As settings for music festivals go, one can hardly do better than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park: a sprawling green playground of forests and meadows — larger than New York’s Central Park — surrounded by one the world’s most beautiful cities. The fourth edition of the Outside Lands Music Festival will bring 70 artists to the area of the city once known as “outside lands” August 12th through 14th, turning this urban garden into a cultural Shangri-La. But to have the best experience possible, you’ll need to know more than just the bands you want to see. Here are some tips and tricks to hit Outside Lands like a local.
1. Live in Layers: San Francisco is known for being windy and foggy in the summer, and there’s a reason for that: Many days, a gray blanket rolls in on a stiff breeze early in the afternoon and hugs the city until late. But warm — or at least warm-ish — sunny days are just as possible at Outside Lands. Come ready for anything, but veer on the side of bringing more warmth. You’ll want to save your budget for things other than an emergency sweatshirt.
2. Eat Adventurously: Outside Lands is as much about the food as the music. Seriously. Take a look at the dozens of food and beverage vendors who’ll be bringing some of highlights of Bay Area cooking to the festival, and start working up an appetite (and perhaps a chow fund) now. You may want to plan in advance which stands to hit. Will it be authentic Indian street food from Kasa, a fried plantain burrito from Little Chihuahua or bacon-studded hot dogs from 4505 Meats? (And no, we won’t blame you for grubbing on all three.) After you get your savory fix, expect to be seduced by the psychedelic flavors of Three Twins ice cream or the organic s’mores from Charles Chocolates. If you like things lighter, there’s local fruit from Full Belly Farms. Whatever you crave, come hungry — and don’t be surprised if the tastiest items sell out toward the end of each day.
3. Don’t Drive: Unless you want to circle endlessly, seeing mirages of unoccupied curbs instead of good bands, don’t bring a car to the festival. Instead, take a city bus or light rail, or (even better) ride a bike. Most S.F. public transit costs $2 per ride, but plan ahead for thick crowds and possible delays on the lines serving the park. Biking is truly your best bet for hassle-free travel around the city – you can even have your two-wheeler valet-parked for free right outside the festival gates. But if you crave a bit more comfort, Outside Lands offers a festival shuttle from the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco’s Civic Center for $4.90 per day, or $29.50 for all three days.
4. Respect the Environment: San Francisco is tolerant of everyone. Everyone, that is, except for people who throw garbage in the compost bin (and vice versa). Outside Lands especially goes to great lengths to be environmentally friendly — and part of its mission is raising millions to maintain Golden Gate Park. This year will again feature a stage, complete with lighting and live sound, powered completely by solar energy. Do your part to fulfill the green goals of the festival by recycling and composting everything you can, and keeping the park clean.
5. By the Foot: In addition to cruising the festival grounds each day, you’ll likely be walking significant distances in and out of the park and around the city. Put things on your feet that won’t make you hate your life during all that (and during the evening cool-off). Remember that Golden Gate Park can be a rugged place, and it’s possible to find yourself on short but steep and dusty (or even muddy) trails. Comfy, sturdy shoes are ideal – and unless you’re a nature boy, sandals are a risk.
6. Forget “Frisco”: Show some respect and refer to your host city by one of its many mellifluous nicknames: S.F., (pronounce it “ess eff”), “San Fran,” or even just “the city.” You can even call its surroundings the “Yay Area,” if you’re feeling saucy. But dropping the F-word will make you stand out — and not in a good way.
7. Wine On: Sure, you could drink $8 Heinekens all day. But instead, explore Wine Lands, an indoor vino mecca where, for about the price of a beer, you can taste from the diverse offerings of 30 local wineries. You’ll dazzle your tongue, gain a new appreciation for some of California’s best produce, and likely land some generous pours. The cool stemless wine glasses they give out come in handy throughout the day, too.
8. Sticky Fingers: Remnants of delicious food and hours in a dusty festival environment will leave their mark on your hands. Since the pump-it-yourself sinks by the porta potties usually go dry by the middle of the afternoon, you’ll be happy you brought hand sanitizer. All your friends will be, too.
9. Stay Out Late: The music ends in Golden Gate Park at 10 every night (9 on Sunday), but that doesn’t mean the party’s over. Outside Lands’ night shows kick off right around closing time at various venues around the city. Tickets to the intimate performances — which this year feature bands like Best Coast and Arctic Monkeys — cost extra, but if you want to see as much live music as possible, this is the way to do it.
10. Explore San Francisco: One of Outside Lands’ best attractions isn’t on the festival grounds at all — it’s the city surrounding them. San Francisco is geographically small but dense and exciting city, full of diverse residents and neighborhoods to explore. If you have extra time around the festival, venture out into the Mission District, Haight-Ashbury or North Beach for some urban action. And keep your eyes on the listings for local music venues — you never when a big name in town for Outside Lands might decide to sit in on a small-stage jam.