How To Navigate Comic-Con

Comic-Con San Diego

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A Newbie's Guide to Comic-Con San Diego

Comic-con, often called "San Diego's Super Bowl," is an annual summer convention that takes place at the San Diego Convention Center. The four-day event draws 125,000 visitors into San Diego, and pumps over $160M into the local economy. If you are thinking about making the trek to Comic-Con, this guide will give you some helpful tips on surviving the crowds and general craziness that is Comic-Con.

San Diego Logistics and Getting Around

Don't Expect Hotel Bargains: When making travel arrangements, it's important to remember that San Diego is a tourist town. Comic-con takes place in July, during the height of the tourist season. Hotels in the area around the Convention Center (downtown, Harbor, Gaslamp District) will be among the most expensive lodging you will find. Booking a hotel located in the San Diego suburbs might make sense to save a buck; you could try Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Kearny Mesa or Clairemont for hotels, but the downside is the traffic and drive into the downtown. Some folks drive to a trolley stop (more on that later) and take the trolley into downtown, but it will add to your commute time, so plan accordingly. In any event, make your reservations months in advance in order to get the best rates. If you see a "bargain hotel" in the heart of the Gaslamp district, it is likely an SRO, a flophouse, or a hostel - with the hostel being your best best. Overall, there is no such thing as a cheap hotel in San Diego. Repeat: there is no such thing as a cheap hotel in San Diego.

Take Advantage of the Trolley: Other hotel options may be found in "Hotel Circle",and the Mission Valley area, or really anywhere along the San Diego Trolley Line. (The Trolley extends east to the College District and beyond, into Chula Vista, though this adds to your travel time.) Staying in Mission Valley gives you the Trolley advantage; you can catch the Trolley in Mission Valley and take it to the Convention Center stop and completely avoid having to drive into the downtown area. Additionally, there is a main Trolley/Bus transfer station located in Old Town, itself a major tourist destination with hotel options.

Use the Comic-Con Shuttles : Comic-Con does an excellent job providing shuttle service in and out of the downtown area. In general, shuttles connect conference goers with the Downtown, Mission Valley, Shelter Island and North Harbor Island.

Dining Benefits to Mission Valley/Old Town : Mission Valley is restaurant rich, with most of the chains represented. The benefit to having breakfast and dinner in Mission Valley is that you won't be waiting for a table the way you will in the downtown, Gaslamp district. The disadvantage to dining in Mission Valley is that you will miss some of the after-party action or some of the theme/Hollywood/comic arts tie-ins that many of the Gaslamp restaurants do during Comic-Con. Gaslamp restaurants are plentiful and mostly good, but are extremely busy during Comic Con. For lunch, you can try the food court at Horton Plaza, within walking distance of the Convention Center. There are also a couple of grocery stores within walking distance as well, where you can buy prepared food including salads and sandwiches. If you are a fan of Mexican food, make an effort to dine in Old Town. Meals are authentic in execution and flavor. Expect a wait at dinner time, but don't worry, even locals during the off-season wait an hour for a table in Old Town.

Pedicabs Are Your Friend: Once you're Downtown, consider giving your feet a break by catching a pedicab. Be sure to agree on the fare before getting into the pedicab, however, as prices vary widely.

Expect to Walk: Comic-Con does a good job running shuttles between venues, but you will still do a fair share of walking. Wear comfortable shoes and pack more than one pair to give your feet a change.

Taxis and Where to Find Them: Taxis are always available at hotels, and you don't have to be a hotel guest to hail a cab from a hotel. Tip the doorman if he helps you get a cab. Another place to find a cab is at the Old Town Trolley Station.

Rideshare Services: Uber and Lyft have come to San Diego, offering another transportation option to those with a smartphone. Download their respective app and use it to summon a car to pick you up. San Diego does not currently regulate or restrict rideshare services; it is strictly buyer beware.

Preparing for Comic-Con

Before you travel and each day after you arrive in San Diego, check the Comic-Con website to plan your daily schedules. Keep in mind that last-minute changes/additions are made, so it is important to re-check the website to make sure you aren't missing anything important.

Make Your Social Contacts : f you are staying Downtown at a conference hotel, you might find that you have trouble getting and keeping an Internet connection. Plan on bringing your cell phone, smart phone or other device that will hook you into the cellular network so that you can access Twitter and other social networking sites. This will connect you to other conference goers who can update you in real-time as to speakers, events, and new opportunities that may come up. Before you leave home, friend and follow others who are going to Comic-Con, including celebrities, vendors and exhibitors. Build your network.

Costume or No Costume : Part of the Comic-Con fun is dressing up and getting your picture taken by random strangers who love your costume. If you've made costumes for other events and have gotten raves for your workmanship and cleverness, then by all means, bring your costume along and wear it to Comic-Con. If you've never made a costume in your life, then plan on attending in street clothes and take it all in. Most people who come in costume have spent months designing and creating their character; often, their costumes are movie-quality perfect.

Scenes From Comic Con

Downtown San Diego restaurant taken over by Syfy channel during Comic Con weekend.
Downtown San Diego restaurant taken over by Syfy channel during Comic Con weekend. | Source
Michael J. Wolf Art Gallery with comic-themed show.
Michael J. Wolf Art Gallery with comic-themed show. | Source
Typical crowd for a smaller talk at Comic Con
Typical crowd for a smaller talk at Comic Con | Source
Panel gets ready before a session at Comic Con.
Panel gets ready before a session at Comic Con. | Source
A random ear from Comic Con.
A random ear from Comic Con. | Source

Navigating Comic-Con

Now you've arrived, checked into your hotel, taken the Trolley to Downtown and walked to Comic-Con. You've remembered to bring a bottle of water, a sweater, maps and a schedule of what you want to do, and a carry-bag for swag. If you are arriving after 6:00am, you'll probably find hoards of people and lines, lines, lines everywhere you look. It can be an overwhelming feeling to be swept up into the masses of Comic-Con.

Find Your Line, Get In It: Generally speaking, Comic-Con goers begin lining up at about 6am. San Diego police frown upon people sleeping out on the sidewalks overnight, though you will likely see or hear about people doing just that in order to get into a particularly desired session. Please don't sleep on the ground or on a bench while downtown. You may be ticketed.

Use Twitter or Social Networking: Before you left home, you set up your Twitter or other social networking account and connected with others going to Comic-Con. Use your social contacts to find out status regarding lines, finding swag, meet-ups, celebrity sightings, and other moment-by-moment happenings of importance. Be sure to contribute if you have something to share.

Use the Comic Con App: It's worth downloading the Comic Con app and using it to plan out your daily schedule. I found that the 2014 version was a bit glitchy, like discovering my Sunday schedule inexplicably wiped, but overall it was very useful for keeping track of where to go next.

Plan Your Exhibit Hall Visit : The exhibit halls are packed to capacity during most times. However, if you are willing to skip popular panels in order to visit the vendors, then you may be able to avoid at least some of the crowds and get some relatively uncrowded shopping times. Remember to check for tweets from vendors and other exhibitors to find out about special deals and swag.

Wear a Sweater : Yes, your mother was right, a sweater is a must when sitting in on the sessions. The Convention Center is kept at a very cool temperature, so you'll need to remember your sweater even if it seems warm and pleasant outside.

Check Out the Local Papers : The San Diego Union-Tribune runs a special Comic-Con section and blogs about Comic-Con, often posting useful information about things happening at-the-moment. The paper also posts maps, parking and logistics information about Comic-Con. The San Diego Weekly Reader (hardcopy) is also extremely useful in terms of finding about local Comic-Con tie-ins at restaurants and bars. Look for the "Comic-Con After Party" ads. The Reader is a freebie found outside of grocery stores, liquor stores, hotels, gas stations and other locations. The Reader is also online, but may be hard to navigate in terms of searching specifically for Comic-Con tie-ins.

Check Out the Gaslamp District : Pick up a map of the area from your hotel concierge, or at the Convention Center. After parties abound in the Gaslamp, some better than others.Use your social networking contacts to help you navigate the best ones, or check out the Gaslamp website for Comic-Con specific happenings.

Downtown for Children and Families : If you have young children (under 12) who are attending Comic-Con but need a break from the crowds, check out the New Children's Museum, located within walking distance to the Convention Center. The Museum often has a Comic-Con tie-in, but even if it does not, kids love this interactive, fun space.

Don't Forget Preview Night: The night before the official kick-off to Comic-Con is "preview night." The Gaslamp District is fired up and ready to go, the Convention Center opens its doors to let in the first wave of fans to the exhibit hall floors. You'll get your first taste of chaos. Take your time as you power through, keep a look-out for collectible swag, and try to get used to the crush of bodies. You will be jostled and bumped, so try to keep a positive attitude. You still have four more days to go, after all.

Look Up : Huge ads abound downtown, so look up at the sides of buildings and hotels around the Convention Center. They may give you info on a vendor, a street preview, or an after-party.

San Diego Resources

San Diego Trolley -Trolley information and routes

San Diego Convention Center - Hotel information, San Diego information

VIP Pedicabs San Diego - Pedicab information

Gaslamp District - San Diego Gaslamp information

San Diego Union-Tribune - Local newspaper with special Comic-Con section

San Diego Reader - Weekly freebie newspaper with restaurant, music, bar advertisements. Hardcopy edition has good after-party information

Final Thoughts

San Diego is a very casual town with a decidedly un-Hollywood attitude. Celebrities find that they can enjoy being a tourist here without worrying about being mobbed by paparazzi. Comic-Con is a time when they are able to mingle with fans, and for the most part, fans behave themselves. First time Comic-Con visitors are reminded to respect the celebrities who take part in the convention as much as they respect your continued support for their work.

Comic-Con's organizers continue to debate the future of the convention in San Diego beyond 2014, citing lack of space as their main concern. They have said that the experience for the fans is key, and that they will do what makes sense to maintain that fan-based experience. One possible option is to continue to work with the hotels in the area and Petco Park to gain additional conference space. Many fans would argue that San Diego is the only place for Comic-Con to be, because of the casual, friendly nature of America's Finest City, where everyone is welcome.


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Comments 4 comments

LennyP profile image

LennyP 5 years ago from Iowa

I really hate the direction that the San Diego Comic-Con. They have turned it into an entertainment event for big Hollywood studios and pushed comic book dealers to the side. It used to be the greatest place to go for true comic book collectors.


prokidwriter profile image

prokidwriter 5 years ago from America's Finest City Author

The event has definitely changed. I remember when it used to be easy to get tix,and now it's chaos. Still, I marvel at how 100k+ people can be so remarkably fun, kind, and helpful in the controlled mayhem that is the Con.


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 18 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Great tips for those who are attending for the first time. Voted up for useful!


prokidwriter profile image

prokidwriter 18 months ago from America's Finest City Author

Thanks for checking out my hub, Kristen!

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