As with cliched advice to carbo-load before your first 5K, the basics of preparing for Outside Lands are fairly obvious to anyone who’s ever been 10 blocks from the ocean in August. Wear layers, bring sunglasses, bring chapstick, bring a sense of adventure, drink water (but don’t bring any in!) and don’t be that friend who throws up behind the Bubble Tea Party.
Unlike a lot of festivals that completely rework their footprint year after year, Outside Lands mostly has things nailed down. I’ve been all three days for the last 10 fests in a row, which means I’ve spent an entire month of my life dashing from the Sutro Stage to Lands End, so here are some nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up.
Pick One Day to Get There Extra-Early
Outside Lands is more than music, and it’s more than food, too. From Eco Lands to the street art, there are whole swaths of attractions worth catching before the Polo Field fills up. Obviously, the best day to do this is Friday, because everything’s at its freshest while most people are still at work—if you’re truly early, you can snag a coveted locker to stash those extra layers.
Lastly, always remember that festival bragging rights are fourth-dimensional. So go exploring and give your future self the chance to crow, “Oh yeah, I love [insert name of act you haven’t even heard of yet]. I saw them at Outside Lands one time. I was right up front and they killed it!”
Totems Are Taboo
A lot of multiday camping festivals—Lightning in a Bottle, say—take place in remote locations with no sound curfew, which means two things: The party goes late, and cell service is terrible. So people compensate by crafting elaborate totems mounted on a tube, often with amazing memes and illumination, allowing you to locate your friends in a maelstrom of dancing bodies. That’s a no-no at Outside Lands, sadly, so pick a meeting spot instead.
Pro-Tip: The windmill works great!
Beware the Dust-Filled Choke Point!
Wildfires and Covid have acclimated us all to masking up, but nothing competes with a humongous mass of antsy people hustling en masse from Lindley Meadow to the Polo Field. That thoroughfare gets crowded, and it gets dusty (and if you try to outflank it, watch out for tree roots). Make it easy on yourself and bring a bandanna.
Pro-Tip: Like the secret passageway from the conservatory to the kitchen in Clue, the path from Wine Lands to Hellman Hollow is your friend when it comes to evading the hordes.
Don’t Forget the Weirdness That Is GastroMagic!
Technically, Outside Lands has a main stage (Lands End), two slightly smaller stages (Sutro and Twin Peaks), the Panhandle stage, which is smaller still, and the EDM-heavy SOMA tent. But GastroMagic, tucked away between Wine Lands and SOMA, is a hotbed of hilarious culinary-musical mashups. If there’s a lull in your schedule, it’s always worth wandering over to see what Ravi Kapur of Liholiho Yacht Club is up to with PawPaw Rod, or maybe get some beignets with Brenda Buenviaje of Brenda’s Soul Food.
Plan Around Food As Much as Music
This could very well be the most important part. You might have your schedule planned out to the minute but it can all fall apart if you find yourself starving at 7 p.m. when lines are at their longest—especially for ramen. Eat before 4 p.m. and after 8 p.m., and stay in sync with your friends’ appetites. If it sounds like something you can find in the upmarket Ferry Building, it’s likely to be smallish and very pricey. Don’t just browse options by the signage; stare at people’s plates.
Pro-Tip: If you drink alcohol, remember you need a new wristband at the ID check every day, so factor that into your schedule.
Make a Note of the Restrooms
Humans can be herd animals, and it’s easy to resign yourself to a long pee line because that’s all you can see. But another cluster of Porta-Potties elsewhere may be wide open! Beware the brazen sneaks who stroll innocently along, perpendicular to the toilets, and cut the line. (Shame them if they try it!) It never, ever hurts to bring hand sanitizer and some extra toilet paper, either.
Pro-Tip: Planning to wear a cute onesie or romper? Prepare yourself for some delicate hovering acts in the dark with one hand across both ankles.
Plot Your Escape Route
When it’s time to bounce, no venue holds a candle to Shoreline Amphitheatre’s hour-plus exits. But leaving OSL can take a while, especially if you vamoose right at 10 p.m. hoping for a Lyft. (Good luck!) Consider meeting friends for a nightcap on Clement Street or around Ninth and Irving until the furor dies down. Or take a swing through the impromtu night market that seems to develop around festival park exits, and munch on a bacon-wrapped hot dog until your ears stop ringing.
Cycling to the festival is fast and convenient for the able-bodied, although Muni fills up comically fast. If you’re taking the 5-Fulton or the N-Judah, you’re better off walking west (i.e., close to the ocean) in order to go east. And if you live in the city, give a thought to East Bay friends who need to get to BART.Peter-Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected].