Indian Wells Tennis: An Insiders Guide

The ultimate guide to attending the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California!

They call it Tennis Paradise and honestly, it’s hard to argue! Set in the beautiful Coachella Valley, the BNP Paribas Open fondly referred to as the “Fifth Grand Slam” attracts thousands of tennis fans every March.

My dad and I are massive tennis fans and I grew up with him taking me to the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Canada. We make the annual trip to California escaping the winter weather on the East Coast and below you will find all the details on how to plan and have the most amazing time at Indian Wells!

How to get to Indian Wells

The BNP Paribas Open takes place in Indian Wells, California which is part of the Greater Palm Springs area. We have tried a few different ways of getting to Indian Wells:

  • Palm Springs International Airport (PSP): is a short 15 min drive from Indian Wells. It is a great small airport to get in and out of and with easy car rental pickup and return. However, being a smaller airport, you may need to take a connection to get there – we connected through San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and it was quick and easy!
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX): my least favorite option given that the drive from LAX to Indian Wells can be anywhere from 2 hours to 4.5 hours depending on the traffic. We did this our first time visiting Indian Wells and stayed for a few days in LA first which was a fun side trip – but flying back we had to wake up insanely early to get to LAX on time so would not recommend if you have an early flight out of CA!
  • San Diego International Airport (SAN): this ends up being a less heavily trafficked road so is consistently about 2.5 hours and is a beautiful drive through the mountains. There are several hairpin bends (that I did driving a Tesla for the first time!) so beware if you get nervous driving windy roads!

Regardless of what option you choose – rent a car! Indian Well and the greater Palm Springs are are very spread out and you’ll waste a lot of time and money taking Ubers everywhere.

Where to stay in Indian Wells

There are hotels galore in the greater Palm Springs area – to be closest to the tournament you want to stay in Indian Wells. Other close by towns that we prefer are Palm Desert (10-15 min drive) or La Quinta (10 min drive).

  • Indian Wells Hotels
    • Hyatt Regency Indian Well Resort and Spa
    • Renaissance Indian Wells
  • Palm Desert
    • Westin Desert Willow Villas (a great option if you’re going with kids as it has multiple pools and beautiful grounds for walking)
    • Marriott Desert Spring Villas (have full kitchen and a great option if traveling with kids)
    • JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort
  • La Quinta
    • Residence Inn La Quinta

Pictures of the grounds at the Westin Desert Willow Villas

How to pick the best sessions & seats

As one of the larger tournaments after the grand slams, the BNP Paribas Open is a two week tournament starting on a Monday with qualifying rounds and ending the following Sunday. We typically like to attend the middle of the second week so that we catch the 4th round and quarterfinals and makes for a ton of great tennis!

  • Ticket Types:
    • Stadium 1 is the central court and will have the main matches of the day, it is reserved seating only. This ticket will also allow you entrance into the non-reserved sections of Stadium 2 and automatically gives you grounds access to the side courts
    • Stadium 2 often has some big name players especially during earlier rounds when there is a large volume of matches to be paid – ticket prices are slightly cheaper compared to Stadium 1
    • Grounds Pass is the cheapest ticket option and will give you access to non-reserved seating in Stadium 2 and all the side courts
    • My recommendation: if you are interested in seeing the truly epic matches, you want to buy tickets to Stadium 1. You can then easily flit around the grounds to catch other players
  • Packages:
    • The tournaments offers a variety of packages that allow you to bundle several sessions in one
    • Our favorite is do the mid week package in the second week which is tickets for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before finals weekend with both day and night sessions
    • We have in the past been able to easily sell the night session tickets at the last minute when we decided we needed an evening break from tennis
  • Stadium 1 Seating:
    • It’s the Desert – it’s going to be hot and there is no getting around it. However, if you buy tickets on the left hand side of the picture below i.e. the “09” to “19” section of any level (409-419, 309-319), you will have some respite in the afternoon as the sun moves behind you.
    • We typically like to be perpendicular to the court to be able to see the whole range of motion of the players – if you don’t mind being behind the players the “07” and “08” sections are really great because the shadow from the broadcast box gives you almost consistent shade coverage
    • The stadium is small enough that there truly is no bad seat so if you want to save some $ you can stick to the 400 level seats but towards the front (anything M or below)

Vegetarian eats at the Tournament

So I personally am not a fan of tournament food – for vegetarians there’s usually nothing other than fries or pizzas. Indian Wells has improved over the years but it’s still not amazing. Here are a few options:

  • Restaurants:
    • Indian Wells has a good array of fancy sit down restaurants including Nobu. They also have rotating chefs that come each year and in 2023 Jet Tila hosted Bistro 88. The wait times are usually insane and they take you away from tennis so we personally don’t ever take the time out of watching tennis to go to the sit down places
  • Grab n Go:
    • New in 2023 Chef Tanya is a vegan food place with great salads and sandwiches, their oat milk ice cream is also delish!
    • Melissa’s Market has a variety of salads and wraps
    • Lionel’s Fountain has French fries and new in 2023 a Portobello Mushroom burger! There is a surcharge for replacing a patty with mushroom (which is insanity!) but is a good option in a sea of meat
    • Wetzel’s Pretzel’s for a salty (or sweet) pretzel snack … IMO not as good as Aunt Annie’s
  • Drinks:
    • Like most tournaments the drinks are overpriced – Moet usually has a little garden area in the front where you can get bubbly and bottle service and typically one of the sponsors will have a signature cocktail

Our recommendation: fill up on a hearty breakfast at the hotel because the options for vegetarians are slim and over priced.

The limited vegetarian food options at BNP Paribas Open

Other things to know about the Tournament

  • Gates open at 10 am for the morning session; while matches only start at 11 it is nice to get in early and wander the grounds before the crowds gather. Security can also take longer as you get closer to match start time
  • Parking is free and easily walkable from the stadium – we found the sweet spot is arriving to park before 10:30 am, you get spots close to the exit which make it a breeze when you’re leaving at the end of a long day
  • BNP Paribas Open in 2023 had a clear bag policy and they are very strict about it so its better to invest in a Amazon clear bag that can fit all your needs
  • Bring your own water bottle! The concessions stand lines are long but the refill station lines are not!

Where to eat in and around Indian Wells

Luckily – vegetarian food outside the stadium is way better, here are some of our favorite places in the Greater Palm Springs area:

  • Tac/Quila, downtown Palm Springs: one of my favorite Mexican places, their vegetarian nachos are TO DIE FOR and they do a margarita flight that will knock your socks off. They book up quick so make a reservation at least a few weeks in advance!
  • El Patron, downtown Palm Springs: really fresh and delicious tacos with outdoor seating
  • Farm, downtown Palm Springs: great for breakfast
  • My Thai, Indian Wells: get their pad see ew and thank me later!

The delicious food at Tac/Quila, Downtown Palm Springs

Things to do in Greater Palm Springs

    While we go to Indian Wells to soak up all the tennis, there are a bunch of other things we have squeezed in on our trips there:

    • Joshua Tree National Park: a great day trip if you’re able to spend the time driving through the park, amazing scenery!
    • Palm Springs Aerial Tram: the world’s largest rotating tram car giving you breathtaking views of Chino Canyon
    • Living Desert Zoo: a great option if you’re traveling with kids
    I hope this guide allows you to have magical time in tennis paradise!