“Oh, you’re going to Comic Con? That must be nice.”
I heard that from several locals in San Diego before the con was upon us – people lamenting that even though the event was in their own backyard, they couldn’t attend the convention proper. But I also learned that a lot of people go downtown anyway, mostly for the spectacle of it all, but also to take part in whatever offsite activities are open to the public.
So I decided to spend a full day (and a little more) outside of the convention center walls, documenting my experience with offsite activations. A word of caution: I was able to compress a full 4 days worth of activations into only 1 day by skipping lines at press previews. Most of these would require at least an hour in line, upwards of 2-3 hours for the more popular ones, so if you try this in the future, I wouldn’t try to do more than a few each day. But if you’ve got all weekend and lack a badge, it’s all pretty do-able.
9 am: I start the day bright and early with a visit to The Good Place. This particular activation seemed to have pretty intense lines – Twitter users reporting a wait of about 2 hours. I’ve got a more in-depth write up and photo essay of this experience here. It was one of the more immersive experiences I tried (but I’ve got to agree with the comments that NBC totally missed out by not including some frozen yogurt).
11 am: Next I head across downtown to make it to the Mr. Mercedes off site experience. This one looked a lot better in terms of lines – it seemed like you could get in in less than an hour. I’ve never actually seen this show or read the trilogy it’s based on, so a lot of the really in depth set design was lost on me, but this activation had a lot going on and it was fairly generous in terms of what it had to offer, particularly given the shorter lines. Read about it here.
1 pm: Next up was The Experience, which is an offsite event hosting several smaller activations, located near Petco Park. Honestly, this whole thing was a bit of a miss for me. There were lots of small things to see, but nothing that compared to the more elaborate off site experiences or felt worth waiting in line for. Here I managed to check out two specific activations: Ghostbusters and Cloak & Dagger. Ghostbusters featured a demo AR game that seems modeled on Pokemon Go. Instead of Pokemon, as you might guess, you catch ghosts. Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger was a more hands-on experience. Participants were strapped in to harnesses and then pulled apart to look as though they were flying through the air. I… did not do that.
3 pm: Next up was an “invite only” experience in the Hard Rock, so I guess this doesn’t count as an open-to-all experience, though it didn’t seem to require a badge. We had to be escorted up to the activation as the Hard Rock has some pretty intense security. Once we got to the top floor we were treated to a view of what a penthouse would look like if Deadpool stayed in it. I think this could have been a more successful experience if it was open to everyone and placed in a less exclusive hotel; it felt a bit wasted on the few reporters mulling through it. More photos and details here.
6 pm: I ended this day on a great note with this activation from Taco Bell celebrating the 25th anniversary of Demolition Man. Lines for this also seemed to run upwards of 2-3 hours at peak times, but you were rewarded with a pretty great meal and a relaxing dining experience, so it seemed like people were enjoying themselves. We took a ridiculous amount of photos of the food and setup here.
THE NEXT DAY
I couldn’t fit everything into one day, so I also hit up the Purge City activation the next day. This activation *looked* deceptively easy to get into, but actually had hours worth of people waiting around the corner near the stadium. Fortunately people got a fair amount in exchange for that wait. When you walk in you were given $20 in “Purge dollars” to spend on items – imagine going to Party City before Halloween except it’s about, you know, stocking up to commit and survive horrible crimes? Like that. The event had t-shirts, candles, and even stain removers to spend your hard earned Purge dollars on. I bought a Happy First Purge Together Anniversary card, among other things, with my Purge dollars.
Overall, SDCC continues to bring a strong activation game each year. I found myself enjoying the immersive experiences the most and liking the VR ones I tried the least – are they ever not glitchy? – but if you’ve got time, patience, and don’t have a badge, these kind of off-site events are a great way to experience the con.