Coachella's Best Parties

A road map to the best festival parties, and how to get in (or not)!

Coachella's Best Parties

It's funny to think people used to tell their friends they were "going to Coachella," as though they were headed to a single, mystical, solitary destination in the middle of nowhere. In the early years, you'd be hard-pressed to find clubs or culture that could rival the feeling of sinking your bare toes onto the lush, green grass of the Empire Polo Fields in Indio while musical insanity hit you from all sides. Flash-forward to the present day, and what the festival experience is known for has mushroomed far beyond the festival's chain-link fences and into every hotel, motel and Holiday Inn within a cab ride of the venue.

The club and party culture surrounding the festival has become a magnet drawing young, scantily-clad hipsters, ready to pump their disposable income into the main artery of the Coachella Valley. And not for nothing. In the past several years, the swath of extracurricular pool parties, day clubs and secret dance floors that only fire up after-hours are as much about status as they are about having fun. While a few of these parties aren't hard to beg or buy your way into, others stake their reputation on being too exclusive for mere mortals to attend (unless you're a hot girl, of course). Whichever side of the party spectrum you prefer, rest assured the desert provides it all during Coachella's down-and-dirty double weekend. Here, then, is our road map to some of the area's best festival-related parties. See you there!

PHOTOS: Coachella 2012: Bathing Beauties and Pool Parties

1. DESERT DAZE

If there was one aptly named place that encapsulates the paint- and dirt-slathered smorgasbord of psychedelic music that is Desert Daze, it would be the nearby city of Mecca. And for one day, that's exactly what Sunset Ranch Oasis becomes for the shaggy-haired seekers of a mini-Coachella built on local blood, sweat and bong smoke. Organized by Phil Pirrone and his trusty festival crew at Moon Block Party, the one-day festival assembles a lineup that mixes emerging LA-area artists such as Chelsea Wolfe, Fools Gold and the Entrance Band with OC faves such as Dahga Bloom, Death Hymn Number Nine and Corners.

Those who remember the inaugural 11-day bacchanal that tried to stretch itself through the entire run of Coachella weekends 1 and 2 might've been shocked to see Desert Daze reduce itself down to one, tightly compacted day of music, headlined by Grammy-winning, Mali-based, world-music band Tinariwen. Taking place on a 163-acre ranch—a catfish farm-turned-desert-oasis complete with three full lakes—its two stages will host more than 20 bands along with copious amounts of live art, street performers, interactive installations and communal activities. Perhaps one of the best features is the ability to camp overnight on the property, something no one could do last year. More important, it's a chance for bands from OC/LA and the Inland Empire to deliver a taste of mind-melting, head-banging talent to an immaculate palm tree-lined location sure to incite a large, gracious army of the great unwashed to partake in the 4/20 (their date, not ours) celebration. At Sunset Ranch Oasis, 69-520 S. Lincoln St., Mecca; www.desertdaze.org. April 20. $35-$65. All ages.

2. SBE NIGHTLIFE AND XS & ENCORE BEACH CLUB HOST THE DESERT PARTIES

Those looking for a pop-up slice of Las Vegas debauchery will likely have a room booked at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort. Imagine the biggest nightlife brand in Vegas teaming up with the biggest hotel on the strip to host five exclusive Desert Parties that mimic a full weekend of EDM-focused events, starting with a Friday after-party hosted by GreyStone Manor and featuring music from Australian EDM twins Nervo. The entire weekend is a study in posh, high-end club life: To accommodate an around-the-clock party schedule, a beach club, day club and nightclub will push a high-decibel mix of trance, house and techno the entire weekend courtesy of such massive stars as Morgan Page, EC Twins, L.A. Riots and Chuckie. The head manager of Insomniac even signed on to do production, so you know the ambiance will be legit. The party is mainly for guests staying at the resort, alas, which makes the whole transition from raging at Coachella to slugging back Red Bull vodkas on the dance floor to stumbling back to your hotel room on the morning walk of shame that much more convenient. At the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort, 44-400 Indian Wells Lane, Indian Wells; www.desertparties.com. April 12-14. Hotel guests and invite only, but if you can blend in with the Mexican busboys, you just might have a chance.

3. VESTAL VILLAGE

PHOTOS: Vestal Village's Coachella Party 2012

Every year, Newport Beach sports-watch accessories company Vestal turns a 40-acre ranch 5 miles southwest of Coachella into a three-day crash pad for invited guests looking for an extraordinary round of day and night parties. Over the course of three days during the first weekend, nearly 1,000 people come and go each day, getting full transport back-and-forth to the Empire Polo Fields to see Coachella. Hosting scores of sunbaked girls lying by the pool near an outdoor stage or the crystalline man-made lake, the property is a guaranteed hotspot for invited guests. Pro snowboarders, skaters and bands such as Eagles of Death Metal and Ra Ra Riot descend on a party that boasts multiple full bars, RV parking and camping—oh, and something called the Human Slingshot. After perfecting the art of using painter's plastic to turn the property's golf course into one big Slip 'N Slide, the Vestal guys got creative and decided to add a toe wedge (the bungee cord with a handle that most people use during water skiing) and a small ramp to launch daredevil campers into the air before they swan dive into an inflatable pool. It's an admirable stunt, especially for a company that thrives on action sports.

But the real action comes at night, when the barn house gets converted into a neon-drenched club swirling with projections and a round of post-Coachella performances that start at midnight and end when the sun comes up. The secret party has gone a long way to protect its exclusivity by not revealing the address to the general public, but should you be one of the lucky ones who find their way inside, you'll understand why it sometimes takes a village to raise a proper Coachella party. At a secret village in Indio—look for the streams of action-sports-esque folks; www.vestal.com. April 12-14. Invite only.

4. WFNX SAPPORO

Sure, we love to watch paid, half-naked models strut around a pool as much as anyone. But when it comes down to it, it's far more fulfilling to gawk at talented people than beautiful ones (of course, there are plenty of musicians who fit into both categories). For the true music fan, a party such as the one going on at the Sapporo House is a gold mine of low-key stargazing. Anchored by Boston-based Internet-radio station WFNX and Japanese beer brand Sapporo, this two-day party on the first weekend will boast a sturdy stream of acoustic sets from Coachella artists who happen to pop by and pick up a guitar. And trust us, they will do so in droves. Last year, the party drew a total of 26 Coachella acts, including Foster the People, the Hives, Passion Pit and Neon Trees. Before that, even Mumford and Sons stopped by to show their loyalty to a station that was one of the first to play cuts from their 2010 debut album. Invited guests are treated to a litany of on-air interviews between the bands and the radio station, as well as a two- to three-song set. This year, the party moves from its original location in the PGA neighborhood in La Quinta to a bigger pad in Indio that's just 6 miles from the fest. If grabbing a beer and picking up a casual conversation with a band such as Manchester Orchestra or the Black Keys sounds like your idea of a party, then you've got to find a way to get into this. At a private mansion, Indio—look for extra-hipstery hipsters; www.wfnx.com. April 12-13. Invite only.

5. DESERT GOLD AT ACE HOTEL

This year, the 11-day hipster bacchanal at the Ace Hotel celebrates its wooden anniversary. Coming up on five year's worth of memories drenched in booze, pool water and Coppertone, this year's stack of events sounds more than promising, starting with a cavalcade of live bands and DJ nights sponsored by Third Man and Warped Records. Among the highlights will be a return performance from Flying Lotus, who took over the sun-kissed commune last year alongside fellow deck masters Gaslamp Killer and Thom Yorke (yes, it seems so long ago that we discovered the lead singer of Radiohead had a thing for crate-digging and beat-making). FlyLo is expected to take the stage with DJ Day during a special edition of dance club ¡Reunión! Plus, there will be more deft DJ performances from KCRW's Jeremy Sole, Benji B and the pop-up version of LA hip-hop club the Do Over (complete with finger-licking barbecue and West Coast hip-hop classics). All nighttime events in the Amigo Room are free and 21-plus, while all Desert Gold pool parties are free and open to all ages. If they get to capacity, the events might be closed off (hotel guests will not be turned away), but be sure to plan your Coachella excursions properly so as to not be left standing outside with your porkpie hat, aviator glasses and neon swimwear. At the Ace Hotel, 701 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs; www2.acehotel.com/desertgold. April 12-21. All events are free.

6. MIRAGE at volt valley

It's one thing to go to a raging day party and then stop in at Coachella, but imagine being able to be at that raging party while you're watching the action at Coachella . . . from a hot-air balloon! It's the one perk of the Mirage party (formerly called the Oasis Pool Party) that just might make this the best auxiliary event in Indio. Located at a super-secret mansion in the unincorporated community of Vista Santa Rosa, just five blocks from the festival, the Mirage party treats invited guests to balloon rides that oversee all of the loud, colorful half-nakedness going down. Of course, that's not the only reason tastemakers, music-industry big-wigs and Coachella artists flock to this event hosted by such sponsors as Chevy Volt, Bagatelle Beach, Red Bull and Vevo. Erecting a poolside lounge on a lush, 10-acre property, Mirage will satisfy those looking for an action-adventure escape, a royal pig-out session and a glossy, high-end day-club experience. As if the Patrón-sponsored balloon ride weren't enough, picture a zip line ride over a giant lake, with a shiny new Chevy Volt floating on an island in the middle. Add a full roster of poolside DJs, gourmet-food vendors and the quick stumble to Coachella, and you've got yourself one of the best bashes of the bunch. At a private residence in Vista Santa Rosa—look for the balloon! April 12-13. Invite only.

7. NEON CARNIVAL

The Sistine Chapel of glowing, thumping, desert debauchery. Sporting a Ferris wheel as iconic as the one we're used to seeing at Coachella itself, the Neon Carnival is part street fair, part ultra lounge, part circus and part modeling runway—one of those parties celebrities are falling over themselves to get into. Created by famed LA party producer Brent Bolthouse, the event—sponsored by Armani Exchange—turns a giant, humdrum airplane hangar in the town of Thermal into a place that lures plenty of trendsetters and jetsetters from all over the world. A pastel, illuminated entryway reveals a world of big-name DJs; glowing dance floors; and beautiful people dancing on tables and taking over the stages with their hands up as roller coasters slingshot their bodies through twists and turns—which could be either really scary or really awesome for the stoners on board. If you're a somebody who wants to be seen by others in your social station, you'll stop by and stay awhile. At Tradition Aviation, 86400 Lightning St., Thermal; www.facebook.com/neoncarnival. April 13. Invite only.

8. LACOSTE LIVE POOL PARTY

PHOTOS: Lacoste Live Pool Party 2012

It's nice to know that if you're a reasonably well-connected festival-goer looking to embrace your inner preppie, the love will be returned at the Lacoste L!VE Desert Pool Party, as the brand behind that cute li'l gator logo is now a full-blown presence at Coachella for the fourth year in a row. Pitted on a sprawling mansion property within walking distance of the festival's grounds, the sea of flowing, white cabanas and olive-skinned models wearing Abercrombie & Fitch are as plentiful as the alligator-shaped inflatable rafts floating in the pool. And if you're looking for an excuse to combine your two great loves—shopping and swimming—there is always the ultra-swanky Lacoste pop-up shop with all the pastel polos and high-end threads you can buy. Last year, guests were treated to DJ performances from Elijah Wood (the Hobbit himself!), Myles Hendrik and Busy P of Ed Banger Records. Arrive early, as the event is very likely to hit capacity. And, of course, being so close to the festival means artists playing the festival are more than likely to wander over and hang out. Unknown location—try to divine where it is at www.lacosteliveblog.com. April 13-14. Invite only.

9. KROQ PARTY HOUSE AT COACHELLA

The KROQ Party House at Coachella is the day party that definitely has the avid live-music fan in mind, with a nonstop barrage of bands and artists delivering sets to a crowded (but not insanely packed) legion of partiers. Last year, the Hives, Awol Nation, War Paint, Group Love and more stopped by to jam out for a live broadcast, which you can listen to if you don't happen to make it past the three security gates. It's quite a change from the radio station's first Coachella party, which was on the main drag before you reach the festival—they've definitely wisened up since then. The private party is available to ticket winners who enter the ongoing, online contest at www.kroq.com. Not only will you be winning access to a sweet pad, but you can get plastered by the pool alongside Kat Corbett, Stryker and Kevin from The Kevin and Bean Show. Best of all, this ranch-style house delivers a party that runs on all cylinders until they kick you out at dark to go enjoy the festival. After all, that's why we're all here! At a private location in La Quinta—look for Dave the King of Mexico; www.kroq.com. April 12-14 & 19-21. Ticket winners only.

10. FILTER YACHT CLUB

PHOTOS:Filter Yacht Club 2012

Few things sound quite as novel as a nautical-themed party in the middle of a desert. And for the past 11 years, posh Coachella crowds have embraced Filter's love of the high seas with its annual Yacht Club party, sponsored by Aerie. Running during both weekends of the festival, this Coachella tradition is known for its buzz bands and free-flowing booze. Catering to indie-loving mag readers and boat shoe-wearing scenesters means plenty of the best baby bands coming through, ones that just might pop up at Coachella soon after, such as the LA-based, gritty, rock-girl duo Deap Valley. If you want to get a jump on a lot of the cool acts everyone will be talking about next year, you'll definitely want to set sail for this soiree. And don't forget your favorite Captain and Tennile hat—better yet, you should go as Admiral Nelson. At an unknown location—comb www.filtermagazine.com for scraps of info. April 11-18. Invite only.

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