This Is Your Ultimate Sundance Film Festival Survival Guide
Do Park City like a local.
The Sundance Film Festival can be magical, or it can be a lot of standing around outside in the cold. I’ve had both experiences over the last 10 years of attending the festival as a local. In preparation for this year’s film festival, I talked to a few friends and compiled the tips we’ve learned through much trial and error below. (If you have some words of wisdom to add, please add them in the comments below.)
For starters, here are some basic facts:
â€¢ This year’s Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 22 to Feb. 1.
â€¢ Film screenings, panel discussions, parties, and other events take place in venues scattered throughout Park City, which is about 45 minutes southeast of Salt Lake International Airport.
â€¢ Screenings and events also take place in Salt Lake City, Ogden, and the Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah County.
How to deal with the cold:
The short answer: layer.
The longer answer: With high temperatures during the festival in the 30s (though it may go up to the low 50s next week) and lows in the teens, it’s definitely going to be cold. The good news is that Utah is very dry, so 30 degrees in Park City isn’t nearly as bad as 30 degrees in, say, New York City.
But in any case, consider the environments you’ll be in: outdoors, on buses, in semi-heated tents, and sitting in movie theaters. You need outfits that can handle all of those situations. One monster jacket is not the answer!
Instead, try this:
Coat: Wear a good, warm coat, but one that’s not too big. Remember, you’ll probably have to hold it on your lap for two hours during film screenings.
Under the coat: Sweaters, hoodies, scarves. In California, scarves are for fashion. In Park City, they’re for covering your face (and also for fashion). I usually found that three or four layers of diminishing thickness were enough to stand around for a half an hour in the waitlist line.
Head: Don’t forget a hat or earmuffs. Cold ears are not fun.
Shoes: Lightweight canvas and rubber shoes are not great for walking a lot in the snow. They get wet, and then your feet are cold for the rest of the day.
Still cold? If you need a quick way to warm up at Sundance, hop on one of the free buses circling the city (more on the buses below).
If you want to see a film but don’t have tickets, the waitlist is definitely worth trying. In fact, the waitlist is a classic part of Sundance and worth doing just for the experience.
Using the waitlist in past involved showing up very early and getting numbered slips of paper. It rewarded those who worked the hardest to see films. Last year, however, the festival debuted an electronic system that was buggy, frustratingly required electronic registration, and rewarded whoever had the fastest internet connection. Frankly, it wasn’t great.
Still, using the waitlist means hanging out for a while with a bunch of independent film buffs who braved the cold to see a movie. So, potential friends. I’ve also attended plenty of Sundance films for free because someone with extra tickets happened to be hanging out around the waitlist line.
Using the waitlist now involves getting a number electronically on your phone, then arriving 30 minutes before show time and lining up in numerical order. Then just before the film starts, the empty seats are sold for $15 (cash only) to people in line. For full instructions, click here or watch this instructional video:
Where to eat and drink:
Here’s the thing with eating at Sundance: Park City has a tourist economy, which doesn’t necessarily lead to a lot of high-quality, good-value restaurants. In my experience, food in Park City tends to vary between generic mid-price options and what I think of as “Faux Rustic Beverly Hills.” So as a general rule, try to get as far away from the tourist crowds as possible.
That said, after talking with a few friends, this is the list we came up with for Park City:
â€¢ El Chubasco: Mexican food away from the crush of the festival crowds.
â€¢ Wasatch Brewpub: Wasatch Brewery operates two brewpubs, including one on Main Street in Park City. There’s a full menu, plus local beers with Utah-themed names like Polygamy Porter and Provo Girl.
â€¢ Java Cow: A coffee shop on Main Street that opens before the first film screenings and festival events in the mornings.
â€¢ Chimayo: This place isn’t cheap, but it’s well-regarded, creative, and located right on Main Street.
And here are a few places to eat in Salt Lake City:
â€¢ Eva: A cozy, small plates restaurant just a few blocks from several Sundance venues. I recommend asking to be seated in the back section of the restaurant. Also try Eva’s Bakery, just up the street, which is a French-style bakery and delicious.
â€¢ Copper Onion: A perennial contender for the best restaurant in Salt Lake City, the Copper Onion is both a local favorite and immediately adjacent to the Broadway Theater, Salt Lake City’s biggest Sundance venue.
â€¢ Juniors: A tiny little bar in Salt Lake City frequented by local newspaper reporters, among others.
â€¢ Bruges Waffles and Frites: The most delicious Belgian waffles anywhere. Bruges has expanded to become a small local chain in the last few years, but the downtown Salt Lake City shop is both the original and most charming location.
â€¢ The Rose Establishment: Just around the corner from Bruges, this coffee shop is delicious and occupies a warm space carved out of an old warehouse.
And a second note: The Park Record has put together a list of restaurants that are closed during the Sundance Film Festival.
Where to pee:
UPDATE: Readers have alerted us that some of the restrooms that were available in the past may no longer be accessible. However, Allison Butz of the Historic Park City Alliance told BuzzFeed News there will be four public restrooms available during this year’s festival. They are located at the Old Town Transit Center, next door to the Park City Museum at 528 Main Street, at Miners Park on Main Street across from the post office, and in the parking lot of the Wasatch Brewpub.
How to stay healthy:
Park City sits about 7,000 feet above sea level and it’s often bone dry. If you’re coming from a coastal city, give yourself time to adjust by going easy on the alcohol for the first day or two and drinking plenty of water. Continue drinking more water than usual throughout the festival.
How to get around:
Don’t bring a car to Sundance unless you absolutely need it. Instead, avoid snowy, slippery streets and use Park City’s excellent free bus system. (The Sundance Institute describes the buses as “free shuttles,” but Park City’s buses are always free.)
During the festival, the stops are clearly marked and are located at every Park City venue. Bus drivers are generally kind and helpful. Sundance has information about the buses on its website, as does Park City, though it may be easiest to just to show up and give it a try. Keep in mind that Park City is very small and you don’t need to be a public transit pro to master the bus system.
Leaving Park City without a car is a little bit trickier, but doable. There’s more info on how to do that at the end of this post.
How to park for free and without stress in Park City:
If you are driving to Park City — or from your hotel into the heart of town — use the Monitor Drive parking lot.
Located at 2300 Monitor Drive, this park and ride is actually a Mormon church parking lot — so it’s closed on Sundays. But the rest of the time, it’s free and typically has spaces. It’s not within walking distance of most venues, but the free bus picks up right by the entrance (there will be signs). The alternative is fighting traffic over narrow, frozen streets to get to a comparatively expensive lot. Trust me, park on Monitor Drive.
The Park Record also has a comprehensive list of where parking is available and how much it costs.
Banksy came through Park City in 2010 when Exit Through the Gift Shop was screening and left behind at least four pieces of street art. Not all of them survived, but the best-known piece is protected under glass on the side of Java Cow, at 402 Main Street.
How to avoid crowds:
1. Get up early. Even during the first weekend of the festival, Park City is vastly quieter in the mornings than it is at night.
2. Stay through the second weekend. The biggest celebrities, parties, and crowds converge during the first weekend of Sundance. That bustle can be fun, but for a more laid-back experience stick around for the last few days. The festival has an entirely different atmosphere toward the end, and events and screening are much, much easier to get into.
3. Be friendly. Almost everyone you see “working” at Sundance is actually a volunteer. They are regular people with whom niceness opens doors. Literally. Like, doors to warmer places where there isn’t a big crowd.
4. Leave Park City. More on this below.
How to experience Sundance like a local:
When I asked my Utah friends how to have the best Sundance experience, they almost uniformly said the same thing: Get out of Park City. The consensus is that Park City is crowded, expensive, and generally the least Utah-like place in Utah.
To get out of Park City without a car, take the 902 bus. The bus picks up at the Old Town Transit Center, at 558 Swede Alley, near Main Street. It drops off a little more than an hour later at 200 South and Main Street in Salt Lake City, which is within walking distance of several Sundance venues. Or take the bus to its final stop at the Salt Lake Central Station, where trains depart regularly for Ogden and Provo.
Note that this bus is not free and, because it’s designed for commuters, only runs in the morning and late afternoon. Check the schedule here. If you run into trouble, ask the driver for help, or try tweeting the Utah Transit Authority’s generally responsive and helpful Twitter profile.
Getting out of Park City definitely requires some effort, but the reward is a more low-key and authentic Utah experience.