In the festival season calendar, no event is bigger or sparklier than Coachella. From the iconic performances to the fashion, Coachella has become more than an event. It's a destination, a goal, a state of mind.
So when Sephora invited my best friend and I to experience Coachella as ~VIPs~ for the first time, we jumped at the chance.
Here's what it's really like to experience Coachella as a VIP.
Let's begin with some honesty: Neither Sable nor myself really see ourselves as "festival people."
One of the reasons we're best friends is that we value Not Doing Things (but Not Doing Those Things TOGETHER) very highly.
And yet we packed our bags, threw on our best puppy filter, and headed to Coachella. As we drove to JFK, we realized that we were off on the adventure of someone else's lifetime.
The VIP experience began on the flight to Palm Springs. Everyone on our plane was going to this festival — the flight attendant asked over the PA how many people were going to Coachella, and EVERYONE cheered.
As the cheers died down on the Festival Express, I looked around me and felt reality slide to the left a little. It's one thing to *suspect* that everyone who goes to Coachella must be extremely young and beautiful, but it's quite another to be surrounded by wall-to-wall Instagram models on a five hour flight from JFK.
Luckily, Coachella VIPs like yours truly don't compare themselves to other people. I read a book, took a nap, and lived through some extremely un-VIP turbulence before arriving in Palm Springs.
The next morning, the sun rose on a flawless desert day. I immediately distrusted it.
It's been winter in New York for approximately 100 million years now. I've been wearing the same three sweaters over and over because I'm too depressed to find new ones. I barely remember what the sun looks like.
But in Palm Springs, it's warm? And beautiful? And a chorus of small birds wakes you in the morning by singing on your balcony? WTF is going on?
The first order of VIP business: secure our VIP Coachella bracelets.
Because we're real VIPs, we didn't have to stand in line to pick these up — the bracelets were already waiting for us. I am petty enough to have felt relieved that I liked the color combination... lavender and blue, so chic right now.
Coachella's bracelets are similar to other festival wristbands in that they go on easily, but don't come off unless you cut them off. Of course, this means I immediately pulled mine too tight and spent the next three days trying to loosen it.
After attaching our VIP Coachella bracelets, we walked to breakfast. It was 70 degrees, with no humidity, and we were surrounded by landscapes that looked like this.
Sephora put us up at the Omni Rancho Las Palmas, which has truly hideous views like this. As a family of ducklings walked past us (literally), Sable and I were forced to ask one another if maybe we're suckers for living in New York.
The first thing every Coachella VIP will need is coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
I don't know whether it was the flight, the time change, or the altitude, but my Very Important Ass was DRAGGING. Caffeine — preferably injected straight into the vein, with coffee a close second — is a crucial element in enjoying the hell out of your festival experience.
Another pro tip: Fight the urge to go Californian and eat "something light" like "a cleansing green juice." This is Coachella. You are gonna be outside in the heat, fending off hordes of roving Jenners (probably). Eat protein.
Listen, if eggs and chorizo in a bowl is wrong, I don't want to be right.
The only part of this breakfast I regretted was the pepper, which I stupidly took a huge bite out of and was so hot my face nearly melted off.
I also got a post-breakfast sneak peek at some new makeup goodies. First up: a literal RAINBOW of Sephora Collection Cream Lip Stain Liquid Lipsticks ($14).
And oh yeah, there's also this stunning Sephora Collection holographic face and cheek palette ($28).
We also got to play with Hush Prism Airbrush Spray ($24), which is glorious rainbow hair spray for grown ups.
These spray-in hair colors ($24, Sephora) are super quick and easy to apply, wash out with a little shampoo, and have a satisfying sparkle to them. So not only can you have customized rainbow hair for Coachella, you can also rinse it out without damaging your normal color. And yes, these colors do all show up on brunettes — no bleach allowed.
If you're going to Coachella, wearing glitter is MANDATORY. Because I'm a VIP and make my own rules, I kept my sparkle relatively subtle.
I layered Lemonhead Space Paste in Groupie ($22, Lemonhead LA) over a sharp black cat eye. This way I could sparkle without sweating all my glitter off.
And because you can't wear a red lip without everyone asking you what lipstick you're wearing — this is L'Oreal Infallible 2-step Lip Color in Infallible Red ($13, Ulta).
But of course, the REAL Coachella question isn't "Who are you most excited to see perform?" but "What are you wearing?" Even as a VIP who would, presumably, not have to overexert herself, an outdoor festival still has certain practical considerations that must be taken into account.
First: Appropriate footwear. There is no P so VI that you do not have to walk a LOT at Coachella. Boots or sneakers are essential. Wear nothing with open toes or a high heel — you'll see why in a minute.
Second: Temperature. We attended Coachella on the first weekend, when it was "not that hot." This is a relative term. "Not that hot" in Palm Springs means it was around 85 degrees and sunny all day, then dropped to 50 at night. You need to wear something — like this weirdly great "Black Swan" dress — that is lightweight and will keep you cool during the day, but can layer with jackets or hoodies at night.
Finally: Sun protection. Consider me the Ghost of Skin Care Future, and do NOT be cavalier with UV exposure at festivals. Even if you are very young and think that getting sunburnt doesn't matter. It does, and trust me — you'll regret it in your 30s. A packable wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a buttload of sunscreen are the bare minimum you'll need to stay protected.
But truly, the only way to be TOTALLY protected from the scorching Coachella sun is to drape your entire body in black chiffon scarves and make your look "Grim Spectre of Death."
I ultimately decided against the full-body shroud, as being able to look for Jared Leto was more important. I wrapped this Alexander McQueen chiffon scarf around my shoulders to provide another barrier to the sun instead.
Once your outfit and makeup is perfect, it's time to hop a luxury bus to the festival.
Many hotels in the area offer shuttle service to and from the festival grounds. The shuttles work like special bus lines, so make sure you remember what line you're on. Leaving Coachella can be chaos.
Anyway, the shuttles are really nice, big coaches. I took a nap for 20 minutes in the air conditioning, before arriving at flower crown ground zero.
When you arrive at Coachella by shuttle, the first thing you see is a maze of wire fences lovingly referred to by security as "Bus Jail." This is to differentiate it from "Car Jail" (a huge fenced parking lot) and "Uber Jail" (the taxi pick up/drop off point).
If you arrive early enough, you may wonder why you have to wend your way hither and thither through a labyrinth of fences to get to the first security check.
You'll soon see why.
After you scan your VIP bracelet, you're ushered into a much shorter line.
According to the concierge at the hotel, General Admission at Coachella comes with a pretty hardcore "take everything out of your bag and show us your soul"-style security check, followed by a mile walk through the dust to the festival gates. We were advised to bring cash and take a pedicab from security to the festival itself.
You don't need to do this in VIP. Our bags were inspected in the same way they're peered into at a movie theatre to make sure you aren't smuggling snacks in, we walked through a metal detector, scanned our bracelets again, and were done.
As you walk to the private VIP gate, you can see traces of the festival looming in the distance... the ferris wheel, which nobody (including myself) has ever ridden, but everyone has Instagrammed.
I admit — even though I'm not much of a festival person, seeing the ~FAMOUS COACHELLA FERRIS WHEEL~ did make me feel kind of excited.
Though I had heard that the special VIP sections were "nice," that could mean literally anything. Imagine my surprise to walk through the gates and into... a glorious desert oasis?
When I thought of Coachella, I pictured an even dustier "Mad Max: Fury Road" recast with Victoria's Secret models in flower crowns. There was literally NO WAY I was expecting a football field-sized paradise, complete with grass, trees, and a freaking 10-foot fountain.
There are also multiple tented areas, where Important People can buy Important Things like craft beers, food, and merch — all while avoiding the sun.
Alas, the expensive VIP passes don't get you free food or drinks (except water, free everywhere) — but the VIP sections do have their own private food and drink stands, which all have dramatically shorter lines than out in general admission.
But the VIP food booths don't cut you any breaks on price. Based on what I saw, food and drink costs about the same across all of Coachella, regardless of how Important your bracelet says you are — expect to pay between $10 and $20 for small (but good) portions of food, and $11+ for drinks. Alcohol is especially expensive, requires a special wristband to purchase, and can only be drunk in certain fenced-off areas of the festival. In VIP, however, you can wander around with a beer at your leisure, so if that's your jam, this is the only spot you can do it.
Another VIP bonus: A special section to see the main stage performances.
At first, this seemed like a no-brainer — of course you want an unfettered view of the main Coachella stage! But the VIP section is allllll the way to the left, which means you're standing in the wings, and because the ground is almost totally flat, all you can see are the screens.
Obviously Coachella can't make stadium seating where no stadium exists, VIP or not. But if you're at this festival specifically to see the main stage performances, you may have a tougher time than you expected.
After that arduous walk, it was time to re-hydrate with — what else? — fresh lemonade.
Living in New York, I'm used to small spaces — and Coachella, which honestly felt like it was the size of Manhattan, is GINORMOUS. Once again, flat shoes will save you. You should also pick up a map from one of the information booths scattered around the grounds, as it's very easy to get turned around.
In between shows, the Coachella grounds are fun (though HOT) to walk around. But even early in the day, attending Coachella means having the FULL Coachella experience — which isn't always a good thing.
I honestly thought, as a cranky woman in my 30s, that I'd never attend a music festival again — let alone THE music festival destination for the fashionable Youth. In my mind, I built up an idea about what People Who Go To Coachella would be like — I imagined perfect blonde beach waves, fake tans, glitter, and cultural appropriation. I imagined a lot of selfies and strained cell service.
Turns out that, if anything, I undersold it.
For a large number of people, Coachella is one gigantic, expensive photo opportunity. There were not just selfies, there were professionally-staffed influencer photoshoots happening everywhere. There were vloggers walking around in miniature steadycam rigs, filming for their channels. There were "street style" photographers and trend forecasters taking photos of all the cool kids' outfits — we were photographed multiple times, which was hilarious considering the relative sedateness of our looks.
It's an unusual experience to go to a music festival where very people seem interested in the music, but that's 2018 for you.
Inside, you can get your hair spray-colored, braided, and curled, you can play with new Sephora Collection makeup and get fun tips, AND you can chill out at the glittery selfie station at the back.
Sable got her hair braided and looked glorious. I opted not to, as I've just made a major color change and have extremely delicate hair.
We also met up with talented makeup artist Yuui, and we enjoyed the glittery Sephora floor.
Sparkly and fun, just like us.
I was wrong. Turns out the rose garden VIP section is a literal rose garden, and it is ASTONISHINGLY beautiful.
Honestly, VIP tickets are worth it for this place alone. Walking into this section feels like leaving Coachella and going to some Agatha Christie-era garden party, only with less murder and more bare butts.
This was, honestly, 100% my speed. The rose garden has food and drink that you can buy, wifi (which overloads quickly, but is still there), VIP bathrooms, and private cabanas that you can snag if you arrive early enough. It's a very relaxing, beautiful spot.
The only thing about the rose garden? You'd better LOVE whatever is playing on the Mojave stage.
If you're looking for peace, the rose garden is a good psychological escape. If you're looking for quiet... not as much. The Mojave stage is literally next door, and it's loud as hell.
On the bright side, we did get to catch Flatbush Zombies without getting felt up by the demi-drunk frat dudes in the pit. So that's a positive.
The other really good thing about the rose garden is its proximity to the Indio Market, which is where all the best food is.
We ate spicy vegan ramen from Ramen Hood — definitely some of the best of my life — and had really good virgin Moscow mules from Bar Not Bar. There are really good non-alcoholic drink options at Coachella, which I liked, as booze felt like an expensive way to get heat stroke.
As the sun started to go down and we began to drift back to VIP area #1, the REAL Coachella crowd started to arrive.
All day, I had been thinking "Wow, it's not as crowded here as I thought," AND THEN SUDDENLY IT WAS.
If I had to do it all over again, I'd use my VIP powers to avoid the main fields from 6pm onwards.
This meant that we were sucked into the biggest crowd of people I've ever seen. Again, and I should have thought about this before it was too late, but Coachella gets unbelievably, incomprehensibly crowded.
Not to get too deep into my medical history, but large crowds are not great for my brain. Coachella was easily the largest crowd I have ever seen — it felt, in my moment of greatest panic, like a seething mass that was ready to overwhelm me, rather than a 100,000 glittery individuals. It made me feel claustrophobic, even in the vast open air.
I've definitely had more fun in public, is what I'm saying.
Thankfully, we made it back into the VIP section before I could really freak out. Even though there were now a lot more people milling around, it was MUCH less crowded. I felt my brain start to relax.
Leaving the selfie-packed fields and re-entering the main VIP area was surprising, if only because of the extremely visible contrast of "in" versus "out."
The VIP crowd was at least 10 to 15 years older, on average, than the people out in the fields. While the overall fashion look of General Admission Coachella was sparkly and naked, in VIP it was all about visible signifiers of wealth. I was draped in a McQueen scarf, so I'm not judging — but it was really interesting to see the style guide the rest of the VIP crowd was adhering to.
Based on what I saw in the VIP section, Gucci is the most Coachella bag brand, slightly too-unbuttoned blue shirts and a painful-looking sunburn are the most Coachella dude fashion statements, and that very particular shade of yellow-platinum blonde made famous by Playboy Playmates is the most Coachella hair color. Almost everyone in VIP was thin. Almost everyone was white.
Observing this style separation between the regular rich (General Admission) and the VERY rich (VIP) was interesting, to say the least.
As the sun vanished, we were treated to a truly spectacular sunset.
The mountains don't care if you're a VIP or not — they just care if you have eyes and a heart to care about natural majesty. WHICH I DO, OBVIOUSLY.
It immediately got 20 degrees colder, and the line to purchase Coachella hoodies got even longer. In the VIP section, the crowds began to pack in for Beyonce's performance at 11:30 starting at around 6pm.
At the end of a long, sunsoaked day, we hopped back on a shuttle and were ferried back to our hotel, having had our fill of the Coachella VIP experience for the day.
I'd recommend people leave a bit before the headlining act finishes their set. There's like ONE road in and out, and traffic is intense. It's very easy to not get home until 4am, just because of traffic.
That's a late night if you have a three-day pass, and are going to get up, glitter your entire body, and head back to do it all over again.
So overall, what was my ultimate Coachella VIP verdict? Would I go back and do it all over again?
Going to Coachella, let alone going as a VIP, was a once in a lifetime experience that I was really grateful to have. It's never something I thought I'd do, and I'm really glad to have done it once.
But I don't think I'll do it again.
Coachella, on the whole, was entertaining and wacky and self-involved and powerful and claustrophobically crowded. It was both better and worse than you could ever imagine, with incredible highs (Beyonce!) and wild lows (anxiety attack).
I will say that if you don't like crowds, this isn't the experience for you. I was very grateful for the VIP hideouts, because I found the sheer number of people at this festival VERY stressful.
I also didn't see a single celebrity, except for Amber Rose, who was surrounded by handlers. Many people say that you can spot all kinds of famous people just hanging around, and maybe you can — maybe they're all in a VVIP section that gets left off the map.
Overall, the VIP Coachella experience is expensive and it's overwhelming, but it can also be a lot of fun. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and I wouldn't have it any other way.