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. Here’s everything you need to know about drinking at Coachella…
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 at Coachella Festival
Sucks for you!
They were 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. Drinking at Coachella seemed pretty tough for the under 21s.
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 at Coachella Festival
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.
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 when drinking at Coachella. 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.
Drinking wristbands 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.
Which alcohol to take to Coachella
We bought loads of alcohol from Walmart the night before Coachella, 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. They were so good for drinking back at the tent!
Keeping it cold
Every day the ice man would come round in a little cart at the Coachella campsite. We’d (thankfully) bought a festival cool box 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.
Having ice at the campsite was honestly life changing, and such easy access to it as well.
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 trouser elastic at the ankle. But apart from that I didn’t really bother. There was just no need for us.
We’d got there at a good time and so were near enough the arena to pop in and out back to the tent when we wanted a drink. 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.
Can I smuggle drink into Coachella?
Of all the festivals I’ve ever been to Coachella had the strictest rules on the gate. Girls were having to take their hair down and pull their bras forward, boys had to pull their boxers at the waistband and I just felt like there was no getting it in there.
Another reason why camping at Coachella is a great idea, to make drinking at Coachella even easier.
You could have lockers outside the grounds and there were lots of people drinking there. If you do want to try, and give it a go smuggling some booze into Coachella then I’ve got the internet’s favourite guide to how to smuggle booze into festivals right here.
Can you walk round with a beer at Coachella?
If you’re in the over 21s drinking section, then yeah, sure. If you’re in the main arena, then that’s a no.
Drinking all day in the sun: the after effects
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. I was exhausted.
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. I remember my ex demanding we walk everywhere, I could barely breathe for all the sand in my lungs.
I strongly recommend you wear some sort of scarf around your mouth if there are sand storms, and just take it easy on the booze if you have plans afterwards.
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.
Drinking at Coachella
Drinking at Coachella is loads of fun, obviously. With the exclusive feel of the bar areas, thanks to the under 21s not being allowed in, it made it even better.
Enjoy your Coachella drinks everyone. Happy Coachella!