How to plan a trip to Indian Wells tennis tournament in Palm Springs, California

How to Plan a Trip to California’s Indian Wells Tennis Tournament

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When my mom and I were planning a trip to Indian Wells, one of the major tennis tournaments, a couple years back, I had so many questions. What sessions should we buy? Where should we stay? And how many days on site is enough? This is California, after all; we’ll likely want to see more of the Palm Springs area beyond tennis, right?

How to plan a trip to Indian Wells tennis tournament in Palm Springs, California

Though Indian Wells is not one of the four grand slams, it’s one of the biggest master events—the fifth-most attended tournament after the slams whose gardens boast the second-largest permanent tennis stadium in the world after Arthur Ashe in New York—and all your favorite pro tennis players will be there assuming they aren’t sidelined with an injury. In fact, it’s a mandatory WTA 1000 and ATP Masters 1000 event, and the player field includes the top 75 male and female players in the world, as well as wild cards and qualifiers. It’s also in a stunning setting referred to as “the Garden,” sheltered between desert and mountains.

Indian Wells tennis tournament in Palm Springs, California

I took copious notes during our five days at BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in hopes it’s easier for you to plan your own trip to one of the most prestigious tournaments in pro tennis. Even if you’re a fair-weather fan, you’ll love this event, I promise you.

How to plan a trip to Indian Wells tennis tournament in Palm Springs, California

How to get to Indian Wells

First things first: How do you even get to Indian Wells? Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) is just 15 miles west of the tennis garden and services many direct flights a day. I’ve flown into Palm Springs via Dallas on American Airlines, and I’ve also flown direct from Nashville to Palm Springs on Allegiant Airlines. You can also fly into any of the LA-area airports like LAX, rent a car and drive the two hours to the desert. In our case, it was cheaper to fly into Palm Springs.

View from the plane in Palm Springs

You will need a rental car when you arrive, especially for getting out to and around Indian Wells. The desert area of Southern California is very spread out, and while ride-sharing does exist out there, it’s not the most reliable mode of transportation in the area. On my last two visits to Palm Springs—March of the two past years—I’ve rented a car and only taken an Uber if parking was going to be an issue.

Also worth noting is the Indian Wells tennis tournament falls during prime Spring Break season, so you’ll also be competing with families looking for a little late-winter sun. In other words, book your rental car ASAP, a lesson we learned the hard way two years ago and couldn’t find a single vehicle for rent when I looked two to three weeks out.

Where to stay for Indian Wells

The Greater Palm Springs area spans nine cities—Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella—so it can be hard to figure out where to stay for Indian Wells. If I were going to the area simply to enjoy the food, dining and art, I would absolutely stay in Palm Springs as we did two years ago.

Where to Stay for Indian Wells tennis tournament

However, traveling to Palm Springs for tennis is a different ball game. If you’re a mega-fan and plan to be on site from start time till well after dark each day, you’ll want to stay as close to the grounds as possible: in Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage or Indio. For our own Indian Wells experience last year, Mom and I booked a vacation rental in Cathedral City with a pool. It was great to kick it by the pool each morning before heading to the tennis center grounds each afternoon.

Where to Stay for Indian Wells tennis tournament

That 25-minute drive to and from Indian Wells, plus parking then walking to the courts, at the start and finish of each day got old quickly, though. If we were to do it again, I’d book much further out and snag a rental house in Indian Wells instead. It’s a good strategy for groups, too; if some individuals don’t want to stay as long as you do, they can easily Uber or Lyft back to your hotel or rental.

Hotels and rental houses can be pricey during the BNP Paribas Open, and we booked our rental about six months before when inventory was still high. Here are a few hotels in Indian Wells and rentals near the tennis garden where you might start with your lodging search:

How to pick seats at Indian Wells

By far the most annoying thing about Indian Wells was hacking the ticketing system. There are so many options, and while I’ve been to tennis Grand Slams, seating for every tennis tournament is different. When I first booked our seats at Indian Wells, I had no idea what sessions to book and whether I needed seats or not—and wound up wasting a lot of money. Hopefully, my errors helps others in the same situation. The short of it is: If you plan to watch the center court matches, you’ll need to book seats.

How to plan a trip to Indian Wells tennis tournament in Palm Springs, California

Grounds passes at Indian Wells

Grounds passes (from $30 to $60 a day) are available for day sessions only and will allow you to stay at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for the evening sessions, as well. Grounds passes do give you access to non-reserved seating for Stadiums 2 through 9 the entire day; that said, a good majority of night sessions take place on Court 1 so only having a grounds pass is not the best option if you want to see night matches.

Grounds passes to Indian Wells: what do they get you?

Stadium 2 is included in the day session as well as the night session and many of the big players who aren’t assigned the main stadium will play their matches there. The only issue we found is that a lot of Stadium 2 is reserved, so seats can be tough to come by during big matches and on the opposite side of the stadium from the entrance. Also, this court is half-shaded and half-direct sun in the height of afternoon, which can not only be brutally hot but also tough conditions for watching a match.

Court 2 at Indian Wells: which tickets to buy

Access to the main court at Indian Wells

If you want access to the matches at the main court, Stadium 1, day or night, you must purchase a separate ticket, which is attached to a seat. We didn’t realize this in advance and found ourselves buying night tickets each day to ensure we saw the big matches.

How to pick seats at Indian Wells tennis tournament

Stadium 1 prices range dramatically from $57 into the thousands. On average, I’d say we spent around $175 per person for seats every time we booked a Stadium 1 ticket. This was often on top of what we had already spent for day session passes. A few times we sat in nosebleeds, and two nights we sprung for the lower bowl. The 400 levels are so high, it’s incredibly hard to follow the match, so I’d say if you’re going to spend the money, do so when you can get tickets in a 100 or 200 section.

View from Court 1 at Indian Wells Tennis Center

Since they scan your tickets via the BNP Paribas app to get into Stadium 1, you will only be able to access the section for which you bought your ticket. In other words, no seat-creeping to move up to a vacant section.

How to plan a trip to Indian Wells tennis tournament in Palm Springs, California

For Stadium 1, there’s a Daily Double option where you can reserve the same seat for the entire day; this is the more economical option now that I realize how much extra we spent to see matches at Stadium 1 after already purchasing day grounds passes. Next time we go, I’ll go this route on the days when all of our favorite players are scheduled for the main court.

My biggest tip for booking tickets is to wait until the week you’re attending—even day of in some cases—so you know what matches you’ll want to see. We made a classic rookie move and booked all our tickets months out being afraid sessions would sell out, then wasted so much money on tickets we didn’t use once we arrived to the garden and realized we needed a separate ticket for some matches. We wound up springing for several nighttime sessions because my mom is tennis’ number one fan and wanted to see many of her favorites take the court.

What seats to buy at Indian Wells

Luckily, we were able to buy tickets day of on the app. We also stopped in the box office to buy some tickets in person, but that was a much lengthier experience. When possible, I recommend buying tickets through the app.

Indian Wells in Palm Springs, California

Tennis is not a spectator sport for the budget traveler; that said, if you don’t care about seeing the biggest names in tennis, you can get away with just purchasing single day sessions and it will be much more affordable.

How to plan a trip to Indian Wells tennis tournament in Palm Springs, California

The food and drink at Indian Wells

We ate many meals on-site at the tennis garden, and they were fine, nothing impressive but they did the trick when we didn’t want to leave between matches. The lines were often long, and if you want to get into any of the handful of seated restaurants like Nobu, you need to get there early as they don’t do reservations, only walk-ins.

What is there to eat and drink at Indian Wells?

We also had quite a few drinks, which were limited to frozen margaritas and a limited selection of domestic beers. That said, if you go to the center of the garden, you’ll be able to buy more cocktails from whatever tournament sponsors have activations that year.

What is there to eat and drink at Indian Wells?

What is there to eat and drink at Indian Wells?
What is there to eat and drink at Indian Wells?

When is the best time to attend Indian Wells?

This is all personal opinion. Like any tennis tournament, I prefer attending right in the middle. We got into Palm Springs on a Saturday at the end of the first week and went to Indian Wells every day but one from Saturday through Wednesday and, as a result, saw second, third and fourth round matches for men’s and women’s, both singles and doubles.

When is the best time to attend Indian Wells tennis tournament in Palm Springs?

While seeing the semifinals or finals would be awesome, my mom and I both agree that we love attending a tennis tournament right smack in the middle due to the sheer number of matches we get to see and the fact that we have a better chance of seeing all our favorites play.

What seats to buy at Indian Wells

Other things to know about attending Indian Wells

There’s a clear bag policy for larger bags. Like most sporting events, Indian Wells requires the use of clear bags. Since the weather changes dramatically in the desert and you likely will need a light jacket after the sun sets, I recommend buying a clear plastic backpack that’s the maximum size (12” x 6” x 12”) to use as a day bag for your time at the tennis tournament. You can also bring in a purse (does not have to be clear) so long as it isn’t larger than 4.5″ by 6.5”.

Clear bag policy at Indian Wells tennis tournament

Bring a hat or visor and sunscreen. No big surprise, but the sun in the desert is brutal. Even when the temperatures hover in 70, the direct sunlight beating down on you is court side. Be sure you put some sort of hat in your bag, lather up on sunscreen and plan on a touch-up every few hours.

Bring in your own water. The refreshment lines at Indian Wells were long, and it was rare we didn’t have to wait 10 minutes or more just to get water. Had I known you could bring in your own canister, I would have packed my S’well (and also cut back on single-use plastic in the process).

The grounds open at 10am every day. While the matches don’t start until 11am—and often, there weren’t any we wanted to see until 2 or 3—it was nicer being there early in the day when crowds were fewer and parking lots not as packed.

What to know about planning a trip to Indian Wells

Make sure your phone is charged before you arrive. Everything at Indian Wells—tickets, parking passes, food and drink sales, merch—is cashless. Because the service is so bad in the desert, this will very quickly drain your phone battery, and you’ll need your phone to check the app for updated match times, as well as to scan in and out. A few times, my phone died entirely and there’s virtually nowhere to charge it inside the grounds, so I’d recommend also packing a portable external charger in your purse or day bag.

Nighttime at Indian Wells Tennis Tournament

Note where you parked. If you plan to park on site, you’ll want to buy parking passes on the app for the days you plan to attend. The parking lot is massive, and it all looks the same (because, well, desert!). Make a note in your phone app of where you parked and take a photo of it to help as a visual reminder. And then also write it down in case your phone does die!

Where to park at Indian Wells tennis tournament

Would I go back to Indian Wells?

Absolutely. This was such a fun tennis tournament in the most magical setting. We got to see so many of our favorite players take the court—Coco Gauff, Emma Raducanu, Taylor Fritz, Rafael Nadal, Shelby Rogers, Jenson Brooksby, Maria Sakkari, Paula Badosa, Jack Sock, Caty McAnally, the list goes on—and I’ve rarely seen my mom happier. I’m hoping we can make a repeat trip to the Indian Wells tennis tournament in the years to come.

Indian Wells in Palm Springs, California


 

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How to Plan a Trip to Indian Wells Tennis Tournament
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How to Plan a Trip to Indian Wells Tennis Tournament
COMMENTS
  • February 15, 2023
    Mel

    this was the best source i have seen about a trip to indian wells so far. thank you so much!

    • February 15, 2023

      I’m so glad to hear it, Mel! My mom and I were super confused when it game to day vs. night sessions and general grounds passes, so glad we could share some insight we learned through the experience!

  • February 16, 2023
    George

    Thank you so much for this! It was very helpful

    • February 17, 2023

      I’m so glad! Hope you’re getting to go this year.

  • February 19, 2023
    Jennifer Huebner

    Very helpful information. I’m so excited to go for the first time in just a few weeks!

    • February 19, 2023

      Lucky duck! I wish I were doing Indian Wells again this year; however, we are doing the Cincy tournament in August (Western & Southern Open), and I’m very excited about that one, as well!

  • March 7, 2023
    Angel Nakamura

    this was so helpful!! i’m taking my momma this year too!

    • March 7, 2023

      Have the best time, Angel! Mom and I will be watching from home and wishing we were there, too.

  • March 9, 2023
    Lauren Dorsey

    Hi! Can you explain how Stadium 2 tickets work? Is a Stadium 2 reserved seat hood for the entire day? Or do you have to purchase a reserved seat for Stadium 2 evening session if you want to watch your favorites that are scheduled to play at or after 6pm. I’m trying to watch both Coco and Tiafoe tomorrow evening. I appreciate your guidance and help. Thanks in advance!

    • March 10, 2023

      Yes! I’m fairly sure a reserved Stadium 2 seat is for the entire day. Personally, I wouldn’t buy a Stadium 2 ticket just for the reserved seat, as both the Grounds Pass and the Stadium 1 pass includes access to Stadiums 2-9. So really, you’d only need to buy that Stadium 2 if you were dead-set on having an assigned seat, but there was no problem finding seating in that one for any of the big matches, so I wouldn’t recommend paying separate for a reserved seat there.

  • March 19, 2023

    Hello,
    Random question maybe but for the finals day of Indian wells tennis final on March 19th, 2023. Is it just one ticket for the entire day that starts with 1pm?

    • March 19, 2023

      Yes! Just one ticket for Stadium 1 for the finals.

  • June 9, 2023
    Sara

    This was so helpful! If you buy a grounds pass can you come and go during the day and evening?

    • June 12, 2023

      You can buy grounds passes for day sessions only, during which you can come and go; however, they allow you to stick around at night, as well (not sure if you could show up just for the night session and still get in). That said, grounds passes won’t get you into Stadium 1, and a lot of night matches are played on the main court, especially in the later rounds (if you’re going the first week, you’ll probably be fine doing grounds pass as more of the courts are used at night). If you buy admission for Stadium 1 for day or night (or both), that will get you onto all courts for the duration of the session.

      Or you can do as we plan to in the future, buy a grounds pass for your first day or two you’re there if you plan to stay multiple days, then wait and buy any Stadium 1 tickets when you know who is playing where (if that’s important to you). There were *plenty* of seats still available day of!

  • July 22, 2023
    John

    What are the best areas (north, south, east, or west) of the stadiums to either sit in the shade or have the sun to your back in the afternoon?

  • September 20, 2023
    MC

    How far in advance to you recommend booking air bnb/airfaire?? Thanks!

    • September 20, 2023

      I would book your Airbnb as soon as possible as prices will only go up and availability down! We booked ours in November last time, but I started searching around September. Airfare, you could book now or you could wait until a couple months out. Assuming you’re traveling domestic, flights prices aren’t as dynamic as vacation rentals/hotels are. That said, March also is Spring Break season, so I’d keep that in mind!

  • September 29, 2023
    Keryn

    Thanks very much – this was super helpful and so well laid out and easy to read!!

    • September 29, 2023

      I’m glad you found it useful! We went to the Cincy Open (Western & Southern) last month, so I plan to write a guide to that one, as well, for next year. 🙂

  • January 2, 2024
    Diana

    That was really helpful. I’m planning to go this 2024 for first time, I think I’d get Stadium 1 reserved seat tickets, since I want to see top players and I’ll be able to access to other Stadiums as well. So, for Stadium 1, you think I can get still good seats if I buy it like in same week? And which zones do you recommend for Stadium 1?
    Thanks in advance 🙂

    • January 4, 2024

      Happy to help! I’m so excited for you—it’s a really great tournament.

      I think if you’re doing day sessions during week one, you can get good seats for Stadium 1 the week of. The tougher seats to land are obviously championship weekends and the match nights that pit your Top 20 players against each other. But also, a lot of tournament goers who buy the full book of tickets for all sessions often do resale on the ones they choose not to attend, so you could get lucky.

      As far as where to seat, that’s a bit of personal preference depending on if you like to be behind player benches, opposite them, or in one of the “end zones”—we went to the Cincy Open in August and sat in a different section every session just to see what we liked (my mom loves to be behind the benches whereas I like to be completely opposite them).

      I would aim for the 100 levels if the pricing is within your budget. It’s a very large stadium, and the night we sat in the 400/500 level, I felt a bit of vertigo! I found this link that shows different views based on where you’re sitting that should give you a better perspective on the stadium:

      https://www.eseats.com/sports_tickets/BNP-Paribas-Open-Seating-Guide.html

      • January 7, 2024
        MiniVan Dad

        So Helpful! Wondering which hotel to choose to stay at Tommy Bahama resort or Indian Wells Resort. It’s me, wife, and two 14 year olds (getting two rooms or a suite). This site is awesome BTW

        • January 7, 2024

          Thank you so much! Having not stayed at either resort, I’d go for whichever one suits your budget the best and/or has better offerings for your teens. Based on Google reviews, it looks like Tommy Bahama has slightly higher user ratings, but both are so close to the Garden that I don’t think you can go wrong. Enjoy your time there!

  • January 8, 2024
    Cheetos

    Wow, this is so helpful. Thinking of taking my elderly parents, who like tennis but really only know the top players that everyone has heard of. What tickets would you suggest for that? Do they usually play at night? Also, is it possible to drop them off near the entrance and then I go find parking? Thank you!

    • January 8, 2024

      I think the general session passes for right in the middle of the tournament (R3 or R4) would be perfect for them, so first weekend and into early the second week of play. At that point, the pool is narrowed down, but you still have a steady play throughout each day of matches on various courts. By the time it’s quarters, semis and finals, most of the matches are on the main court (so fewer matches to see), and what I love about tournaments like these is the ability to see so many different players on various courts.

      I would do a Stadium 1 ticket for whatever sessions you want to go to, because that gives you access to all the courts, 1-9. Personally, I’m a fan of the day sessions, but it depends on how they do in heat.

      And don’t forget doubles! I’ve loved seeing some of the top tennis players in the world play a tiny court with just 10 rows of seating or so.

      From what I recall, the Uber/Lyft drop-off point is pretty close to the courts, so I would think you could drop them off there when you park. This link also has more accessibility information about the tournament that might be helpful:

      https://bnpparibasopen.com/plan-your-visit/faqs

  • January 13, 2024
    David Guaderrama

    What is the policy on bringing cameras and lens?

    • January 14, 2024

      I didn’t bring one on this trip (just used my iPhone), but saw plenty of non-media with DSLRs and mirrorless models. Here’s what the site says:

      Cameras (without a flash) may be used to capture photos/videos for personal and private domestic use. Videos and photographs may not be reproduced, cannot be exploited or displayed in any manner or in any medium whatsoever without the express written consent of the ATP, WTA or the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

  • January 24, 2024
    Melissa

    This was very helpful, thank you for sharing! Just to make sure I understand before I buy tickets…if I buy a Stadium 1 ticket for night matches, do I have to also buy a grounds pass if I want to go earlier in the day for the other courts?

    • January 24, 2024

      Correct: Day and Night are treated as separate sessions so you would need a ticket for both (e.g. grounds pass for day, Stadium 1 ticket for night).

      Indian Wells does offer a Daily Double ticket where you can purchase for the entire day, but all the dates I checked didn’t seem to have availability. Worth looking at for your dates just in case, though. Enjoy!

      • February 1, 2024
        Melissa

        Thank you for confirming. One more question…do you have any sense for if the grounds pass tickets sell out in advance?

        • February 2, 2024

          I don’t recall them being sold out any of the five days we attended. Because they don’t guarantee you a seat in specific stadiums, it seems they have a much larger inventory of grounds passes than anything.

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