Outside Lands Review + Music Festival Guide: Tips for San Francisco

I was so excited to finally attend Outside Lands Music Festival and write an awesome Outside Lands guide after being abroad for the last 5+ years during this festival. See, my birthday, August 10th, has always fallen on the weekend of Outside Lands. But I have literally always been elsewhere, usually in Croatia/Europe, and have watched the fun of my friends from afar as I spent my birthday traveling solo.

But alas, this year my time finally came to spend my birthday gallivanting around the fields of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, sipping wine as I walked through the trees between catching different musical and comedy acts. I tried to experience the best of what this festival has to offer so I can bring this Outside Lands review to you.

As I always do with my music festival review-guides, this Outside Lands guide + festival review will break the festival down into 17+ categories, truly giving you all the information you could need before attending Outside Lands, from my experience here. That’s why it’s a ‘review-guide’ – because it’s a guide for you as I review my experience!

Outside Lands Venue

Outside Lands is held in the massive, long, Golden Gate Park smack dab in the middle of San Francisco. The size of this park is very easy to underestimate – it’s honestly HUGE.

The festival already takes ages to walk from one end to another, and it doesn’t even take up half of the actual park. So don’t be fooled – it’s a big venue. The coolest thing is that there are loads of big grassy fields that are perfect for big stages, but there are beautiful forests filled to the brim with trees to give you the feeling you’re truly in the forest.

There were 4-5 main stages with tons in between. There were multiple little pathways through the trees and staircases over hills to get bwterrn all the good stuff in the venue. Here’s a look at the different places to visit during Outside Lands:

outside lands festival review sutro stage

Land’s End + Sutro Stages

Land’s End (Main Stage)

The main stage on the biggest polo field where all the headliners played.

Heineken House

At the end of the main polo field, where all the electronic acts played. This was a capacity tent so for big acts there was often a line to get in, which was a big off-putting but more exclusive if you like that.

Sutro Stage

Over the hill from Land’s End (and finally connected by a staircase, preventing a loooong walk) we have Sutro – where the more electronic-indie groups played.

Panhandle

Panhandle was another main-ish stage across the venue in another big field.

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks was the other ‘big’ stage all the way across the venue from Land’s End. It was often a bit of a bitch to walk to honestly – I really only saw a few acts there because I was focused elsewhere.

Those are the main stages of the venue, see below under “Festival Amenities – Other Stuff to Do” for the, well, other stuff to do!!

outside lands crowd corn crew

Yes, these people all brought corn into the venue. I love them. 

Outside Lands Crowd

The people at Outside Lands are generally American – specifically San Franciscan, even. It’s not really a very international of a music festival. I met a few Russians and a Dutch guy haha, but other than that nearly every accent was as Californian as can be.

I would say that OSL is basically an event that any music-loving person who lives in SF goes to every year. It’s just a thing like that. If you live in SF you’ll most likely see tons of people you know – it’s like a yearly reunion party that you’ll get stuck into if you live up here. And if you don’t, you should just ask any of your friends who live in San Francisco and it’s likely at least some of them will be going.

As far as age goes, Outside Lands had a huge range of ages. There were definitely children there (I saw one up on shoulders at the front of Florence + the Machine) and there were elderly music lovers as well. Most people were probably in their 23’s and 30’s, but this festival really knows no age limit on the older or younger part of the spectrum.

Outside Lands Vibe

The vibe at Outside Lands is that of a big, grassy, party. People are all happy and kind to each other within general SF reason, as with most festivals. People tend to know lots of people already and stay within their friends a little bit more here, rather than branching out and chatting with everyone. It’s no Tomorrowland or Lightning in a Bottle, but it’s a good vibe.

outside lands decorations festival vibe

A few fun things around the venue

Outside Lands Atmosphere/Decorations

Outside Lands really uses the atmosphere of the tall trees to create its foresty and artsy vibe. There will be lanterns hung in the trees and the occasional art installation here and there (like the main windmills on the big polo field (that everyone took photos with), some shiny diamond mirror pods, and some the massive ranger statues to go with the ranger theme).

There are painted walls surrounding much of the venue, which were clearly worked hard on by some very creative people. These add a nice colorful element to the atmosphere. Some signs are lit up in fairy lights, and some tents had flowy materials that would blow in the wind.

But other than that, this isn’t the most art-y festival. Creativity is definitely imminent, but not a main focus of the festival per say. It’s a nice combination of music, art, and lots of food and wine.

outside lands lineup festival review main stage lights

Outside Lands Lineup/Music/Artists

The Outside Lands lineup is pretty much always good, with a strong representation in most genres. This year (2018) we had everything from 80’s throwbacks (Janet Jackson) to rap + hop hop (the Weeknd,  Mac Demarco) to house music (Hannah Wants, Wolfgang Gartner) to acoustic electronic fusion (James Blake, Borns) to bouncy electronic (Odesza, Big Gigantic, Claptone, DJ Snake) to live bands (Portugal. the Man, Broken Social Scene) to solo acts like Tash Sultana and Beck.

See, you can’t find much more variation than the music at Outside Lands. For more info on stages, see the ‘venue’ section above!

Outside Lands Camping + Accommodation

Outside Lands Camping – there is none. Sorry, you’ll have to find a place to stay in expensive-af San Francisco.

Hope you have some friends here, or I recommend finding a cool Airbnb near Golden Gate Park (but booking wayyyy in advance!)! It can get expensive for sureso an Airbnb Coupon might be an idea also.

the barbary outside lands comedy
outside lands wine lands

Outside Lands Festival Amenities – Other Stuff to Do

There’s A LOT more to do at Outside Lands! Here are some of the other main areas of the festival with comedy, food, drink, wine, and more, and a couple other special events they had going on that are notable.

The Barbary

Located in its own little nook, The Barbary was where a lot of comedians and speakers came to do their thing. Bill Nye was probably the most notable of these, accompanied by all sorts of awesome acts.

Gastro Magic

Gastro Magic was another super interesting feature of Outside Lands where chefs and other creative cooks came to display their talents and teach people some things about food.

Wine Lands

Wine Lands was a vinno-lovers’ haven wull of all kinds of fancy wine from all over the world. Legend has it the pours were VERY pricey, however.

Grass Lands

Didn’t ya know its legal in California now?! Grass Lands was an area of the forest dedicated to the weed-smoking attendees focused (and I quote) on the ‘celebration, education, and integration of cannabis products into everyday life.’ Welcome to San Francisco!

Eco Lands

Eco Lands was the mecca of all things eco, populated by all kinds of non-profits and NGO’s either helping out or being helped by Outside Lands. Here you could talk with different organizations and learn about the efforts of OSL to manage waste and take part in public works.

Food + Dranks

It wouldn’t be Outside Lands if there wasn’t an absolutely gourmet selection of food and drinks available at every corner… that’s what they pride themselves on! Near each stage was plenty of vendor options, craft beers, amazing cocktails, and of course, wine. See below for more info on food and drink.

Chase Sapphire Lounge + Feast in the Trees

Chase was a sponsor of the festival the year I went, and they had an entire Chase Sapphire Lounge across from the Panhandle stage where members with Sapphire reserve cards could come in for free, lounge, mingle, and have happy hours each day at 6 (“sapphire at six”).

They also had a few special events called “feast in the trees” where special members could gain access to tickets to very special meals on a platform in the middle of the Golden Gate Park  forest. It was magical! The one I went to was a lunch made by a well-known chef with wine pairings – it was a cool deal.

Outside Lands Transportation/Hotels/Parking

To get to Outside Lands, you’ll likely want to take a ride-share or SF’s public transportation, the BART. Uber and Lyft are HUGE in this city and are always readily available within minutes, and are most peoples’ transportation mode of choice. The J line and I believe the N line of the BART stopped right outside Golden Gate Park.

From within the city, Uber and Lyft were always the call. From outside the city, maybe a combination of the BART and/or Uber!

Outside Lands Food/Drink

Outside Lands is specifically known for its amazing food and drinks. That doesn’t mean that they will be cheap, however…

‘Wine Lands’ is the place you can try all sorts of amazing wine. But, someone told me they paid $22 for a pour of wine there. I understand they need to make money but like… come on. I could get ten bottles of two-buck-chuck for that 😛

There are food stands near pretty much every stage, most notably all along the side near the Panhandle stage and up the hill from Sutro. You can get everything from Chinese dumplings to Korean BBQ Wings to loaded crisscut fries to pizza to glazed pork ribs. The options were both extensive and famous, with well-known eateries and food trucks from around San Francisco making an appearance.

They also have cocktail stands all over the place with hand-crafted cocktails, an actual specific cheese stand, and bars all over the place with 6-8 types of beer. The beers will set you back $12 though…. it hurts a little. Even the San Francisco chronicle said the drink prices had gotten out of control.

outside lands music festival shoulder ride girl odesza

Outside Lands Price

For 3 Days, the Outside Lands early bird price would be $325, and $750 for VIP.

The VIP tickets have a few special access areas with fancier bars, seating areas, and even some with TV’s showing acts live from elsewhere. The VIP sections has special viewing areas close to the stage at most of the main stages as well.

Outside Lands Security

Outside Lands security happens at the two main entrances to the venue, on the north and south side of Golden Gate Park near 34th street. First you’ll take off your bag and belongings and have them checked while you walk through a metal detector. Then you’ll scan your wristband in, and you’re in!

None of the security checks were too invasive, or very much more than an open and close of the fanny pack.

One of the most interesting rules at Outside Lands this year was that if you had a backpack bigger than 8 inches or so, it needed to be clear. This was a pretty big inconvenience in my eyes but it seemed that somehow everyone and their mother was able to get their hands on a clear backpack before the festival. My friend Amazon Prime’d on just before and got it right in time. I see where they were going with this, but in all reality a completely full clear backpack (with blankets etc) its just as good as, well… a not clear backpack.

I brought fanny packs each day and was totally fine. Either way, just make sure your backpack is clear or your bag is small!

outside lands VIP packages

The VIP area near Land’s End stage

Outside Lands Toilet Situation

At OSL, it was definitely a porta-potty situation. They were fairly clean the whole weekend and seemed to be cleaned quite regularly. There were 4-5 main areas with dozens of porta potties, and the lines were never too crazy unless you went to the ones right behind a stage after an act ended!

If you made it to the Chase Sapphire Lounge, however, they had ‘real’ toilets – they were still inside a truck, but they were flush toilets with real doors. The VIP sections also had some fancier toilets available. That was the only way to luxury!

outside lands music festival san francisco

Outside Lands Weather

You should ALWAYS be prepared for cold Outside Lands weather. If you haven’t met Karl, SF’s famous fog, you definitely will at least once during your music festival weekend.

Sure, OSL is in the middle of summer, but it gets COLD. You will always need a fairly heavy jacket, and usually pants. You’ll be brave if you wear shorts or a skirt; even the sunny days cool off substantially at night.

2018 was very lucky with weather – there were extremely warm and sunny days – but we still needed our furs and thick coats once night fell.

Outside Lands Fashion

Outside Lands fashion is like a colder weather and more hipster-boho version of Coachella. People match hats with fancy flare pants and fur jackets, with bohemian accessories and cute boots.

You won’t see anyone here in crazy wigs, excessive sparkles, or absurd amounts of jewels like at some festivals. It’s mostly a boho fashion show with a festival flare.

outside lands festival fashion

Outside Lands Time

Outside Lands runs from about 11am to 10pm or so on each day. It ends early, so many people choose to go out afterwards. This is a very debatable decision. 😛 Either way, there’s always a lot going on in the city for those who want to continue partying.

Money at Outside Lands

Money is handled normally at Outside Lands – cash or card, no fancy wristband system or anything. Chase is a sponsor with special perks but you can obviously pay however you like.

festival light spinning

Final Outside Lands Tips

  • Walking the stairs over the hill – a new addition this year was having stairs over the small hill between the Land’s End polo field and the Sutro stage. This was apparently a life-changing shortcut, shaving many minuted off of the otherwise long commute between the two stages. Make sure to use this.
  • Find less populated bathrooms – At Outside Lands Festival, it’s not always the smart choice to go to the closest bathrooms. There are some porta-potty areas that are much more secluded than others, or on a less-busy side of the stage. Be vigilant about this if you don’t want to wait in line!
  • Try the food! – Outside Lands doesn’t bring in all sorts of delicious and fancy vendors for nothin’. Treat this like a music AND food festival, and make sure to experience both. Heading to Gastro Magic would be a great idea too, to experience all the epicness that this festival has to offer.
  • Check out the comedy – It may not be part of the main lineup, but The Barbary is a super cool addition to the festival and had many interesting and/or hilarious acts. Don’t miss out on it!
  • Get in Early – Getting into the venue a tiny bit earlier may enable you to check out more of the extra things there are to do without feeling pressed to make certain music acts. It’ll give you more time to explore the venue as well! This is the festival that when 5-6pm hits, you’ll have a strict schedule of musical acts… so it’s nice to have some free time earlier in the day.
outside lands food

Yes, that does say “Baconland.”

outside lands festival guide selfie

Selfie time! 

outside lands heineken tent

Author: Anna Johnson

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