The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, better known simply as Coachella, takes place every year at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. If you are not from Southern California you may be asking yourself ‘Where the hell is Indio, CA and why is it there?’. You aren’t the only one, this is actually a fairly common question. Even a lot of people in Southern California who have heard of Coachella don’t really know where it’s held.
Indio with no traffic is about 2 hours east of Los Angeles and about 3 hours northeast of San Diego. So it is driveable from both major southern California cities. Orange County will have a similar driving time. The closest ‘city’ to Indio that people have heard of is generally Palm Springs, CA. This is also the closest airport to Coachella.
For clarity I am discussing how to get to the area, not to the actual festival. I discuss driving to the festival itself below. This section is about driving to the Indio area for the festival. If you live anywhere in the Southern California area this is how most people get to Coachella – just drive there. When I have attended Coachella we always go up Thursday, the night before Coachella begins. I’ve always been surprised by how little traffic we hit by leaving in the early afternoon on Thursday before Coachella begins. We have always gotten right to the area with very little traffic coming from San Diego. As the day turns to evening the traffic gets slightly worse but it isn’t as bad as you may expect. Heading home on Monday is another story – there is definitely traffic as everyone is checking out of their houses or hotels at 11 a.m. If you can leave before then you can beat it and fly home. On the Monday after Coachella the traffic will generally add an extra hour or so to your commute so just be prepared for it.
If you are from out of town you can fly into Coachella. Most people will fly into either LAX in Los Angeles or to SAN in San Diego. There is an airport in Palm Springs, CA which is definitely the closest airport but you are going to pay steep prices to fly into it. It’s a really small airport so the flights for Coachella become really expensive. You are likely to find it cheaper to fly into one of the other airports and rent a car. Coachella does offer shuttles from LAX to the festival grounds for a reasonable fee. All the information on those options is located here. We have also written a full article on flying into Coachella here.
Empire Polo Club, 81-800 Avenue 51 Indio, CA 92201
You can but I do not advise this unless you really have to. If you are staying far away there is an excellent shuttle service that I have discussed at length in another article located here. If you insist on not taking the shuttle this is a free country and you are allowed to drive. You can expect a lot of traffic, especially as you get closer to Coachella. It is not uncommon for it to take more than an hour to get into the festival, and as you approach the festival you it may feel like you are in a parking lot. One nice part about driving is Coachella makes the parking free at least. Parking opens at 9 a.m. and will be open until 2 a.m. If your car is there after 2 a.m. Coachella can and will tow you, so if you stay to the very end of the festival be sure to hustle to your car and get out of there before you get towed. Also note the area is swarming with police and checkpoints so Coachella is not the place to try to have a few drinks and drive home.
My biggest advice if you do drive is to go early and leave before the headliner finishes if you aren't a huge fan. Coachella really starts getting busy around 3 p.m., so if you head there at around noon to 1 p.m. the traffic will be astronomically better. Similarly, everyone leaves after the headliners finish. Leave with about 20/30 minutes left in their set and you will save yourself a TON of time getting home. Of course if you love the headliner this isn't an option, but if you aren't a huge fan it's worth it.
You can, just be aware of the aforementioned traffic. Uber and Lyft both love to advertise at Coachella and make you think it’s a reasonable option, I assure you this is completely and utterly false. The surcharges for peak time are through the roof. The official Coachella Forums are full of people saying they took Uber a reasonable distance (15 miles) and the fee was several hundred dollars. At the end of the night the peak charges are particularly egregious. I highly recommend avoiding Uber or Lyft if you can during Coachella weekend. Even if you are staying nearby do not use rideshare for Coachella, it’s just not worth it.
If you are staying close enough to Coachella biking is definitely an option. Keep in mind you will need to bike home after a long and tiring day in the heat of Coachella. If you are up for this then biking is an option. Be sure to bring a bike lock and properly secure your bike. There is plenty of fencing near the entrance of Coachella where a lot of people lock up their bikes. Just be sure to remember where you locked up your bike! Our friends at Yelp have the top 10 places to rent a bike in Indio here. You should be able to find a place nearby.
As I mentioned before you should check out the article below if you are planning to shuttle back and forth to Coachella, which I consider a great option. You can read the article on Coachella shuttles here.
Literally just follow the crowd; I assure you that you won’t be the only ones. You need to go through a couple wristband checks and security, which depending on the time of day could take 5 minutes or over an hour. Hint: go early to avoid this.