Drinking water instead of beverages with added sugar can help prevent obesity and cavities and promote overall health. Children spend much of their day in school, where they have variable access to drinking water. In 2010, federal and state law required California public schools to provide free potable water to students in areas where meals are served and/or eaten. The current study aims to identify factors associated with an excellent drinking water culture in schools. A qualitative assessment of barriers and facilitators to providing excellent water quality and access was conducted in a purposive sample of California schools. In-depth interviews with key informants were conducted using a snowball sampling approach, after which data were analysed using both inductive and deductive methods. Six themes emerged as prominent facilitators to a school’s success in providing excellent water access to students: active and engaged champions, school culture and policy, coordination between groups, community influences, available resources and environmentalism. While policy is an important step for achieving minimum standards, resources and interest in promoting excellence in drinking water access and quality can vary among schools. Ensuring that schools have dedicated staff committed to advancing student health and promoting the benefits of water programs that are more salient to schools could help reduce disparities in drinking water excellence across schools.