The Ultimate Music Festival Guide: 12 Tips You Don’t Want To Miss

happy people, music festival, music festival guide
aLIVE Coverage

A few weeks ago, I attended KAABOO, a newer music festival in the beach city of Del Mar, just a short train ride from my apartment. In my opinion, this festival is totally underrated! With amazing art installations, top-of-the-line food, a wide variety of performers, an outdoor pool area, fun vendors, and plenty of room to dance—I loved every minute.

And in planning, attending, and plotting for next year, I’ve compiled this list of must-dos and must-haves for any music festival you’re thinking about heading to:

1. Plan your schedule ahead of time.

I cannot stress this enough. When you know you’re headed to a festival, check out the lineup for each day to see who plays, what time, and where the stages are located. Sometimes festivals create apps just for this purpose—you can literally add certain artists or shows to your personal calendar, or at the very least, see, chronologically, where and when everyone’s performing.

No app? No problem. Check out the festival’s website for lineup and maps. Take a few minutes to understand the layout of the grounds and where the stages are so that when you stumble across an artist you like, you’ll know where you are and how to get around.

Hot Tip: Something I’ve done in the past is take photos of my schedule, whether from the app or honestly just handwriting my ‘day plan’ out and taking a quick snap. This helps if you can’t get internet connection on the grounds, or if the app won’t load for whatever reason. (I always keep a hard copy backup with me, too!)

2. Read up on the venue’s security policies.

Some venues don’t allow backpacks whatsoever. Some venues will let you take in a water bottle if it’s unopened, others will only let you in if the bottle’s dumped and capped. Some places allow jewelry of any kind; some have restrictions on candy or other bracelets.

Before heading out to the festival, make sure you browse the security policies. There’s nothing worse than showing up with something you have to throw away at the gate, or being frustrated that you can’t wear/bring something in, simply because you didn’t take the time to read up on the rules. Save yourself the agony and check out the policies page first.

3. Check the weather and plan accordingly.

Days might be high 90s, nights might drop to 60s. Check the weather before you head out and see what you’re going to be dealing with. When night comes, you might want a light jacket/cover-up/kimono. Will it rain? Plastic bag poncho and mud-friendly shoes. Will the afternoon sun fry your skin? Sunscreen. Wide brim hat.

You might also want to consider the fact that you’ll be on your feet all day. As much as you love those high heels, perhaps having a back-up pair, or rocking a more flat-bottom option might be in your best interest.

4. Admire the art.

Something that truly sets music festivals apart is the beautiful art installations. I was honestly awestruck at what KAABOO had to offer—public art and a contemporary art fair. As stated on their website, the public art “transforms the venue into an evolving journey of surprise, delight, and discovery,” which is absolutely true. Some of the artists were working on their pieces live! As people were walking around! There was also a fair area where you could walk through, admire, and even purchase paintings/pieces.

Marisa Donnelly

These are a few of my favorites; I was able to see the artist working on the piece from start to finish throughout the three days. Not only were they beautiful, but each piece captured so many dimensions of our human experience. So diverse, raw, authentic, and fitting for a festival.

5. Take advantage of all the freebies.

KAABOO offered a free sunscreen both were you could stop and spray yourself before heading to the next stage. Clutch. Festivals may offer free water stations, free samples, free coupons, the opportunities are endless. Be sure to check them out.

6. If there’s something new, try it.

This goes for food, drinks, stages, and fun experiences. KAABOO offered hair styling for $10! There was also a flower crown station, where you could get handmade crowns (of real flowers!) to rock all weekend. And don’t forget about the pool! Festival-goers could pay to watch the stage pool-side, how crazy is that?

aLIVE Coverage

Don’t even get me started on the food. There is literally everything you could imagine at a music festival. Among new beers, fruity ciders, bacon mac and cheese, vegan options, and organic acai, I was in heaven.

7. Visit the smaller stages.

Main stage doesn’t necessarily mean top-of-the-line talent. Some artists/bands/djs might be excellent, but just starting their careers. Check them out! They are often so underrated, but are actually phenomenal and just building their audience. Plus, when they get big, you can brag to your friends about seeing them first.

8. Take photos, but also simply enjoy the experience.

Sometimes you just have to snap the stage, the lights, the dancing with your friends. Sometimes it’s fun to record your experience to look back on later, or to share with people who couldn’t be with you. (Ex: I saw two best friends Facetiming their other BFF on the East Coast during the Lost Kings’ set—how cute!)

But sometimes you just have to put your phone away, your camera down, and let loose. Sometimes it’s infinitely more important to experience the moment, rather than try to save it for later.

9. Remember to hydrate!

And no, I don’t mean with alcohol. (Though a little never hurts.) If you’re able to bring empty Camelbacks into the venue, do it. Having a refillable pack that you can literally wear is so convenient, especially when you find yourself dying of thirst in the middle of a crowd. If you can’t bring that in, see if you can take an empty water bottle. Or, if all else fails, purchase a bottle that you can refill at one of the water stations. Even if you don’t feel yourself getting dehydrated, dancing, drinking, and being in the sun all day will take a toll on your body.

10. Come up with an exit plan/meeting point.

Find a place that you can go to if you’re lost, if your phone dies, if you get separated, if you want to meet up before a set/end of the night. Establishing a meeting place will guarantee that you won’t lose each other, and will also have a ‘home base’ in case anything bad happens. Plus, it will help you plan your escape in the craziness of everyone leaving the venue.

Hot Tip: Sometimes getting a taxi/Uber/Lyft after a festival is an grueling process. To avoid a crazy line, see if there’s a different way to exit the venue, or other meeting point you can walk to. Waiting in line or being stuck behind 2750835 cars can just drain you at the end of the day. Plan ahead as best you can!

11. Make sure your phone is charged.

KAABOO offered charging stations where, for a few bucks, you could rent a portable charger or simply sit, chill, and recharge your phone. Not wanting to spend money? Bring a portable charger with you, or turn your phone on airplane when you’re not actively using it.

12. Dance.

Who cares if you suck at dancing? Who cares if you’re uncoordinated or silly-looking or all over the place? Have fun. That’s what music festivals are about—letting go, enjoying one another’s company, experiencing music and art and culture and togetherness and fun in a world that’s not always beautiful. They’re a sliver of time where sex, race, orientation, beliefs, thoughts, opinions don’t divide, but connect. We are one. We are celebrating life. We are coming together in appreciation of the things that make us human. And that is a reason to dance. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Marisa is a writer, poet, & editor. She is the author of Somewhere On A Highway, a poetry collection on self-discovery, growth, love, loss and the challenges of becoming.

Keep up with Marisa on Instagram, Twitter, Amazon and

More From Thought Catalog