10 things to do at a festival (that don’t involve watching bands)

Festivals have long since ceased being just about the line-up. Organisers are wise to the fact that to hold their own in a saturated festival calendar, they’ve got to offer up something extra. Coachella is one festival that’s giving more. We investigated the alternative things to do when you’re just not that into watching another live set.

27 May 2016


1. Take in some art 

Is there a better gallery than the outdoors for a giant sculpture exhibition? Festival organisers commissioned a set of incredible large-scale art installations for Coachella 2016, each displayed on the grounds for festivalgoers to look at, go inside or clamber on. We turned the base of one piece into a makeshift dance floor during Major Lazer’s set. Loving Coachella’s philosophy of making art for the people!

2. Sample festival cuisine

A lot of festivals serve up some pretty good grub these days – and there’s usually plenty of choice. Make a three-course meal of it and hunt out a great place for a starter, another for a main and somewhere else for dessert. Coachella had lots of variety. Crispy rolls followed by Pad Thai, then s’mores sound good? Or how about grilled corn, tacos and a homemade pop tart? Tip: the mac n’ cheese and lobster we tried tasted better than it looked, but beware the über-garlicky monster fries with pulled pork and coleslaw – it’s a bit overpowering!


3. Stop for a drink

At festivals in the UK, it’s customary to grab a round of drinks at one of the huge bars and take it back to your position in front of the stage. At Coachella, the set-up is different. The rules are that you must only drink in designated areas, and as a result they’ve really made a feature of it, with pop-up bars and large fenced-off drinking areas that are must-visit venues in themselves. The Beer Barn was peddling a raft of craft beers – we sampled a strong one (but not the strongest on offer!) called Dum Dum, a pale ale brewed by the Bagby Beer Company. We also made a beeline for the Rosé All Day booth to get our wine-in-the-sunshine on.


4. Talk to people

What better way to pass some time than by meeting fellow festivalgoers? To be fair, for us at Coachella this was frequently combined with stopping for a drink but the designated drinking areas do provide a good opportunity to engage in conversation with some strangers. 


5. Play with your camera

Have you ever actually used all the functions on your smartphone or camera? Chances are, you just point and shoot. But of all the places, a festival is one of the best to experiment with all the different modes. We spent some time on the festival site away from the stages just taking video and shooting pictures of ourselves, other people and the things around us. We loved the time-lapse functions of the iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S7 and GoPro Hero4 Session. Virtual shot on the S7 was also very cool, as was Selective Focus and Video Collage which lets you shoot six seconds of video from four different angles (of different subjects too if you want) then puts them all together to play simultaneously to the soundtrack of the first.

6. Hire a bike

If you’re staying relatively close by, hiring a bike to get to the festival site is a great idea – at Coachella, there is bike parking close to the entrance. But it’s also a great opportunity to take some time out to explore the local area. Just mount your sat nav on the handlebars and take off! If you’re not taking a sat nav device, consider buying a US SIM card for your smartphone with unlimited data. That way, you can use your mobile’s GPS to navigate.


7. Ride the ferris wheel

Coachella isn’t the only festival in the world with carnival-style rides. But it does boast that it’s the proud host of the world’s biggest portable ferris wheel. It’s a pretty amazing sight from the top of the wheel, not only of the festival site sprawling beneath you but also of the desert and mountains beyond. And for only $8 for the ride, you’ll get some great shots.

8. Go clubbing

Watching bands can be a passive experience with everyone’s eyes fixed to the spectacle on stage, but there are also opportunities to let your hair down with a good dance. For the first time this year, Coachella hosted Despacio – a one-of-a-kind sound system with groundbreaking audio – and festivalgoers packed the intimate dance floor to immerse themselves in classic tunes spun by DJs James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem, DFA) and David and Stephen Dewaele (Soulwax/2manydjs). 


9. Shop!

We love a bit of retail therapy and the chance to browse the goods at Coachella was a welcome distraction. Aside from the standard band merchandise, you could buy clothes, jewellery, records, souvenirs and even art.

10. Make like a camper

Incredible provision was made for the happy campers at Coachella. Not only could you get your hair done at the Beauty Bar & Barber Shop, but you could also take part in yoga and Pilates classes, and get a massage at a dollar a minute in the Wellness Center. There was also an activities tent offering ping pong, pinball, arcade games and Twister plus loads more things to do, including art activities, dodgeball and a pie eating contest. Theres even an internet lounge with computers. UK festivals: take note!


Check out the rest of our Coachella coverage and gear up for festival season by getting the tech to take on your travels.