Planning for Your First San Diego Comic-Con: A How-To Guide (Part 1)

We survived our first Comic Con! Mr. P² and I were down in San Diego this past weekend from Thursday to Sunday for one purpose – to experience Comic-Con for the first time. Since this was our first San Diego Comic-Con International (SDCC), Google and social media became my best friends in trying to research how to successfully experience the ultimate gathering of the fandoms. It’s like the Lord of the Rings if the organizers are Elrond, the exhibitors are the Fellowship and they’re all trying to get the One Ring to Mount Doom – aka the fans. And honestly, at times the crowds felt volcanic in their temperature, temperament and lava-like flow.

While this is by no means a complete or thorough how-to guide for surviving SDCC with your sanity completely in tact, hopefully this helps someone like me who isn’t looking to see every major panel or go to all the cool parties & activations. Furthermore, as a noob with friends who have previously attended and provided valuable advice, there were a few basic rules I committed us to: 1.) no Hall H – I’ll explain why later, 2.) get to the panels we wanted to see early, and 3.) no spending money on food at the convention center. Thankfully we only broke that last rule once and I blame desperation on that one.

The first thing I recommend any first-timer do is RESEARCH. If you know people who have gone to the Con before and enjoyed the experience, ask them what their tips and tricks are. The most important things I heard from people were:

  • Wear comfortable and sensible shoes. You do a lot of walking, and even more standing, crouching and hunching between walking the convention floor, waiting in lines, and sitting in panels for hours on end. Your feet, back and other body parts will thank you.
  • Be prepared with a plan – as well as an inevitable backup plan. As someone who tries to plan out the day for an event like this, having the plan change unexpectedly can be difficult to deal with. We tried to get into the Young Justice panel Friday morning at 10 AM, and by the time our doors opened (late) and we got up to the room, it was completely full and there was a line wrapping around the ballrooms. While we were bummed to miss that panel, we decided to roll with the punches and waited in the line anyways, met some cool people and got in the following panel.
  • Accept the crowds and lines for what they are. Unless you are A-list talent with personal security and an assistant, there really is no way to avoid the crowds. If you go in ahead of time accepting that reality, you won’t be as surprised by the sheer hordes of people. On our first day, we were shocked at how quickly people can turn into an angry mob under the right circumstances, so keep your cool and exit the situation if it’s getting uncomfortable.

Other things I learned in my research included the exorbitant cost of food in the convention center and the importance of bringing your own snacks. As a result, I highly recommend bringing multiple water bottles per day, jerky, trail mix, chips, bananas and other portable snacks that can handle getting jostled around in a backpack for hours on end. On our first day, we didn’t realize how long we’d be standing in the sun, and a few of our snacks were a bit melted as a result.

If you’ve never been to the area of San Diego where the convention center is location, I also highly recommend looking up a map of both the center itself as well as the Gaslamp District surrounding it. This will give you an idea of where the various doors are to enter the convention center, the general layout of the place, and the different hotels and restaurants in the vicinity. Here’s an example of this year’s floor layout with the various exhibitors:

Source: Comic-Con International

I truly believe preparation (or lack thereof) beforehand can make or break an event, a trip, even day-to-day work life. Thanks to my research, we only spent $14 on food inside the convention center and were able to sustain ourselves on cereal, protein bars and yogurts in our hotel room for breakfast and backpack snacks throughout the day. Dinner is a whole separate spending column – we had the (mis)fortune of finding a restaurant called Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers right down the street from the convention center, which spoke to our inner foodies on so many levels it was ridiculous. But that’s a story for the next part 🙂

All the best,

Mrs. P²

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