Music Festival Standoff: Coachella vs. Austin City Limits

Most people that know me, know I love music. And loving music and travel, means I’m going to hit up a few music festivals. Whether you like the big crowd vibe or prefer a more intimate setting (this is usually me), I think it is important to attend a music festival at least once in your life – because the experience is so unique and fun.

The front gate at ACL
The front gate at ACL

Austin City Limits and Coachella Music Festival are two of the biggest music fests out there today. They appeal to a large audience due to their diverse lineups – world renown headliners (Foo Fighters, Eminem, AC/DC, and Drake to name a few) mixed with lesser known indie rock, trance, electronic, and punk acts. Both have similarities and distinct differences. So which is the better festival? And which one should you go to?

Here is my personal ranking for each by cost, selection of bands, accommodations, food, crowd experience, weather, and after parties.

– COST –

DETAILS: Coachella 2015 cost concert-goers $375 (not including a shuttle pass, which is usually needed). Austin City Limits 2015 cost fans $250. Both festivals are 3 days, and admission includes unlimited access to the festival, all bands, and art installations/booths.

The festival grounds at Coachella

It’s easy to see the clear choice here, based on the above. But not when you consider that Coachella is a larger festival. When you factor in the amount of bands playing at each festival, the costs for attending Coachella comes out to roughly $1.74 per band. ACL costs more, at $1.77 per band overall.

(Coachella also prides itself on extras: They always have bigger, more IMPRESSIVE art installations, nice landscaping, and fancy packages included with their passes – which all add to the cost.)

Overall, because festival goers are highly unlikely to see EVERY band at the music festival they are going to and because some of those extras I got for Coachella just didn’t seem worth it to me personally, I’m going to choose Austin for this one.

WINNER: Austin City Limits


DETAILS: Both ACL and Coachella usually have similar-style lineups. Unless you have your heart set on one band that is going to one festival and not the other, you’re going to get a good selection of bands either way you go. However, the goal of a music festival is not to see one band, but many! Coachella wins this category because it has a larger selection of bands, with 216 artists playing in 2015 (versus ACL’s 141).

WINNER: Coachella


One of the stages at Austin City Limits

DETAILS: Austin City Limits is centrally located within the city (go figure). This feature makes it very easy to stay in town at a large selection of hotels and walk to the festival grounds. And if you don’t feel like walking, there are bike taxis EVERYWHERE to give you a lift. Austin also has Uber and regular taxis to get you where you need to go.

Unlike ACL, Coachella offers camping – which could save you a larger hotel bill and provide a unique festival experience. We found it way too hot (and dusty) to camp at Coachella and opted for the nearest hotel, which was definitely not within walking distance. To remedy the distance, they offer shuttle service that is abundant and timely to pick you up from your hotel. (However, leaving the fest and waiting on the shuttle to take us back took awhile. But we were able to bond with fellow festival goers while we waited.)

WINNER: Austin City Limits


Night concert at Coachella

DETAILS: The food inside the festival is honestly amazing at either place, with a large selection of local restaurants attending. And the lines aren’t too bad at either festival. Coachella does have better seating areas to enjoy your food in the shade (and on a table). At ACL, we were either standing at a hightop table or sitting on the ground to eat our food.

Outside the fest, Coachella is far away from everything. This makes it bad when you are hungry at a time when you are not at the actual festival. Austin is the exact opposite. There are restaurants everywhere, even right outside the gates.

For me, one of the biggest things was that Coachella serves beer only in designated “gardens” away from the stages, which is also where you have to drink your beer. This is annoying when you just want to enjoy your beer while watching your favorite band. Conversely, ACL had beer and wine booths in every direction – making it easy to grab a brew and head to your show.

WINNER: Austin City Limits


Main Stage at Austin City Limits

DETAILS: Coachella seemed more manageable from a crowd perspective. The design is set up so that people can enjoy the bands even from afar (without having to enter the pit or fight the crowd too much). The lines for the bathrooms were NOT completely outrageous, even toward the evening hours. Plus, the crowd at Coachella is studded with random celebrities. You are likely to see at least a few you recognize.

Austin didn’t seem to have that ease, crowd-wise. If you need to leave before a big band is about to preform, you WILL be winding your way through a crazy packed-in crowd, in search of the exit, even if you aren’t all that close to a stage. Also, the line for the toilets gets crazy toward the evening hours.

The merch lines were super long at Coachella, while we got our T-shirts right away at ACL (with no line). And the lines for water were about the same at both places: you’ll wait but not too long.

WINNER: Coachella


Art installation at Coachella
Art installation at Coachella

DETAILS: Coachella is in the middle of the desert. This means you should prepare for high heat, lots of sunshine, and sometimes even dust storms (which we experienced while there).  But the field, where the fest is held has lush green grass, which is nice to have while you are sitting and waiting on your band to play.

Austin usually has less of a scorching vibe but can still be pretty warm. Overall, my experience weather-wise was much more pleasant there. The festival grounds are definitely more dried up though.

Both places cool down at night.

WINNER: Austin City Limits


One of the stages at Coachella

DETAILS: Again, Coachella’s remoteness makes it hard to go out for drinks after your shows because nothing is that close. There are lots of after parties, but most are either invite only, or you have to purchase a pass ahead of time. If you’re into the Hollywood party vibe, this might be your scene. (It wasn’t mine.)

Austin has 6th Street, which is within walking distance of the festival grounds. And anyone that has been there knows that 6th Street is complete insanity on a Saturday night – it’s any bar hopper’s dream. With lots of restaurants and bars so close together, most of which without a cover, it’s easy to see a clear winner here…

WINNER: Austin City Limits


DETAILS: Both festivals were fun, and I had a unique experience at each. Coachella was beautiful, and it was the whole festival package. But overall, I think Austin City Limits’ central location, lower ticket price, and beer availability has me sold for future festival experiences.

WINNER: Austin City Limits

So what do you think? Which is your favorite music festival and why?

— Holly

2 Comments on “Music Festival Standoff: Coachella vs. Austin City Limits

  1. I always thought it would be cool to go to Coachella someday, but have never even heard of Austin City Limits music festival before! This comparison between the two is super helpful for those of us that are not as familiar with the music fest scene (like myself).

    Liked by 1 person

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