California Music festivals 2014

April 13, 2024

best california music festivalContributor 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.

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

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!

coachella outside lands valueAlthough 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.

Round 2: 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.

coachella osl lineup postersAlso, 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.

Round 3: Value

Outside Lands seems like the obvious winner, right? After all, a ticket only costs 9, while a weekend 1 Coachella ticket will set you back at least 5.

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.)

Round 4: Discovering New Artists

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.

Round 5: 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.

music festival parties outside lands coachella location outside lands fog outside lands coachella food
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