7 Coachella Alternatives—No Tickets (or Flower Crowns) Needed

Free and cheap happenings during and around the popular music festival

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This year, general admission tickets to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival sold out in a record-breaking 40 minutes for a whopping $375 a pop. So, in order to get tickets, you had to be one of the lucky buyers willing to shell out the cash to see Drake, Jack White and AC/DC.

Meaning, there’s a good chance you won’t be one of the thousands of flower-crown wearing folks headed to the annual blowout. Which, between us, isn’t the worst thing in the world.

However, if you are still heartbroken over the loss, we have good news. You don’t need a ticket to party like a rock star and sway like a hipster during the two April weeks Coachella covers. While throngs of festival-goers are stuck in Indio traffic, head over to the desert oasis of Palm Springs between April 9 and19 for fun alternatives like sun-drenched pool parties and late-night concerts under a starry desert sky.

LED Day Club

Days are hot in the desert, so ditch the clothes and don your swimsuit for the LED Day Club pool parties at Hilton Palm Springs (pictured above). Music promoters LED and Goldenvoice (Coachella’s promoter) partner to present top-shelf DJs for these relatively intimate dance marathons. April 9-12 features DJ sets from Chromeo, Odesza and Flosstradamus, and April 16-19 include Chvrches, Porter Robinson, Skrillex and friends, and DJ Snake. Check your self-consciousness at the door and prepare for a sweltering, sweaty time. Tickets are available as four-day passes or for individual parties. Prices range from $15 to $125. Must be 21+ to attend.

Neon Circus

Remember the carnivals of your youth? Empty dirt lots transformed into places of wonder, rides bloomed overnight and the evening felt loaded with potential. That same essence of carefree surprise has been distilled into Neon Circus, a playful, all-night party held at an old airport in the middle of the desert. Last year, DJs like Steve Aoki and Danny Masterson played for glow stick wearing, photo booth-hogging, funnel cake-devouring carnies, and you can expect the same level of excitement this year. Follow Neon Carnival on Facebook for updates on how to RSVP to this free event.

Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace

A scenic drive will take you into the high desert to Pioneertown, home of Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Part biker bar, part cowboy hangout, Pappy’s is located amid Joshua trees on an 1940s western movie set and boasts an old-timey soundstage. This years’ schedule includes performances by Caribou, Jenny Lewis, War on Drugs and Jamie XX/Jon Hopkins.


If the third annual Tachevah is anything like the previous two, Palm Springs is in store for one hell of a block party. This open-air celebration of music, co-produced by Goldenvoice, takes place outside the Spa Resort Casino in downtown Palm Springs. The lineup features a slew of emerging bands leading up to one heavy-hitting headliner, and is a family-friendly affair that attracts 10,000 revelers. This year’s headliner has not yet been announced, but previous years have seen Fitz and the Tantrums and Passion Pit. The event occurs April 15 and is free.

Desert Gold

This is the seventh year for Desert Gold at the Ace Hotel (pictured above), a free almost nonstop buffet of sight and sound that happens each Saturday from April 9 through 19. This years’ festivities will be DJed by dublab radio, who will also curate an eclectic lineup of musician mystery guests. Expect to see some DJs from The Do-Over crew while outdoor artist MOMO conjures up a new, large-scale wall mural in the hotel’s outdoor event space.

BUZZ Shuttle

The Palm Springs BUZZ is a new, free trolley service that loops through downtown, providing the possibility of a perfect bar crawl. Start with a smokey chipotle bloody mary (garnished with Champagne-pickled green beans) at Workshop Kitchen + Bar. Then hop back on the BUZZ to make your way down to “El Jefe at the Saguaro for street tacos and a Hemingway-a zesty, jalapeño-infused tequila cocktail with grapefruit. Along the route, don’t miss Hacienda Cantina & Beach Club, home of gigantic beer pong games played with garbage cans and beach balls. The BUZZ runs every Thursday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. For your bespoke bar crawl, download the app or check out the online map.

Brunch at Norma’s

Recharge after a late night of dancing with brunch at Norma’s, a playful yet posh dining spot decorated by Jonathan Adler. The fare ranges from indulgent comfort food, like a chocolate waffle with a peanut butter and toffee crunch filling, to the truly extravagant, like the Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata that sells for $1,000. The shaded patio is breezy and surrounded by desert gardens. Located on the grounds of the Parker Palm Springs hotel, where regulars include Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jake Gyllenhaal and Leonardo DiCaprio, Norma’s is a prime spot for people watching.

Maggie Downs is a writer in Palm Springs, California, covering travel, babies and books. She has eaten a burrito in every country she’s ever visited, even when it was a terrible idea.

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