San Diego Comic Con is one of the biggest pop culture conventions in North America. The sprawling event covers the entirety of the massive San Diego Convention Center as well as much of the historic Gaslamp district for the five days it’s in town. It encompasses many genres of geekdom from western comics to webcomics to video games to anime to popular TV, there’s a little bit of everything for everyone. And it shows—the attendance this year alone was over 130,000 people. So what’s the best way to enjoy it? I’ll take you through my general plans for SDCC, tips on how to make it more enjoyable, and attempt to ascertain whether or not it’s worth the time and hassle.
For starters, the schedule isn’t ever up until the month of, which is absolutely ludicrous. You have to buy a badge, flights, and hotel accommodations in the hopes that the schedule is something you’ll enjoy. But don’t worry, it’s always worth it. Almost every fandom is present in some form from Supernatural and Game of Thrones to Avatar the Last Airbender and Adventure Time. You’ll just have to trust that what you want to do is there.
There’s two days you need to be on the lookout for – badge sales and hotel reservations. Badge sales are in a hybrid first-come-first-serve meets lottery style in which everyone gets into a virtual waiting room and people are picked in a random order to get their badges. This means your best bet is to get together a large group of friends and a shared document so whoever gets in first can buy badges for everyone and everyone pays them. Hotel reservations are even scarier as they’re far more uncertain. You put your name, how many rooms you need for what days, and your top 6 choices of hotels into a form and hit submit. Then you wait. Up to two weeks later, you’re told what hotel you’ve been selected for (if any) and it’s then that you need to pay. The convention recommends only one person sign up for the lottery per group, but let’s be honest, you know people are going to get everyone in on multiple reservations and cancel all but the best one.
For the advanced users that want to go the extra mile to make things even easier (totally not required):
- Sign up for the San Diego Groupon list and purchase discounted meals at Gaslamp restaurants
- Make dinner reservations for each day a month or two in advance
- Pack powerbars or quick lunch solutions so you don’t have to leave whatever you’re doing
I’ll sit down the day before my flight and look at the panels I want to see. I’ve learned not to expect to get in to a Hall H or Ballroom 20 panel without some form of camping out, so every panel in there has been forsaken to me. Plus, the convention offers replays of those panels in a replay room across the street, so why bother? For me, the best plan is to earmark the panels you’d like to see first. The only wildcard room is the Indigo Ballroom. You need to get there early, but not camping early, so three hours before the panel should suffice. Anything smaller than that should be okay to arrive an hour to thirty minutes early. Here’s some other things to keep in mind to keep the stress low:
- People aren’t ever kicked out of the panel rooms, so if a huge panel is on after yours, show up early because you can bet you’ll see Dean cosplayers if the Supernatural panel is after yours
The food around SDCC is excellent. From places that get wrapped in show propaganda like Maryjane’s in the Hard Rock to Gaslamp Pizza, there are a bevy of places to get refueled, and all at varying price points. A safe place we pick regularly is Jolt’n Joes, a place that’s had the Geek and Sundry lounge above it for a few years now. The prices are cheap, it’s never that crowded, and the food is decent, especially for lunch. Not much variety, but enough to get you through a few days.
For dinner, many more restaurants open their doors on 4th and 5th street, but they can only hold so many. If you really want to chill out, call ahead to whatever place and put in a reservation, if they’re taking them, but you can also just walk around and see what you can find. It’s always an interesting area to walk around during SDCC.
Oh and for breakfast, you’ve gotta try Broken Yolk at least once. Their French toast is awesome, as is their tuna melt.
If you’re anything like me, you’re used to smaller dealer’s rooms and artists alleys. The kind you can spend 20 minutes and see all of.
Imagine an airplane hangar. Now fill up what you’d consider to be a regular dealer’s room with new video games and video game merchandise. Fill two more with artist’s alley. Fill another two more with web comic artists. Fill ten more with general merchandise and comic books. That’s half of this expo hall. Now fill the other half of the airplane hangar with the biggest brands, newest TV shows, biggest displays, and shops. That’s the expo hall. It’s like the Disney World of commercialism and I love every bit of it.
You can walk around it for hours and notice new shops or different merch each day. There’s also SDCC exclusive items, but I generally avoid those because I’m not terribly attached to items, nor do I want to profit off of people who can’t go by doubling the price of an exclusive. It just sounds like a bother anyway.
Extra Stuff Outside the Con
With how big SDCC is gotten, you almost don’t need a badge to experience it anymore. There’s so much stuff offsite to do that you can fill up the entire weekend just visiting things that aren’t SDCC. This year, there was Gotham ziplining, a Simpson’s display, the Xbox gaming lounge, the Nintendo lounge, the Pixels retro arcade, the Assassin’s Creed parkour course and demo booth, a Vikings exhibit, Adventure time shops, HBO pop up shop, Nerd HQ in the baseball stadium, Nerdist laser tag, Game of Thrones exhibit, Geek and Sundry Lounge, themed restaurants, and a ton of stuff I’m sure I missed because I was too busy waiting to play Layton vs. Wright (totally worth it). It’s almost overwhelming how much you can do at SDCC. At most cons, I wonder how I’m going to best fill my time. At SDCC, I wonder how I’m going to cram it all in. It’s sensory overload in the absolute best way.
There’s so much about SDCC that makes it seem unappealing. Hotel lottery is just a mess, it’s so hard to get a badge, it’s expensive to get there via plane, the hotels are always pricey, the crowds are always massive, and the wait for anything remotely popular is on a timescale of hours.
However, if you plan it right, or go in knowing what to avoid, it’s a god damned wonderland of adventure and nerdy goodness. I walked by Nathan Fillion one day. HE WAS JUST THERE. JUST WALKING LIKE IT WAS COOL.
SDCC is the convention I look forward to every year, and there’s not much that’s going to change that. If you’re even remotely interested and can scrape together the funds, you absolutely will not regret going.