It is now a few days before the vaunted exhibit hall doors open at San Diego International Comic-Con. Do you have your gear packed and ready to go? Do you know which artists to see and what exclusives to pursue? Even the best-laid plans can go to naught for the Comic-Con uninitiated. With hundreds of thousands of fans expected to flood downtown San Diego this weekend, the entire experience can become a bit overwhelming. But fear not! We offer our version of Comic-Con survival tips to help you navigate the biggest and baddest comics festival in the West.
Comic-Con Survival Tip 1: It Pays To Know Your Routes
Plan on seeing lots of road closures around the Convention Center. If you didn’t score a hotel nearby, fear not, for hope there is! A key Comic Con survival tip is knowing where to catch a ride and go where no car will be able to go.
Free shuttles abound in an around hotels in the area. Shuttle buses come around every 15 minutes to half an hour and can get into the cordoned off areas in front of the Convention Center. Buses do fill up quickly during peak hours so plan your ride accordingly. Figure out where the first stop of each shuttle is. This is where the best seats are had. If your hotel ends up being on one of the last stops along a shuttle route during peak times, you may have to wait it out until the next available bus.
If you’re a local commuting in from inland San Diego, the MTS Green Line is your best friend! But rider beware! By the time the shuttle rolls into Old Town, it’s standing room only with inches to spare (like, tippy toes on the steps or worse yet, no straps or bars to hang on and you fall into your fellow passengers). A better bet? Catch the trolley at Fashion Valley, where there is plenty of mall parking and where you stand a better chance at staking out prime aisle territory.
If you only plan on being at the Convention Center for a few hours, consider short-term parking at Seaport Village. Make a minimum $10 purchase in one of the shops and pay $5 to park for three hours Wednesday and Thursday or $5 for two hours Friday through Sunday.
Comic-Con Survival Tip 2: Stay Where You Have A Meal and Bottomless Coffee/Tea
At this time, most hotels will have been completely booked. But one of my faves as a mom traveling with an entourage, and one which still had rooms as of this writing, is the Hilton Homewood Suites in Mission Valley. Sure it’s pricey and a little out of the way. But it’s an extended stay suite, with a full kitchen, a decent hot breakfast, all-day coffee and tea, and a Monday through Thursday social hour that serves some serious recharge grub (bottomless nachos with pulled carne, salad bar and American beer on tap or a glass of wine) before the night session.
Another big plus…the Mission Valley location is the third stop along the Red Route shuttle (next door at Hampton Inn & Suites). The Liberty Station location also has a few rooms left, and that location is the first stop along the Teal Route. The Liberty Station location is also accessible to restaurants and shops at Liberty Station, home of the San Diego Comic Art Gallery and the ultra cool Comickaze Comics Books & More.
Comic-Con Survival Tip 3: Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More!
The Comic Con App is live, the exhibit hall maps are up and retail exclusives are all over social media. You’ve got your checklists all made up so what could possibly go wrong? Tens of thousands of others who all have the same idea and have made their checklists too.
It pays to have a backup plan and a backup to the backup. Case in point? Panels! There is no getting around that massive Hall H campground, but if you are intent on seeing a favorite artist or movie or television cast, consider attending the panel before. Comic-Con allows you to stay for consecutive panels, which means you can get a reasonably good seat for the panel you want to attend simply by being patient. Plus, resting weary feet and recharging really helps, especially since the rent-a-cops downstairs crack down on loitering outside of main venues. Plus you never know…maybe you learn something new and end up loving the panel.
As far as exclusives, freebies or autographs go, plan on being in line an hour or two before the actual sale, giveaway or autograph takes place. Remember, people are like you…they’ve planned, they’ve waited, and they want to be one of the first to get it.
But first things first before you get too inundated with your planning, download either the Comic Con app, your MySched schedule into your Google Calendar, or make a spreadsheet so that you have access to the entire schedule on a local mobile device. Spotty network connections inside the exhibit hall can spoil even the best-laid plans.
Comic-Con Survival Tip 4: The Long March Inside The Exhibit Hall
There will be lots of people, and you will get pushed, pulled, and stepped on. While there is no way to avoid it, there are alternatives that lead to lesser mauling. Avoid the middle aisles inside the exhibit hall. The most popular booths—DC, Marvel—will set up shop in this prime real estate area, which means gawkers mucking up the roadway. Instead, exit the hall and walk outside until you get to the appropriate section of the hall. Then, cut back into the exhibit hall.
Comic-Con Survival Tip 5: Layer, Layer, Layer And Gadgets You Need
Take it from a person whose pedometer regular sits in less-than-sedentary mode—you will pack on ten-thousand steps and more on a full day. Wear comfortable walking shoes. Your ankles, feet and overflowing swag bags will thank you.
And if you’re not dressing for cosplay, dress for comfort and layer. Temperatures will fluctuate, from icebox chill in the upstairs panels to toasty sauna outside. Wear a light shirt and bring a sweater or sweatshirt that you can put on during a panel but take off while walking the exhibit hall or going outside.
Don’t forget to pack a good battery pack for your mobile devices. While there are charging stations inside the exhibit hall and convention center, these will be occupied by weary travelers who have spent considerable battery power snapping shots and videos of their favorite creators and stars. I like the heavier, but much more powerful 20,000mAh Monoprice Select Plus USB Power Bank, which can easily power up an iPad and iPhone simultaneously over an entire day or more, with an accompanying Monoprice cable (lifetime warranty). The Anker PowerCore 10000 is smaller and lighter, but powerful enough to charge a mobile device six times over.
And don’t forget, with tens of thousands of people packed like sardines in the exhibit tall, hand sanitizer and Cottonelle wipes are a definite must for any Comic Con backpack.
You can pack all your tech and personal essentials in a Cocoon organizer.
Comic-Con Survival Tip 6: Hungry Yet?
Munchies inside the Convention Center are high-priced and low-satisfaction. Bring a refillable water bottle you can replenish at the water fountain (a 20-ounce bottle will cost north of $3.00 at concession stands). While travelling, I usually pack quart-sized and sandwich-sized Ziplog bags in my luggage so I can snag an apple, banana and muffin while I fill up on hot breakfast at the hotel.
Pack snacks like granola bars, beef jerky, or dried fruit so you can recharge while waiting in line for a panel or as you walk from booth-to-booth. You can also pick up some snacks or ready-to-eat items at Ralphs Supermarket in Gaslamp (101 G Street).
If you must eat out, order take-out so you’re not stuck waiting for a table during the lunch hour rush. Lucky’s Lunch Counter (338 7th Ave., a 9-minute walk from the Convention Center) is a great place to grab the Bases Loaded Breakfast burrito or a hot sandwich. Lani Coffee on Market Street has delicious Hawaiian coffee and baked goods you can grab and go.
It’s a bit out of the way, but my favorite dinner spot is Phil’s BBQ, near the Sports Arena. But order it for pickup so you can bypass the wrap-around lines and eat your meal in leisurely comfort back at the hotel.
Hopefully these Comic Con survival tips will help you stay relatively safe and sane as you negotiate the hustle and bustle of one of the biggest cons this side of the Mississippi. Now, go out there and enjoy all the sights and sounds of Comic Con has to offer!