Coachella vs. Outside Lands: Clash of the California Music Festivals

coachella vs outside lands

Contributor Kyle McWhirter has been to both Coachella and Outside Lands a handful of times. It’s tough for him to pick one festival over another, so Kyle breaks it down in 8 head-to-head rounds.

You hear it all the time: “What is the best music festival?”

While people from the East Coast will argue it’s Governor’s Ball, and Southerners will argue it’s Bonnaroo, and Midwesteners will shout for Lolla, we’ll leave that for another conversation.

Related: Where to get sold-out Outside Lands tickets

Being born and raised in the Golden State, I thought I’d weigh in on the two major California music festivals: Coachella and Outside Lands (OSL). We’ll put these two titans up against each other for eight rounds (music, atmosphere, value, discovering new artists, location, weather and food) to come up with a clear winner.


Round 1: Music

best california music festival

Coachella’s and Outside Lands’ lineups never cease to amaze me. In 2012 Coachella had Snoop Dog + Dr. Dre, Radiohead and the Black Keys! In 2013, Outside Lands brought Nine Inch Nails and Paul McCartney to Golden Gate Park!

Although both festivals have some overlap in their lineup (last year both festivals had Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs etc.) when it comes down to it, Coachella comes out ahead. Not to mention, Coachella pulls together some pretty epic reunions… the Pixies, Rage Against the Machine, Portishead, Outkast!

The Indio festival consistently attracts a diverse range of artists across each section of the lineup and lures some of the biggest acts in music. Outside Lands has seen some fantastic artists grace the Lands End stage, but top to bottom, can’t yet compete.

winner coachella logo


Round 2: Atmosphere

coachella outside lands atmosphere

Both festivals perfectly represent their milieu: Coachella attracts the fashionable LA crowd, while the attendees at Outside Lands are a bit more “laid-back.”

Coachella earns high marks for energy and sex appeal, but it can sometimes feel fake, as if people are just there to be seen. On the other hand, there’s a certain something about the ambience at Outside Lands. There’s also a lot more diversity, you can sit on a hill (or a tree) and take a breather, or push up to the front, whatever you’re in the mood for. At Coachella, there’s only one speed – GO.

Also, at Outside Lands, festival goers aren’t restricted to the beer gardens if they want to catch a buzz; you can walk anywhere on the grounds with a glass of wine or cold beer, bonus points!

Call me crazy, but this is a clear win.

Outside Lands Logo


Related: Where to get sold-out Outside Lands tickets

Round 3: Value

coachella outside lands value

Outside Lands seems like the obvious winner, right? After all, a ticket only costs $249, while a weekend 1 Coachella ticket will set you back at least $435.

With the sheer number of great artists on each festival’s lineup, you’re certainly getting a bang for your buck (a single Arcade Fire concert will cost you at least $100). This one could go either way, but I’m giving the edge to Coachella.

Once there, Coachella affords more opportunities to cost cut than it’s bay area counterpart. With a camping pass, and a trip to Costco, a frugal festival goer could feasibly keep their weekend expenditures under $200. Outside Lands, set in the heart of one of the most expensive world’s most expensive cities in the world poses more challenges. You’ll need a hotel room, or a generous friend with a big couch if you want to stay in the City.

HINT: save yourself the $30 cab fare each way and take Muni for a $1.50. It drops you off on Fulton, just two blocks south of the Festival Entrance.)

winner coachella logo

Round 4: Discovering New Artists

coachella osl lineup posters

It goes without saying that both Coachella and Outside Lands introduce a wide range of new artists to the masses each year. Acts that play earlier in the day shouldn’t be missed, and a few of them might even end up being your new favorite band sometime down the road.

But I think Outside Lands does an incredible job booking rising stars from San Francisco and from across the world. If you miss one of these artists at the festival, be sure to check if they’re playing on after-shows in the City.

Outside Lands Logo

Related: Where to get sold-out Outside Lands tickets

Round 5: Parties

music festival parties

Outside Lands puts on some fantastic after hours shows at some of SF’s best music venues, and there’s always the Marina bar scene, but this round goes to Coachella hands down.

The Coachella pool parties have become an attraction all to themselves. In fact, many people travel to the Coachella Valley just for the pool parties and after parties, and don’t ever set foot on the festival grounds.

Steal, lie, beg, or borrow for a way in, it will be worth it just for the story. If all else fails there is always fun to be had at the campgrounds, especially the silent disco.

winner coachella logo

Round 6: Location

outside lands coachella location

Do I need to explain? If it weren’t for the festival, the Coachella Valley would only be known for golf, dates, and old people (three of my favorite things, but not everyone’s cup of tea). Sure, the sunsets are like something out of a Salvador Dalí painting, and a picture of the ferris wheel silhouetted against the neon-lit palm trees will be your most liked Instagram upload ever, but the desert is no San Francisco.

OSL is located in the most picturesque city on the West Coast in a beautiful, forest-like environment. It’s the perfect blend of Sasquatch and Lollapalooza.

Outside Lands Logo

Round 7: Weather

outside lands fog

Coachella fans have a love/hate relationship with the weather.

Outside Lands fans have a love/hate relationship with the weather.

Fog? Sandstorms? Drought? California has it all! God bless the Golden State.

It’s all up to personal preference, but there’s just something about running around Coachella under the scorching desert sun. Maybe it’s because it allows for more risqué clothing to be warn or because it encourages slip n’ slides in the campgrounds.

For me, it’s obvious: sun > fog.

Besides, you can always cool down with a shower in the Do Lab, or enjoy  air conditioning in the Heineken Dome or Yuma Tent.

winner coachella logo

Round 8: Food

outside lands coachella food

You come for the music, but the food should not be overlooked.

Coachella has Spicy Pie and a farmer’s market. The chicken shawarma near the Outdoor Stage is great too!

But I’ll take the food vendors at Outside Lands any day of the week. Can’t find any food you like? San Francisco is a foodies’ paradise. Take a break from the festival and walk to your favorite SF restaurant. Did I already mention you can drink beer and wine anywhere at OSL? (yes, I did)

Outside Lands Logo

Tie Breaker – If you could only pick one…

So Outside Lands vs. Coachella… Gun to my head (or my wallet) and I could only choose one festival to go to I would pick Coachella. It’s more than just a music festival, it’s a major life experience and I think would die from a FOMO overdose if I ever missed it.

What festival do you prefer? Leave your answer in the comments below.



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