The Advanced SDCC Guide: 30 Pro Tips to be Not Lame & MAX FUN

[Updated on July 20th, 2017]

sunny on the dragon age throne
Aka How to Be a Boss

I’ve been going to San Diego Comic Con for almost 10 years now, so you could say I’m a veteran. I’ve learned a lot about optimizing my own personal fun-times at Comic-Con, so just in time for SDCC 2017 I’m sharing my personal tips for not being a scrub. This SDCC guide should be applicable to pretty much any year you attend though. If you’re a nerd that likes to party, eat, drink, travel, and enjoy new experiences then have I got a great guide for you!

Why Use This SDCC Guide?

But first, some background on this SDCC guide.

I’ve read through many Comic Con guides and tips for first timers which focus on some of the basic, essential tips aka how the Hall H line works, stay hydrated, what panels to see, not being a dumbass, etc. I wanted to take a more irreverent and advanced approach specifically aimed at us nerds that also like good food and partying. I’ll have a couple basics though, just because some people continue finding it hard to shower/other-basic-ass-shit year after year.

By the way, I’m expecting you readers to be age 21+. Mainly for the (many) mentions of alcohol consumption.

1. Don’t eat Subway and microwave pizzas for every meal

Hey, did you know you’re in San Diego, California? Did you know that you’ve likely traveled some distance away from your home to attend the world’s premier comic and pop culture extravaganza? SO WHY ARE YOU EATING SOME BS YOU COULD BE EATING AT HOME?!? Seriously, I see this happen every single year.

subway sandwich in wrapper
You know it’s gourmet when it’s measured in feet

I stroll by the Subway on K st or the Subway on Market on the way to the Con and the line is out the door. I mean, congratulations on at least eating something with some semblance of health, unlike a McChicken slid into a McDouble in a houdini shuffle with a supersized fries/drink, but I don’t like traveling >400 miles to eat some fast food I could get a mile away from my house. Maybe I’m a bit snobby about this, but I just don’t understand why people like going to a chain they could have any time when there’s so much good food around to be trying/exploring.

Similarly, some of my (unnamed) friends are fans of eating microwave pizzas in the hotel room for dinner instead of actually going out to enjoy the atmosphere and specialties of the city we’re in. How about some of the best Cali-Mex food? Some noshable carne asada fries? Or some great seafood since you’re right next to the ocean?

microwave pizza in a bowl
Best dinner ever!

Sure, maybe you’re on a budget, but maybe you should have planned ahead by saving money so you could enjoy your trip more fully. Hmm maybe you could have given up a few weeks of eating fast food. Or sacrificed coffee every morning. Or not bought a couple games. You could have signed up for Uber and worked a few hours everyday to build up some cash. Basically, any kind of basic action showing financial foresight.

Or maybe you’re just a picky eater, in which case you’re the worst kind of person and should reflect on why you have the palate of a 5 year old.

To help you out, here’s a few of my recommendations:

  • Tin Fish

    170 Sixth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

    This fish and chips house is right across the street from the convention center and always has some company pay to theme it for some show/game/movie, adding even more SDCC atmosphere to the restaurant. Every time I eat here they serve up large chunks of moist fish in a expertly fried crispy, light batter. I’m also a big fan of their great waffle fries served with every plate and a side of citrus-herb dressed slaw (IMO a better match than a traditional heavy mayo dressing would be). Prices are reasonable as well–a fish and chips plate is around $10–and portion sizes satisfying. They also feature a full bar, so you can relax with a nice beer during your downtime.

  • The Kebab Shop

    630 Ninth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

    One of my must-have spots whenever I’m in San Diego, this Mediterranean shop serves up seriously good Döner and Shawerma plates. The meat is seasoned perfectly, the saffron rice is indulgent, and (one of my favorite things about the place) you get to choose from variety of salads for a side. Personally, I like the Tabouleh and the Orzo salads. Don’t forget to grab an extra garlic yogurt sauce, it adds a next level layer of richness that frolics on your taste buds. Prices are cheap (it’s counter service) at under $10 for inexpensive meals. The location is several blocks from the convention center, nearer the edge of Gaslamp, but it’s totally worth the walk.

  • La Puerta

    560 4th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

    I’ve tried a few different places for Carne Asada fries–a San Diego original–and I always come back to La Puerta for their excellent rendition. How can you say no to tender, seasoned steak chopped up atop a mountain of crispy, meaty fries, melted cheeses, rich crema, fresh guacamole, and chili inflected fresh salsa? The complimentary salsa and chips served with every meal also shows solid mastery of fresh flavors. Each serving is almost big enough to split between 2–if you’re not too hungry. Another plus is that it contains a suitably hip full bar. It’s not cheap at $17 for the Carne Asada fries, but the portion is good and you can definitely taste the quality in everything. It’s only a few blocks from the con to get here.

  • Oscar’s Mexican Seafood

     927 J Street, San Diego, CA 92101

    You haven’t had really great ceviche until you’ve tried the ceviche they dole out at Oscar’s. The fish and the vegetables are unbelievably fresh, with bright, acidic tones from the lemon-lime juice that marinades the fish. It’s finished with just enough seasoning to really bring out all the oceanic flavors as you reminisce about a lazy, sun-soaked beach day. It’s good. Really good. Plus points if you put some on atop a tostada with a dot of ketchup and a little hot sauce to really get it poppin’ off in yo mouf’. Don’t forget to some wallet friendly delicious fish tacos on the way out. Oscar’s is cheap eat with $5 cups of ceviche and $1.99 (fish) – $2.99 (shrimp) seafood tacos and close by, on the opposite side of Petco Park from the convention center.

  • The Food Shop

    465 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

    Right next door is Sovereign, which was a restaurant opened by Iron Chef winner, James Beard awardee, and Michelin Starred chef Michael “Bao” Huynh. If that sounds expensive, you’re in lucky because The Food Shop is basically the quick counter service associate of Sovereign. Michael Huynh is no longer running the kitchen–sous chef Daniel Nguyen has been promoted to that role–as Huynh pursues other projects, but the quality of the Pho hasn’t suffered as far as I can tell. Come here for a hot bowl of Pho–Vietnamese beef broth and rice noodle soup fragrant with spices–after a night of debauchery, and you will find the world’s best hangover cure. The steak topping each bowl is sliced a bit thicker than traditional, giving it a much more “steaky” flavor and mouthfeel. Other options include Viet sandwiches–banh mi–and vermicelli bowls. Prices are easy at $10 per pho bowl. Location is only a few blocks away from the con.

2. Check Out SDCC Parties Listed by the Hollywood Reporter/Bleeding Cool/Etc

San Diego Comic Con is infamous for the influence of nearby Hollywood’s glitz and glam on the party scene. There are plenty of exclusive parties filled with top media executives and famous celebrities. Even Playboy throws a ridiculous party every year–I’ve seen ziplines at them. You won’t be getting into those parties though, unless you know someone. For the rest of us, there’s still other SDCC themed parties open to the public put on by various companies exhibiting at the con. Some of the exclusive parties also offer chances to win tickets to their social media followers.

me and friends taking a picture with batman
Why yes, it was a Dark Knight at that party

So how do you know where the party’s are at? Lucky us, several media outfits painstakingly compile all the Comic Con parties happening that magical weekend, making it easy to figure out where you want to go full Dionysian at.

3. Don’t just stay in your hotel room playing video games

Let me tell you a story. There was once a child who played video games. A lot of video games. He would spend hours inside playing Snes emulator RPGs, Warcraft 3, America’s Army, Wolfenstein Enemy Territory, and whatever new stuff had the current hype. Then, one day, he decided to quit games and try do other things. That year, he got an internship, a girlfriend, some lifelong friends, and started taking project management certification courses at UC Berkeley. In case you can’t tell, that guy was me.

You’re at the largest pop culture convention, with over 160,000 people coming from around the world to celebrate comics, tv, movies, media, and more. Go out and meet people, check out an offsite event, have a couple beers, go to a party, just do something. You can be playing your video games at home, any night, but Comic Con only comes once a year. Make the most of it and experience extraordinary things. Find something exciting and new.

And besides, you’re in San Diego where the weather is nice, nights are warm, during the busiest nights of the year. Roam those streets and paint the town.

jim lee in a group photo with us
Maybe you’ll even see Jim Lee on the street then drunkenly run over to take a group picture with him! Yes, that’s really Jim Lee.

4. Walk around Gaslamp and Downtown for cool offsite experiences + free swag

If it’s your first time, you’ll quickly find out you can do a lot of fun stuff outside the convention center without even having an SDCC pass. Those fun events are called “offsites” because they’re offsite of the main convention center. Adult Swim always puts on a great event outside on the grass. Last year it was a carnival theme with rides, games, giveaways, and music. They were making free custom printed shirts and the line wasn’t even very long. A year before that, they were handing out free cell phone external battery packs.

group picture of friends in tights at cartoon network offsite event
Someday, you’ll be cool enough to go to this offsite event.

I’ve seen ziplines, rock climbing walls, giant slides, huge art installations, funhouse experiences, walkthroughs of movie sets, photo ops, free barbecues, VR setups, and so much more. Try walking the streets around the convention center, behind it, and inside the hotels near the convention. There’s bound to be something to see. Some offsite events also aim for a certain secretiveness/exclusivity, where they won’t even advertise the event, instead giving clues and forcing fans to solve the mystery.

There’s also usually people walking around in costume promoting one thing or the other, handing out T-shirts or other swag. The past few years, Sharknado has been promoted by this kind of marketing campaign.

Most people simply don’t know that there are these other cool events happening outside open to the public. Take advantage of that.

You can check SDCC Unofficial Blog for its guide to offsite events.

5. Go to MTV Fan Fest for a free outdoor music festival with free drinks, food, and swag

Comic Con has become so big, its even attracted its own little music festival. The festival is actually part of MTV’s Fandom Fest, which is some completely whatever awards show hosted by MTV and squarely marketed at the 18 and under demographic. I mean, if you’re a big fan of Teen Wolf you might care about seeing the cast on stage presenting some award for “Fandom of the Year”, but otherwise you’re just there for the festive atmosphere, live bands, and free drinks/food. Yeah, you heard me, free booze.

The way it works is they hand you some kind of card with a couple marks. They stamp one for your free food item, then stamp the other for your free drink. It’s not a lot, but it’s still free. They also have interactive activities, giveaways, and carnival rides. Last year I got a cape, rode a Ferris wheel, and got a handful of candy.

mtv fan fest stage and crowd
The Fan Fest stage from 2016, Via MTV

One of the years they even had Channing Tatum as a host (cue the middle aged woman standing in front of me exclaiming “wow! he just doesn’t stop!” when he did a body roll onstage), so they do try to pull out some stops. In terms of music: Linkin Park, Dillon Francis, G-Eazy, Krewella, Flo Rida, and others have performed at the festival. The atmosphere is a bit glossy and overproduced–you can feel MTV’s production tendrils grasping every little aspect, making sure every act goes exactly as planned to maximize viewer engagement metrics.

Final perk to mention: going on for a couple years now, they’ve given away mini tripod stools to every attendee at the exit to the event. It’s the perfect gift for those long SDCC lines. It’s free for all SDCC badge holders so you may as well go.

MTV Fandom Fest usually runs ’til 12 midnight in Petco Park on Friday.

6. Have backup plans for panels and be flexible

Remember how over 160,000 people attend San Diego Comic Con? Guess how many people each panel meeting room holds. It’s way less than 160,000. Even Hall H, the most massive room in the convention center and the site for all the largest panels, only holds about 8,500 people. That’s only about 5% of the attendees and all the other rooms are much smaller.

Thus, you want to plan for failure and have a backup panel if the panel you want to go is too full. Even better would be a backup for that backup. Keep your plans flexible, be willing to check out panels you may or may not like. You might end up finding something cool before the hype hits.

Every time I pickup my badges on Wednesday, I spend some time perusing the thick volume containing the schedule for all the panels. I skim through descriptions and circle anything that sounds like it might be cool, even if I don’t know much about it. This way, I have tons of alternative options if a panel I want to go to reaches capacity.

7. Don’t get butthurt and throw a tantrum all day if you don’t make it into a panel

This is a corollary to the previous point. If you miss a panel, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t start sulking and getting pissy, harshing the mellow of your friends who are also at the con with you. If you don’t make it in, you probably didn’t plan well enough to make it in. This is especially true for Hall H panels like Game of Thrones. If you want to make it into that panel, you’re going to be camping out all night in the line. You’ll want to be in that line by the time evening rolls around, or you’ll be starting to risk camping out and still not making it inside.

Anyway, don’t be like a toddler who didn’t get his way. There’s plenty of smaller or undiscovered new panels to drop in on.

child throwing tantrum
“What’s wrong?”

8. Try checking out a few panels for new/less known shows

Second corollary, make it a point to see at least one panel for something you don’t really have prior experience with. This is the way I discovered the show The Expanse, when I watched the entire first episode premiere for the first time ever.

It blew my mind and the show has gone on to be a widely praised hit, a Game of Thrones in space. Try new things and you might be one of the first to discover a gem.

9. Only have 1 must-see major panel/event a day

Unless all your must-see essential panels are in the same room, chances are you’ll only have time to make it into one major panel. I’ve made the mistake of wanting to see more than big panel, getting out of Hall H, lining up for Ballroom 20 a couple hours before the scheduled time, then barely missing the cutoff for the room.

It sucks.

Thus, as long as you see that one panel, think of your day’s goal as accomplished. Everything else is a bonus. If you end up making it into another major panel, great! Just don’t feel entitled to it. This is also a good chance check out some smaller panels.

Plan on waiting at least a few hours for every high demand panel you want to see. Remember that time spent waiting has an opportunity cost–you could have been exploring the exhibit floor, checking out an offsite, or something else.

10. Don’t hover hand

guy hover handing a girl

What are you, 11? This isn’t your first time at a high school dance (well unless you are actually 11, in which case you should stop reading this guide because this is some adults only shit) where you have to be awkward and nervous about the trials of puberty. Women aren’t some special unicorns or princesses in castles that must never be touched lest they shatter like delicate porcelain in the breezes of femininity. I know, Brent, that runs contrary to what you may have heard in this documentary.

If you ask to take a picture with some hot cosplayer and they say yes, go ahead and put your arm out. Don’t hover your hand a few inches away like you’re trying not to touch the lava. Or the cooties.

11. Fly in early Wednesday and fly out Sunday/Monday night

One year, I decided my work was too important so I flew in Thursday evening and flew out Sunday night. That year was the year my heart felt incomplete. I didn’t have time to really see anything Thursday, so I just had Friday and Saturday to see everything. Sunday was a half day, so that cut my time even shorter.

Another year, we drove down to San Diego in a van. We decided to road trip back up on Sunday right after the convention ended. That was one of the worst drives of my life. There’s nothing like being tired and sleep deprived, then driving 8 hours back home in a stuffed car full of collectible exclusives and luggage.

Fly, at least for the trip out. Make your luggage someone else’s problem. Go home and get a good night’s sleep right away in your own bed. Leaving Monday is even more chill. You won’t have to find some place to store all your luggage after Sunday checkout time at 11am, you’ll get a full night’s rest, and you’ll have a day just to explore the city or go to the beach.

Southwest Airlines usually has the best deals and they give you 2 free checked bags, ideal for bringing home your loot haul. Try to book several months ahead for the cheapest prices, though I’ve seen prices remain reasonable up to a month ahead of the convention. Look into a highly rated travel rewards credit card to earn some free flights–Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire (annual fee) are both good options, though you have to call their numbers to book Southwest flights.

12. Take a goddamn shower and use antiperspirant/deodorant

Why does this even have to be said in every SDCC guide?

Because some inconsiderate jackhole is so used to his smell, his olfactory system can’t even register his body odor anymore.

Please, be respectful of others who will likely be crammed right next into you on the exhibit hall floor or be stuck near you for hours in a panel line. Think of the children. Don’t be like Shithead from Wanted. Maintain some basic hygiene.

shithead killing the professor in wanted
Shitty way to go out.

Oh and put on some antiperspirant, especially if you have a tendency to get sweaty. San Diego is a humid, hot place so it’s easy to have moist underarms. I don’t care if you come from another country where antiperspirant isn’t the norm–it’s the norm here so respect the culture.

One of my fellow writers, Andrew, actually had a life changing traumatic experience when a large sweaty man rubbed his entire moisture-dripping body on Andrew while squeezing by. To this day Andrew still has nightmares about the incident.

13. Ask early and confirm where lines are for exhibitor booths

One of the most confusing things about the popular exhibit hall booths is finding out where to line up. Due to crowd management, walking traffic regulation, and fire code laws many booth lines appear shorter than they are at first glance. These lines typically break and continue far away, down the aisle, along one of the hall’s main walls. You’ll see a line monitor there managing the line, talking on a walkie-talkie, and sending groups every now and then wait at the actual booth line.

If you plan on going to any busy booths, you’ll want to find out where these lines are as soon as possible. Make sure you confirm with the line monitors that you’re in the correct line. There will also be many times where the lines will be capped and you’ll have to come back later to get in the line. Either keep walking around the vicinity or find something else to do until the line opens back up.

14. Wear real shoes

The San Diego Convention Center is humongous, spanning over 1 million square feet of space. Just the exhibit hall itself is 0.35 miles long. I’m not even taking into account the many blocks you’ll walk around getting food, going to offsites, or traveling to the hotel. You can easily rack up several miles each day just walking around discovering everything.

That is why you should wear real, comfortable shoes. I’m talking about ergonomic and well padded athletic shoes. When I was young and dumb, I wore some cheap sneakers to Comic Con and by the 3rd day the soles of my feet felt like they were on fire. I could barely walk before I needed to take a break. Needless to say, it highly limited what I could do and cut my fun levels intensely.

high heels
I’ll just wear these for 4 days, I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Go to a reputable athletic shoe store (Roadrunner Sports actually makes its headquarters in San Diego) and have them fit you with a high quality pair of endurance shoes. Personally, I take it full throttle and use marathon running shoes (Brooks Glycerin’s) because I have sensitive princess feet that hate long walks on the beach/anywhere. I also recommend Crocs sneakers (they have normal looking shoes now with soles made of Crocs foam material) for some enduring comfort.

15. Sit down, be humble, and bring a mini camp stool

Continuing on with the health advisories, make sure you sit and take breaks. No matter how good your shoes are, kicking back every now and then is necessary. You need to take breaks to give your legs some time to recover. Because I’m getting to be older, no longer possessing my spry, young healing factor abilities, it’s a lot easier to strain joints and ligaments. One year, I even had a knee brace as a preventive measure for knee soreness from long periods of standing. Even the lower back gets tired eventually from standing around all day.

Make your body happy by changing your position every now and then. Sit, stand, and move. It’s easy to injure something when you do a repetitive motion over a sustained period.

To this end, try to carry a lightweight folding camping stool to sit down on whenever you need a break. The stool is a lifesaver, especially when waiting in line. Sometime your butt just gets sore from sitting on hard concrete. The stool has better ergonomics anyway and it’s easy to move around as you shift in line. Get something lightweight that packs small so you can take it everywhere with you.

The chairs I have were actually the ones given away for free at the MTV Fan Fest I mentioned earlier.

16. Consistent, sustained multi-mile runs before Comic Con will condition your joints/feet

Because of my aforementioned princess feet, I do everything I can to prevent foot pain. Part of that plan is conditioning my feet for endurance.

There’s something called the Specificity Principle in exercise science. Definition please:

Specificity is the principle of training that states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce a training effect.

That means doing something similar to train for the actual activity you’ll be doing. I train for walking around several miles during a multiday convention by jogging a few miles everyday in the weeks before SDCC. You condition your joints and muscles to take the continuous beating your feet will be taking all day. Cardio in general has numerous benefits on your physical and mental health so you may as well take some runs.

17. Crowds in the Exhibit Hall/lines grow on Friday and peak Saturday

big crowd of people
Just a couple people by the WB booth.

Every year I’ve gone to SDCC has followed the same crowding pattern: Wednesday is fairly subdued, Thursday has more people but you can still walk around, Friday the shit-show on the exhibit floor breaks out in high traffic areas, and Saturday is just the worst possible day you could be walking around the exhibit hall floor. Sunday sees the crowds disperse again and sanity returns.

If you want partake in an interactive activity at a booth in the exhibit hall or maybe buy some exclusives, try to do it on Preview Night, Thursday, or Sunday. On Friday and Saturday, you’ll be facing much more competition for every line space. This crowding effect happens because Friday and Saturday usually have the biggest panels and the weekend is in full swing.

Prepare to be sandwiched–I mean pushed in at your front and back so you have no room to move at all–at the highest traffic spots. Try to navigate around those spots if possible. Because CCI changes the layout of the aisles a bit every year, those spots change so you’ll need to make some mental notes of which intersections you want to avoid.

18. Free party on Saturday, the Masquerade Ball, with nachos and highly unofficial BYOB

A longstanding tradition, the San Diego Comic Con Masquerade is a cosplay contest that has been going on for countless millenia. Cosplayers take it very seriously with elaborate costumes, many devising full performances/skits to go along with their time on the stage. Tickets to see the Masquerade are quickly all claimed. Luckily, there’s also a Masquerade Ball every year right after the Masquerade that takes place in the Sails Pavilion. They have a DJ, dance floor, lights, and a sound system set up to let you party the night away free for all badgeholders.

It’s not really the best scene to be at unless you like some high school kids at your party. However, they do provide a free nacho bar and you can bring your own bottle(s) of hidden alcohol if you have the ability to be slick/sneaky about your drinking. There are actually small bars set up at the Masquerade Ball serving beer and wine so technically you could just buy one of those and keep refilling that cup. The Masquerade is livestreamed to the Sails Pavilion, where the actual dance party is held, so you can watch the Masquerade while sipping on your own ill-begotten beers/wines/liquors.

me with a paper mask on
I won audience favorite costume with this masterpiece.

19. Nintendo and other companies have offsite gaming lounges with system setups, the latest games, and events

Earlier I said don’t just go to your hotel room and play video games. You can get around that rule by heading out to one of the gaming lounges that major console vendors usually have set up. I also typically see some game publishers with their own lounges in an offsite event, though these might focus on only a handful of games whereas something like the Nintendo lounge would have multiple systems and games.

I’ve stopped by the Nintendo lounge during several years and they always have their main consoles in addition to portables. They also usually have plenty of places to sit/lounge (a group of bean bag chairs one time), contests, and giveaways. Another year, I went to a Mass Effect 3 gaming lounge and got to demo the game before it was released on XBox.

Check one of the gaming lounges out to get your gaming fix.

20. If you want Hasbros/Legos, Preview Night or camping out Wednesday night is your best chance

Remember when I said Friday and Saturday are the busiest days at SDCC? That also means they are the hardest days to try to snag exclusives. I’m saying Hasbro/Lego, but any major booth with a hot exclusive will also be a dire battle. You have the absolute best chance of getting SDCC exclusives on the least busiest nights. Wednesday night can be iffy, just because many vendors won’t sell some of their exclusives on Preview Night or you won’t be able to beat people who have been camping out in line since Tuesday. Wednesday night is a real possibility though for camping out. You’re still fully rested and you have several days to recover from lack of sleep.

tons of sdcc exclusive toys on the bed
I’d rather sleep on the floor than ruin my mint condition packaging.

There’s just one big line for everything so you want to be in that line as early as possible. There’s not a bunch of panels to miss out on Preview Night, so it’s a good night to start camping the lines early.

In case you don’t know, once the lines start moving in the morning they will start separating you as you get to the Sails Pavilion. You enter the line for whatever retailer you want line tickets for. For Hasbro, the line tickets are given out first come, first serve, and each line ticket entitles the bearer to a certain day and certain time on that day when they can line up at the booth to buy something. The farther back you are in that line, the later the day/time your line ticket will be. And I’ve seen some really hot exclusives selling out by Friday or before.

21. Follow companies on social media before SDCC for chances to go to exclusive events and other perks

Sometimes big company’s exclusive parties will give away tickets to lucky followers of their social media channels. One example is Crave Online and their party on a battleship the last few Comic Cons. You were able to win tickets to the party, where major bands were headlining, if you were in-the-know via social media.

Some offsite events you only hear about if you’re following a brand on Twitter. Some giveaways are only made known to followers who have to complete a special task or say a special word to get some exclusive stuff.

Following is free, so why not?

22. Splitting a room or Airbnb with not enough beds? Get an inflatable sleep pad

No, you don’t have to sleep on a hard floor in just a sleeping bag. No, you don’t have to lug a huge air mattress either.

Head over to an REI, Sports Basement, or some other good outdoor recreation store. Look in their camping section for inflatable sleep pads. Try out a few and you’ll be surprised how comfortable they can be. Go ahead and buy one or shop on Amazon, it’s up to you.

Over the years, I have realized I am too old for the bullshit of being able to sleep anywhere. Sorry, but I have princess needs to get the best sleep.

kid sleeping on a wood floor
Can’t do this anymore. Nope.

Sleep pads are amazingly lightweight, small-packing inventions that will save sore back. I personally own an Exped SynMat, but I’ve seen good reviews for Nemo sleeping pads.

23. Split line waiting shifts with friends

Want to spend less time in lines? Make agreements with your friends to split up line waiting duties. Someone holds a place in line for an hour, then switches with someone else so they can do other things, rinse and repeat. Get your whole group back in line at a reasonable time, before they start moving everyone up or else you’ll risk security barring your way while proclaiming “no cutting”.

Also, don’t be the douchebag that lets his friend group of twenty people rejoin him right before he gets into the room. Keep it to 5 people per lineholder.

If you’re planning on camping all night in line for Hall H, you’re in luck with the Toucan Tracker Wristbands that save your spot. Read more about it in the link.

24. Nothing beats a walking distance accommodation, but prepare for sticker shock

I’ve stayed in Mission Valley and I’ve stayed in the downtown/Gaslamp area where you could walk to the convention. Walking distance is, by far, the better experience. It’s easy to get to the convention center early, drop off some purchases at the room, or even go take a nap. That convenience comes with a price though–high prices.

The best deals are the hotel rooms that Comic Con International negotiates and releases for booking ahead of time. After that, your only choice will be getting an AirBnB for something walking distance. Prepare to pay A LOT. I’ve paid over $1,700 to stay a several blocks away for the length of the convention–and that was the cheapest I could find.

airbnb receipt
RIP wallet

25. Like beer? Make sure you stop by Ballast Point

This is an easy one for people who like good beer. Ballast Point Brewery has a location in Little Italy, which is a convenient neighborhood adjacent to downtown. I’d take an Uber/Lyft though because the walk is still a bit far.

If you don’t know, Ballast Point is a nationally famous San Diego brewery known for their Sculpin/Grapefruit Sculpin/____ Sculpin IPA’s. All of their beers are excellent though, quite refreshing after a long day on the convention floor.

26. The easiest (unfair) way to get exclusives is to have an Exhibitor badge

I once camped out all night for Lego exclusives, ran straight to the booth, and found out the line had already been capped. To say I felt like I had wasted my time would be a massive understatement.

Another year, a friend of mine had an exhibitor badge. That badge lets you enter the convention hall before it opens to the public, presumably because you need to set up shop at your booth. If you’re crafty, you can instead use that badge to enter early then quickly get in line for an exclusive when the floor actually opens to the public. Some booths don’t let you buy anything if you have an exhibitor badge. You can work around this by also carrying your regular attendee badge and switching it once the floor opens. Easy peasy, you scumbag.

This heist doesn’t work if the booth gives out line tickets upstairs in the Sails Pavilion, instead of allowing purchases to the first attendees on the floor.

spy and engineer from team fortress 2
Like taking candy from a baby.

27. Petco Park usually has different takeovers and large outdoor parties on each day

I already told you about the MTV Fan Fest festival in Petco Park, but there’s actually offsite events happening at the Petco Park baseball stadium almost every day. You’ll need to check the offsite event listings to see what exactly is happening. The times I’ve been there, they’ve had NerdHQ set up with many interactive activities/free swag, an Escape the Walking Dead adventure run, and a Impractical Jokers block party.

This year they’ll be having an interactive zone with many participating companies. Check one of the party lists to find other events happening at Petco Park.

28. The easiest (unfair) way to get in Hall H is to volunteer there

Granted, you have to be a little lucky or very early to volunteer registration to get this assignment, but this is the only way to get into Hall H for a highly hyped panel without camping out overnight.

If you didn’t know, SDCC allows a limited number of volunteers to register online. In exchange for a 3 hour work shift, volunteers get a free badge for that day. So if you want all 4 days, you need to work 4 shifts (12 hours total). It’s not that easy to get on the volunteer list either–the interest list fills up immediately when it opens.

In my early Comic Con career, I volunteered so I could get free passes. One time, I was assigned to help in Hall H. There wasn’t a lot to do so I watched the panels for nearly the whole shift. After my shift ended, I just stayed inside the room until I had gotten my fill.

Easiest Hall H admission ever.

people in the Hall H line
Less than 1% of the Hall H line

29. Hall H & Ballroom 20 can be easy to get into after the first panels

Sometimes EVERYONE leaves after a certain extremely popular panel, leaving plenty of capacity for the rest of the panels. That window is a great opportunity to enter the room for some of the not-quite-as-popular panels. Try walking by to see how long the line is after some extremely hyped panels have finished.

There’s also the handy Hall H wait times twitter account that provides live updates of Hall H line waiting times.

30. Shop 1 hour before close on Sunday if you want the biggest discounts

If you want to see a real life fire sale, try shopping around on Sunday an hour before the exhibit hall closes. Because every vendor wants to make as much money as they can before they have to pack up, they start offering crazy deals. That’s when you start seeing things that wouldn’t normally get discounted on-sale with handwritten sharpie signs and even deeper discounts on already on-sale items. You will also likely have a much easier time negotiating a lower price on an item.

The downside is that a lot of things are sold out by this day, so it’s really only for impulse buying.

That’s All Folks

Just the tips guys, just the tips. If there’s any pro strats or advanced tips you think I’ve missed in this advanced SDCC guide, let me know in the comments.

Go forth now, and have not a lame time at San Diego Comic Con! Also, if you eat Subway for 4 days, I will kill you.

Sunny Mui

Post Author: Sunny Mui

Native to the SF Bay area with a decade of Comic Con experience. Reader of books, comics, and more. He also writes short stories and poetry once in a while, when he's feeling to the task. Designer, developer, and marketer by trade, but professional fun person by night. He's the lead in everything technical when it comes to Destroy the Comics. He built it on Wordpress, hardened the security, optimized the page speed performance, implemented search engine optimizations, set up marketing automation tools, and customized the design. When something breaks, he's the guy that either broke it or has to fix it (usually both). He's also the guy coordinating the author team, handling marketing, and sourcing guest content--not to toot his own horn too hard. A graduate of SFSU with degrees in Marketing and English Literature, he's got experience working in digital marketing agencies, startups, and in his own freelance ventures wearing a multitude of hats in every role. He's currently upping his technical game with a Udacity Nanodegree program in front end web development.

2 thoughts on “The Advanced SDCC Guide: 30 Pro Tips to be Not Lame & MAX FUN


    (July 20, 2017 - 2:32 pm)

    Wow, that is such a fun filled exciting post! I loved it. Super cool. Would love to read more on your blog. Cheers!

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