Upon entering the grounds, your attention is stolen by the spinning Ferris wheel with an illuminated road runner at its center. Don’t forget to take a photo posing in front of it. Yes, you were here.
Smaller acts perform during the day and it’s nice to get to the festival early, even if you’re not necessarily interested in seeing any of them. Coachella is never empty, but arriving between noon and 2 p.m. is about as close as you’ll get. You’ll appreciate this calm when the storm of festival-goers descends in early evening.
I recommend starting with a burger. It will serve as a good base if you plan on drinking and help power you through the relentless afternoon sun. Days at Coachella pass similar to those spent on the beach — hours slip by without you noticing and with so much stimuli vying for your attention, it’s easy to get distracted and forget to eat.
So even if you don’t feel hungry or want to jump right into dancing, heed my advice and make a detour for the Craft Beer Barn where you can order a smashed Wagyu cheeseburger from Burger She Wrote. It’s worth whatever line you have to stand in, but if you’re impatient, try Hawkins House of Burgers near the Spectra installation or Love Hour in the VIP Rose Garden instead.
Near the Sahara tent, Best Friend is a pop-up bar modeled after Roy Choi’s Las Vegas bar by the same name. It’s a nice oasis during the day with dim lighting and an early 2000s R&B soundtrack.
New York City speakeasy Please Don’t Tell (PDT) constructed an underground bar near Coachella Courtyard that has AC and serves as a great place to recharge or wait out the hottest part of the day. The bar is cozy on the inside with a taxidermy pheasant and a deer head mounted on the wall. Seek it out on Friday before everyone else discovers the hidden watering hole. Imbibers are able to stay as long as they like once inside and the line to enter moves slow.
On Saturday, my first stop was 12 Peaks VIP for Broad Street Oyster Co. — not for the famous lobster roll, which is also a solid choice, but a half-dozen fresh-shucked oysters with a tiny Tabasco bottle and lemon. Slurping down the salty bivalves, it momentarily felt like I was under the beating sun on some white-sand shore instead of a land-locked desert.
Afterward, a plant-based “fried chicken” wrap from Olivia Restaurant was a nice addendum to round out my lunch. The pita bread was thick, warm and fluffy, and the fried oyster mushroom had a texture similar to fried onions, topped with sliced cucumbers, pickled onions, shredded lettuce and a generous drizzling of aji amarillo. If you prefer a meat-based sandwich, you can’t go wrong with the cheesy chicken parm from Ggiata‘s East Coast-style deli in the Craft Beer Barn.
Near the Coachella stage, 12 Peaks was my favorite VIP area. With misters, plenty of shade and couches for lounging, it’s a somewhat chill and restorative escape earlier in the day, but gets packed as bigger names head to the largest stage at the festival. When I went during BLACKPINK’s performance, it was so crowded I couldn’t even see the divider separating the private food court from the stage-viewing area. This is where you’ll find a Heineken-sponsored bar and the Postmates Retreat with drinks from Delilah and food from SLAB and The Nice Guy.
12 Peaks is also where recent Michelin awardee Camphor hosts its family-style tasting menu and a pop-up burger window. If you don’t want to commit to a sit-down affair, you can order the popular duck burger or ask about the secret menu item — a stacked burger with four patties that’s modeled after a similar item from In-n-Out — but the real move is to order the kiwi slushie, a tart and sweet icy treat with enough sugar to energize you for the rest of the night.
New to the festival this year and also in the 12 Peaks VIP area is the New Bar, a non-alcoholic bar serving spirit-free wine, beer, and mocktails. The drink I had was surprisingly complex and refreshing.
I don’t say this lightly, but the 200-person, family-style Outstanding in the Field dinner featuring a menu from chef Tolu “Eros” Erogbogbo of Culver City’s recently opened Ilé Bistro was worth missing Rosalía for (I heard she put on an amazing performance though). Held in the VIP rose garden that’s currently in full bloom and where you’ll find an assortment of additional food and drink vendors, we were greeted with Aperol spritz cocktails upon check in and each course included a California wine pairing.
Sourcing ingredients from local farms, the Nigerian chef took us on a culinary journey across West Africa with a menu he titled “Chasing Drums” and each plate referencing a different drum and region. The pepper soup with an aromatic broth and smoked shrimp atop a spiced tortilla chip was a particular highlight, but the seasonal salad with spicy greens, crunchy braised beets, hibiscus vinaigrette and carrot purée also took me by surprise with a simple yet pronounced flavor profile. Jollof rice is served alongside a thick pork loin crusted in suya and the meal concludes with puff puff donuts that have a satisfying crunchy outer shell and a soft and moist buoyant center. Chef Eros was hands-on the entire time, laughing with guests, graciously sending out additional bread courses and topping off glasses of wine. For Weekend 2, Outstanding in the Field will feature three different chefs and menus, including Rene Andrade and Derek Christianson of Phoenix’s Bacanora restaurant on Sunday, Apr. 23.
I got turned around when exiting the festival and opted for a danger dog as my last meal of Night 2. These makeshift vendors that you’ll see between the entrance and general parking aren’t official. Every now and then a police officer will shine a flashlight on their set up to keep them moving along. No matter, the bacon-wrapped hot dog is just $10 (most vendors are cash only, but I got lucky with one who had Venmo) and the ideal option for padding your stomach before bed.
After two full days of traipsing in the sun, I was moving slow on Sunday. I made Tijuana-style Tacos 1986 my first stop, ordering a set of four tacos with different fillings. Carne asada is normally my go-to, but the mushroom ended up being my favorite, with tender pork al pastor coming in at a close second.
Kali Uchis and Bjork played back to back on the Coachella stage, so I hung out near 12 Peaks for most of Sunday evening. My last festival supper wasn’t really a meal, but ended up being the perfect sendoff: a 15-gram tin of California-sourced caviar served with a side of crème fraîche and potato chips from Broad Street Oyster Co. It was just filling enough and a delightful contrast of textures.
The very last stop of the evening was a boozy slushie from Mírame. Hitting 90 degrees at one point, Sunday was by far the hottest day and I didn’t even mind the occasional brain freeze as I greedily sucked down the blended cocktail.
Photos in lead .gif by Broad Street Oyster Co., Foodsteez, Ramen Hood, Juice Bae, Love Hour, Veggie Fam Burger, Wolfie’s Hot Chicken, Sam Vinal, Danielle Dorsey.
This story originally appeared on LA Times