As a Napa local, I’ve been attending the BottleRock music festival since its inception in 2013, which featured The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, and the Zac Brown Band as headliners. I’ve only missed one year—in 2017, I was on my honeymoon—and have mastered how to make the most of the festival weekend even as BottleRock continues to grow in popularity and size.
From where you can find free nearby parking to why you should always pack extra toilet paper, here are some of my top tips and tricks for BottleRocking like a local.
Pack like a Pro
It’s important to note that BottleRock has a new bag policy this year, which bans backpacks. As for what you should put in your bag: a hat and sunscreen (lotion, not spray; aerosol cans are banned) will keep you protected from the sun—there is very limited shade in General Admission—and a jacket will keep you warm at night. I can’t stress this enough: the temperature will drop significantly when the sun goes down.
Toilet paper and hand sanitizer always come in handy when the porta potties inevitably run out of TP and soap. I also like to bring a portable charger to power up my phone, which always ends up dying before the headlining act from all of the photos and videos I take.
An empty stainless steel water bottle is an absolute must. It’s good for the environment and your wallet, for BottleRock has free refilling stations throughout the festival so you can keep hydrated. But the water bottle can have a dual purpose. My trick: I purchase two alcohol beverages at once, drink one, and pour the other in my water bottle to keep it cold. This saves you from having to weave through thick crowds and wait in line every time you’re ready for a drink. For this, I recommend a bottle that keeps beverages cold.
There are many transportation options available for getting to and from the festival. BottleRock is selling tickets to chartered buses going to and from San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, San Jose, Fairfield, Sonoma, Mill Valley, Palo Alto, and Santa Rosa. Uber and Lyft are always great options, especially if you’ll be drinking, but expect them to have surging prices due to high volume, which also means you could end up waiting a while to get one.
If you’re staying in or near Napa and are close enough to bike, there is free bicycle parking (don’t forget a lock), but Napa Valley’s local Vine bus is one of the most underrated ways to get to the festival. It’s extremely clean, efficient, and most importantly, free, plus they have extended the hours on their routes for concert goers.
Driving should be a last-resort option, but if you do take your own vehicle, don’t worry about shelling out the big bucks for a parking pass. It’s totally possible to find non-metered street parking on the outskirts of downtown Napa, especially earlier in the day. I like to search in the area around the St. John the Baptist Church on Caymus St. From there, it’s roughly a 15-minute walk to the gates.
At last year’s festival, it took me at least 30-45 minutes each day to get through the gates. The earlier you arrive, the shorter the lines will be, but unless you snagged a VIP or Platinum wristband, I suggest arriving an hour ahead of showtime for the first artist you want to see to ensure you don’t miss them.
There are two entrances. The main one is a bit of a free-for-all, but the side entrance on Brunel St. tends to be quicker, more civilized, and less claustrophobic (it’s a single file line, whereas everyone really just clumps together at the front entrance).
I’m hopeful that the BottleRock team has found a way to speed up the entrance process this year, but at the very least, they are offering a fast track option for anyone enrolled in TSA Pre ✓® . Find the TSA Pre ✓® RV parked on the corner of Bailey and 3rd, show your known traveler number, and they’ll give you a Fast Pass wristband to use at the main gate. You can also sign up for TSA Pre ✓® there; just bring your passport or proof of U.S. Citizenship and $85.
Keep Your Friends Close
There are tens of thousands of people at BottleRock, so it’s very easy to lose track of your friends as you separate to use the restroom, find food and drink, etc. When you return to the stage to find them, it can be nearly impossible as the crowds fill in. Moreover, cell phone service can be quite finicky.
Creating a totem is a great tool for keeping your group together. This consists simply of a stick and something your friends can identify tied to the top, perhaps a stuffed teddy bear or a cowboy boot. Bonus points if it lights up at night. Take turns holding the totem up throughout the festival and your friends will have a much easier time reuniting with you.
Top Picks for Food & Drink
The number one thing that separates BottleRock from every other music festival is its world-class wine and food offerings. It’s a great opportunity to experience some of the top wineries and restaurants in Napa Valley—at a fraction of the price of a full meal or bottle—so I recommend keeping it hyper-local.
As someone who visits these wineries and restaurants regularly, I’m providing my top BottleRock food and drink picks: for wine, get your bubbly from Schramsberg, rosé from Blackbird Vineyards, and sauvignon blanc from St. Supery. Personally, I don’t think red wine pairs great with warm festival days.
The Citrus Mistress from Hop Valley, an Oregon brewery, is my favorite festival refresher (find it at the Beer Bend), but if you want to keep it local, try the Hatchet from Trade Brewing, which has a taproom just a few blocks from BottleRock. As for cocktails, the Sun God from Hendrick’s Gin (with Lillet Blanc, fresh cucumber, lemon, and soda) is the definition of a porch pounder.
This year I will be going straight for a bucket of fried chicken from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc (if you haven’t had his fried chicken before, you haven’t lived). As an alternative option, the fried chicken sliders from Brix are a longtime BottleRock favorite. The Menchi Katsu Burger from Morimoto has become a BottleRock standby, but the wait in line is worth it. Like Ad Hoc, Boon Fly is also new to the roster this year and they’re bringing their famous donuts, a perfect treat if you want something sweet. For a snack that’s both light and refreshing, head to FARM for a cup of spicy watermelon.