It seemed natural to start calling them the VIP toilets, even though all you needed to be ‘important’ was to be old. They were always in a nice condition and there was never a queue. Amazing!

In the over 21s section there were pop up cocktail bars as well as the usual festival long bar. If you went to the bar along the right of the festival as you went in you were also on a raised section meaning you had an amazing view of the main stage.

There was also an over 21s section down by the front of the stage, meaning you had a better chance of getting to the front with your beer. I remember being here for Pharrell Williams and having a clear view from the top of the picnic bench I was stood on. I could practically touch him.

Wristbands

Drinking at Coachella

You’ll have your Coachella wristband but if you’re over 21 and want to drink you’ll also need to get the daily coloured wristband too. You can pick this up easily enough in the campsite by just taking your ID along. This will be checked at every bar when you buy a drink and when you try to get in the over 21s section too.

What alcohol to take

Drinking guide for Coachella

We bought loads from Walmart the night before and then topped up at the local liquor shop on the way from our hotel in Palm Springs to Coachella too. We had margarita mix, gin (tried to give this away on the last day, no interest), red wine, water, Modelo beers, Tequila, vodka, rum – and plenty of it. We set it all up in the back of the car set up like a bar. A car bar.

We’d been to Bumba Gump’s in San Francisco and accidentally bought expensive cocktails that come with the branded cup and shaker. This turned out to be one of the best mistakes we made. We had these cups for the weekend to mix our drinks, eat our cereal out of and just generally have a nice, big, refreshing cold drink rather than supping out of paper cups.

Keeping it cold

Every day the ice man would come round in a little cart. We’d bought a cooler from Walmart so topped that up each morning. There was also a stall in the middle of the campsite selling it for $10 a huge bag. We just left the cooler out in the day and never had a problem.

Getting alcohol in the arena

When you go from the campsite to the area you will be frisked. Girls will need to pull out the front of their bra and guys pull the waistband on their shorts. I smuggled a hip flask in the bottom of my trousers one night, secured by the elastic at the ankle. But apart from that I didn’t really bother. There was no need for us. We’d got there at a good time and so were near enough the arena to pop in and out. The hip flask was pretty good for when you were watching an act and didn’t want to trudge back to the bar though.

It’s up to you whether you bother to try the alcohol smuggle. Even if you don’t succeed there’ll be plenty of people willing to help you down it on the gate, and it could be a good way to make friends.

Drinking all day

Coachella drinking guide

On the Monday after Coachella I was so tired and weak. Then on the Tuesday when I was meant to be living it up in Vegas, it really hit. One of my friends who I went with had to have a week of work when he got back from all the sand inhalation and just feeling terrible from going at it too hard. I spent the following week in New York unable to breathe properly and with no energy for sightseeing. Drinking all day really takes it out of you in the heat. Make sure to drink enough water before, during and after a drinking sesh to survive the festival and the comedown the week after too.

More on Coachella

Thursday at Coachella: Start to Finish
How to Deal With the Heat at Coachella in 10 Steps