The Big Trip: California

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  • A music festival is a great way to kick off a holiday – especially if it’s in a sunny desert near LA. Martha Hayes gets it on at Coachella

    A music festival is a great way to kick off a holiday – especially if it’s in a sunny desert near LA. Martha Hayes gets it on at Coachella

    ‘Have fun, party hard, stay hydrated!’ chants a chorus of twentysomething LA girls in khaki outfits, all gleaming smiles and endless bronzed legs. With afternoon temperatures in the Palm Springs desert hitting 40°C, how anyone can ‘party hard’ is beyond me. But, jumping into the swimming pool armed with a giant water pistol, I give it my best shot. Half an hour later, I’m topping up the factor 30 and hopping on a golf buggy to order ice-cold sushi rolls before the weekend’s hottest ticket – a certain Miss Azealia Banks.

    Red hot: Coachella draws top acts like Azealia Banks

    Wait, did I mention I’m at a festival? The Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival is 125 miles east of Los Angeles and started in 1999. It attracts acts like Florence + the Machine and Radiohead, along with 80,000 spectators for each of its two April weekends. Checking into the luxury safari tents at the Empire Polo Club sure beats pitching your two-man on a hill in the rain at Glastonbury. There’s no tripping drunkenly over guy ropes − just perky staff driving you to and from the main stage. Inside my air-conditioned, en suite home for the next three nights is a double bed, a fridge and numerous power points (hello, hair straighteners).

    Many festival-goers stay in nearby hotels, but nothing beats being in the thick of the campsite, hitting the late night catering for mac ’n’ cheese, and rising early for yoga (OK, I didn’t – but I could have). Besides, I’ve added in some nights in LA to get the best of both worlds. Before the festival starts, dinner at Ace Hotel’s King’s Highway Diner offers an insight into the pool parties that happen at this time of year. Girls in bandeau dresses dancing by the DJs as boys fling themselves into the water seems straight out of the ‘val party’ in Clueless.

    As well as cult film references, for me the lure of La La Land lies in spotting (well, stalking) A-listers and watching California clichés come to life (fillet of beef washed down with Fiji water – for your dog? It’s all here). Prior to visiting Palm Springs we stay at chic SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. Designed by Philippe Starck and boasting relaxing massages and experimental cocktails, it’s the ideal post-flight, pre-festival rejuvenation. 

    Hotel California: post-flight luxury at the SLS Beverly Hills Hotel

    Back on site, Alexander Skarsgård, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Emma Roberts are apparently all here, but it’s no wonder I don’t see them. You know how at UK festivals you feel guilty for sleeping off your hangover when you could be discovering the next big thing? Here it’s too humid to do much. There isn’t much in the way of daytime comedy/theatre, so it’s not uncommon to catch your first band as the sun goes down. Those tabloid pics of sun-kissed (un-sweaty) supermodels? Definitely taken post-7pm.

    Because drinking alcohol is restricted to designated areas, there are no lager louts, just a laid-back Californian crowd who look like they’ve just stepped off the set of The OC. Hi-tech wristbands make it impossible to take booze into the festival, so we fill our camp fridges with spirits from a local store and hold a pre-dinner cocktail hour. Crisis averted!

    I’m surprised when things end at midnight. Seasoned festival animals may find this disappointing, but by the last day – half-baked, half-cut and realising I’ve been sat next to teeny- tiny Melanie Griffith (a celeb! At last) for the entire set of Bon Iver – I feel anything but shortchanged. It was all worth it just to hear two of my favourite bands – Pulp and Radiohead – sounding better than ever.

    The next day, heading to refreshingly breezy Santa Monica, there’s no horrible post-festival comedown. I’ve wanted to go there since watching The Lost Boys as a kid, so cycling from its famous pier to Venice Beach is exhilarating. Ordering a coffee, the guy serving looks baffled when I ask for sugar, awkwardly handing me a bottle of organic agave syrup. It’s so LA and, like Coachella, exactly how you want it to be.

    After the festival go exploring in the Joshua Tree National Park

    Book now

    Air New Zealand ( flies daily from London Heathrow to Los Angeles from £609 return; upgrade to a Premium Economy Space seat from £325 per sector.

    Coachella 2013 ( runs the weekends of April 12 and 19. Tickets are valid for four nights and range from £218 for general admission to £4,075 for a two-person All Access Pass including ensuite safari tent, golf-cart shuttles, breakfast and late night snacks.

    Stay at Ace Hotel ( in Palm Springs, SLS Beverly Hills ( in Beverly Hills and Hotel Shangri-La ( in Santa Monica.

    For more information see or call 020 7257 6180.

    Five more festivals

    Dance in the Turkish sunshine at SunSplash ( in Antalya, at the beginning of June.

    For something cheap and easy, make for Meadows in the Mountains ( near Sofia, Bulgaria, in early June.

    Rock on at Eurockéennes (, the Glasto of France, staged near Belfort in late June.

    Party Spanish-style at Benicàssim (, near Valencia, in mid-July.

    Hop over to Ireland for Electric Picnic (, held at the end of August near Portlaoise.


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