I spent years attending Coachella before realizing that the parties nearby were better — and cheaper — than the festival itself

I still enjoy live music during Coachella weekend - I just do it differently.

I still enjoy live music during Coachella weekend – I just do it differently.Melissa Curtin

  • The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is expensive and crowded. I prefer the parties nearby.

  • The first Coachella weekend means plenty of branded parties and pop-up events in Palm Springs.

  • I love meeting people, seeing stars and getting swag at these events.

I was in Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival five times, but I don’t really like the live music anymore. Instead, I use the events and parties nearby.

Finally, Coachella weekend it’s no longer just a big music festival – it’s a full festival PalmSpringsCalifornia, event featuring musicians playing pop-up shows in the desert and influencers throwing parties at nearby mansions.

A festival ticket is not required for the events outside of Coachella proper, and that’s where you can find me.

The actual Coachella music festival is no longer worthwhile for me without a VIP ticket, which I will not buy

For starters, getting to the Coachella music festival is a nightmare.

It’s about an hour’s drive from downtown Palm Springs, where I live part of the year, and it can take the same amount of time to get to the parking lot on arrival. The alternative is a ride, but expect to pay at least a $100 price increase and sit in deadlocked traffic just for the ride to drop you quite a distance from the entrance.

The sight of several bands and artists on the numerous stages of the Empire Polo Club requires a lot of energy and stamina. I’m not sure if I can stand for hours or run from one stage to the next so I don’t miss my favorites. The queues to buy groceries and use the restrooms can also be incredibly long.

In my opinion, it’s difficult to have an enjoyable time at the Coachella music festival without an expensive VIP ticket that can cost you upwards of $1,000.

Instead, I go to the parties and events nearby – they’re often free and more fun

Some events are invitation-only, some you can buy tickets for, and others are free if you stay at certain hotels.

Some events are invitation-only, some you can buy tickets for, and others are free if you stay at certain hotels.Melissa Curtin

I love attending the many free branded parties that take place outside of and around the Coachella festival on the first weekend. They offer intimate experiences with all the perks of VIP access and none of the carnival craze — or price tag — of the festival.

Brands trying to showcase their new products to influencers and celebrities usually host these events and I always meet interesting people from all over the world when I go. Also, I can usually enjoy free food and booze, listen to live music, and snag free loot at gifting lounges.

Some of my favorite free invite-only parties were Rachel Zoe’s ZOEasis — last year it was in a sprawling mansion and I got loads of free gifts — and Neon Carnival, a dance party 30 minutes from Coachella with DJs, carnival games, rides, free product samples, and celebrity sightings.

I’ve been invited to attend and report on many of these events as a writer, but I don’t think those invites are that hard to come by, especially if you have connections working in the music, film, or marketing industries—or even a friend with a decent social media following.

It depends on the event, but sometimes you just need to ask to be on the guest list or make a connection request for you.

I loved visiting ZOEasis.

I loved visiting ZOEasis.Melissa Curtin

You can also get access to some free events simply by having a designated credit card, staying at the right hotel, or signing up via email to be added to the guest list when someone announces a party.

It just takes a little research – google “Coachella brand activations” or “Coachella pop-up parties”.

You can also easily buy tickets for other local events. Last year I went to SOHO desert house, a pop-up party with gifts, live entertainment and unlimited free food and drinks. The tickets cost $200, or less than half of the cheapest Coachella music festival ticket.

I need to see and see Diplo perform Billie Eilish presents her new perfume.

I almost always prefer the parties to the music festival

At an event I attended, Lucky Brand Jeans had a giveaway section with freebies.

One event I attended had a Lucky Brand Jeans gift section with freebies.

One event I attended had a Lucky Brand Jeans gift section with freebies.Melissa Curtin

For a few years I tried to go to both the music festival and the parties nearby – but I wasted a lot of time driving around Palm Springs and hiking to and from the festival.

This year I plan to skip the actual Coachella festival unless I can snag a free VIP ticket or artist guest pass. Tickets are expensive and I think Coachella is only worth full price if you have the energy to consume multiple bands in a short amount of time and there are multiple bands you want to see in one day.

Instead, I’ll be partying Friday through Sunday.

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