I’ve been hauling myself to Outside Lands for at least 5 years now. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it—I love the bands, the food, the venue, and the sheer joy of running around at an outdoor music festival like a kid. Things I don’t love: the parking, the confusing weather (even for SF natives!), sore feet, crazy crowds, trying to see three bands I love who are all playing at the same time, the utter exhaustion after day 2. So here are some tips that will mitigate the misery of Outside Lands and highlight the fun.
1. Plan transportation carefully—Notice I’m not saying “don’t drive.” If you plan to arrive after 12pm, then I will say it: Do not drive. But if you get there early, you can probably find parking within a 20-block or so range of the festival, which can be better than being stranded late at night in the freezing Outer Sunset watching packed Muni busses and trains pass you by.
If you live in the city, definitely ride your bike. OL offers free bike valet service.
Or, buy a shuttle pass for $45. The shuttle picks up and drops off at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium from 11am to midnight. It’s well worth it not to miss a show while circling for parking, and to be whisked to Civic Center from the fog instead of waiting for public transit late at night.
2. Don’t bother packing food. The festival allows a small (6-pack-sized) cooler with ice, but do you really want to lug that around? Outside Lands has ridiculous number of gourmet food stands for nearly every dietary restriction. From AQ to Woodhouse Fish Co., plus tons of food trucks—you will not go hungry.
Check out all the rules on what you can bring here.
3. Don’t bring your young kids. Until I just read the fest rules, we planned to bring bring Frida. But, alas, the festival doesn’t allow strollers, and the guidelines say: “Due to capacity restrictions, everyone entering the venue must have a ticket and no strollers will be allowed. We discourage any infants or babes in arms.” “Everyone” apparently includes kids two and under. So if possible the best choice is probably find a babysitter, or take turns with your partner (that’s what we’re doing).
Kelsey Kopecky looking fly at Outside Lands 2013
Photo by Anna Alexia Basile
4. Wear comfortable shoes. I mean duh, but I’m saying this because many times I’ve worn flat shoes that turn out to be torture after a few hours. Sometimes boots and booties can be deceiving—they feel great after one minute, but if they lack cushioning they can be murder by the end of the day.
I recommend something like Blu Kicks, and if you buy a pair online before the fest (you can get 2-day or overnight shipping!) they’ll provide complimentary “Festival Feet” inserts. I tried them out, they’re super comfy. Or take advantage of the sneaker trend and wear some good ol’ Nike or Adidas! Yes Birkenstocks and Tevas are also trending but don’t wear sandals. Your feet will get extremely dirty and the terrain can be a bit rough.
5. Wear layers. You’ve heard it before, and I’m saying it again because it really can’t be emphasized enough. The temperature will likely vary by 20 degrees on any given day, so if you’ll be in the park from morning until night, make sure to bring warm layers that aren’t too bulky/difficult to carry.
6. Bring a backpack. It might sound nerdy, but there are so many cute ones to be found. You don’t have to feel like a schoolgirl carrying one (unless you want to). No framed or huge ones are allowed.
7. Don’t bring a blanket. Unless there’s one band you’re willing to camp out for all day on your little piece of real estate (because if you abandon your blanket, it will likely get trampled), give yourself the freedom to roam the festival’s many stages unburdened by a chunk of wool. Often the best shows can be found at the smaller stages… one year I remember casually walking by the Black Keys playing at a small stage, stopping for a listen and thinking “wow, these guys are pretty good!” If you really want the option of having a place to sit down, consider bringing a blanket you can also wear.
8. Bring an empty reusable water container, like a Camelback or other collapsable version (no glass is allowed). The festival grounds has handy stations to fill your vessel and avoid the environmental disaster of recyclable plastic bottles.
9. Plan ahead which bands you want to see each day. I mean don’t get too rigid about it—it is a festival, after all. But check out the schedule beforehand—you might have to make some difficult choices because several bands you love will be playing at the same time. Or back-to back-bands might be playing at opposite ends of the park.
10. Don’t drink too much. You’ll want to remember this festival you paid so much money to attend, and you definitely want to visit those port-a-potties as infrequently as possible.