My SDCC 2023 Experience
An ornate hotel lobby is probably not what you expected to see at the top of this post, right? If you take a closer look at the right of the below photo, you’ll see Wonder Woman playing a harp. That’s because our San Diego Comic-Con 2023 hotel, the Westgate Hotel, hosts afternoon tea—and during SDCC, a costumed harpist played in the lobby during tea time. This is one of the things I love about SDCC: many local businesses get in on the nerdiness. It fosters such a fun geek vibe!
As usual, my SDCC recap will be a very long post with lots of photos…
2023 marked the thirteenth SDCC that John and I attended together! This year felt different; the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes affected the Hollywood presence that typically infuses the con. But we had a great time, and overall the con didn’t feel much less bustling than usual. The lack of Big Hollywood and A-List Stars just meant that attendees spread out more throughout the convention center.
NOTES ON OUR HOTEL LOCATION
Hotelpocalypse really screwed our group this year. Not one of the six of us received a hotel assignment during the initial lottery! A first for us.
We needed three rooms but the best we could get during the general hotel sale was two rooms at the Westgate and one at the Intercontinental. Of course, once SAG announced its strike, rooms opened up at hotels closer to the convention center. But some of those hotels jacked up the prices. For example, the Manchester Grand Hyatt listed rooms for at least $550/night…significantly more than the usual SDCC pricing. Plus, we had paid nonrefundable deposits on our hotels, so switching wasn’t really an option anyway.
For me, hotel location is very important. Our hotel was just 0.7 miles from the convention center—about a 15 minute walk—but it felt too removed from the con goings-on. The distance simply resulted in too much walking for my poor feet. The Westgate is on the free shuttle route so I did take it once, but it really only shaved off a few minutes of walking time. Ubering short distances multiple times a day seemed silly, so we only used it a couple of times. I walked between six and eight miles each day, and my feet are really feeling it this week. Ultimately our location was a bummer for me, even though the hotel itself is quite nice.
After our pre-con wedding anniversary getaway on Shelter Island, John and I checked in to the Westgate. That afternoon, we shopped at Ralph’s for water and snacks, then worked out at our hotel’s outdoor gym. That evening, we met friends for dinner and drinks at the Marriott Marquis & Marina Tequila Bar, which is kind of a tradition for us. After that, we went to the Top of the Hyatt for a drink and this calm-before-the-con view:
Wednesday morning was rest time for me. My brother and our friend K were arriving in the afternoon, so our full group would be in town and the con would truly begin for me. As an introvert, I take my recharging time very seriously.
K and my brother arrived on the same train later in the afternoon. After they checked in to the Intercontinental they swung by my hotel, then we strolled on down to the Gaslamp District and grabbed an early dinner at Rustic Root. I had a tasty burrata and tomato salad and an Old Fashioned. The place has a really good happy hour offer, so we need to remember it for next year.
Afterward, we went to the convention center to pick up our official con bags and lanyards. There were only about four or five bag designs this year, mostly animation. I got a Futurama bag, which I wasn’t excited about and left in our hotel room. I think this is this first year that I haven’t taken a photo with my con bag in the Sails Pavilion. However, SDCC distributed official enamel pins this year, and they are SO cute!
John and his brother had gone out to a late lunch with some folks and they had Preview Night badges, but the rest of us did not. So while they went to the exhibit hall, K and my brother and I went to Altitude Lounge at the Marriott Gaslamp—we usually go there at least once per con. The place was pretty empty when we arrived, and we were able to watch over the convention center as the sun set. John eventually met up with us there after he finished with Preview Night.
First official day of SDCC 2023! I met up with K and my brother outside the convention center in the morning and we headed into the fray.
My first order of business was to check out the official SDCC chocolate bar kiosk upstairs outside Ballroom 20. I only learned about these limited edition chocolate bars last year, and I wanted to try to get one of each. As is typical for all things SDCC, there was a line. K decided to wait with me and we had fun chatting with the lady in line behind us. We ended up waiting for about 50 minutes, but we were both able to get all four bars!
The convention center chefs created four special flavors, and they only sell something like 1,200 of them per day. Each chocolate bar cost $10—not cheap, but they’re substantial bars with quality ingredients. Speaking of labels, how cute are they?! I’m going to keep them as souvenirs. So far, I’ve eaten the Cosplay Crackle (dark chocolate with strawberries, Pop Rocks, and basil) and I really liked it.
Chocolate acquired, it was time to venture into the exhibit hall. K and I began wandering the aisles, and it was SUPER crowded…more crowded than I remember for a Thursday morning. Bodies everywhere. It did feel like more folks were shopping and gawking because there were fewer major panels on the schedule.
How awkward is it that both Lego and Funko did Blockbuster booths?
It’s like when two celebrities show up wearing the same dress on the red carpet.
This is what it looked like heading into the massive Funkoville installation on the eastern side of the exhibit hall. Just a sea of people all the way to that back wall.
Though Sideshow Collectibles skipped SDCC this year (their booth is always a standout presence for its phenomenally lifelike, detailed statues), we did still see booths with incredible pieces. Like this reptilian grey alien at Elite Creature Collectibles…wow.
After 30 minutes of walking the exhibit hall I was already over being surrounded by people, so I got the hell outta there. Here’s what walking toward the Gaslamp District from the convention center looked like when I escaped:
I headed back to the room to rest. My friend from a beauty group had invited me and another friend to the Her Universe Fashion Show at the Hyatt that evening, so I needed to chill and get ready to meet up with them. My friend’s friend works for the company so she was able to get us on the list for badges. I had never been to the show before, and it was really fun! My photos of the show are not good so I’m not sharing them here, but the designers were so talented. Also? Each attendee received a gift bag with a ton of Disney swag…like for real, they gave us SO much stuff!! I wore those Minnie Mouse sunglasses each day for the remainder of the con.
After the show, my friend and I grabbed a late dinner at Brew 30 at the Hyatt. My peeps were hanging out at Harbor & Sky, the roof bar at Springhill Suites, so we headed over there for a drink with them before calling it for the night.
Morning was recharging time. I decided to take the shuttle in the afternoon, so I donned my Friday finest and hopped on the bus.
The shuttle ride itself took less than 20 minutes, and it wasn’t crowded. Because the exhibit hall had been such a shitshow the day before, I skipped it entirely on Friday. John was hanging out at the Marriott pool, so I decided to walk along the marina and check out the scene there before meeting up with him. The marina had plenty of activations, along with the IMDB boat and the Voodoo Ranger pirate ship (which I went to a live podcast on last year). No Hall H campers was pretty eerie to see, though.
Friday evening, my group met up at Princess Pub in Little Italy to watch the first Women’s World Cup soccer game. I really don’t enjoy sports (except for tennis), and watching soccer in a pub was the last thing I wanted to do during SDCC. But we had reservations at a tiki bar in the area at 8:45pm and needed to grab dinner beforehand, so I hung out, ate a grilled cheese, and tried to tune out the loud cheering.
Our time at False Idol Tiki Bar after the game was really fun. K made us a reservation a month prior, which is highly recommended for groups. They do take limited walk-ins, but there’s no guarantee. The bar is in the a restaurant basement, and it’s loud and crowded. I was invited to go last year but wasn’t ready for a packed indoor gathering then. This year I was fine with it, and I’m so glad we went! They have an extensive menu of tiki drinks, which are strong and tasty. We need to remember to make reservations again next year.
More morning rest time. I spent a while going through the con guide, marking panels that looked interesting in case I found myself with some time to kill, and circling booths on the exhibit hall map that I wanted to hit up. In the afternoon I walked to the convention center and met up with K to explore the exhibit hall for a bit. We found one booth selling tons of small horror movie posters, and we had a great time rifling through the bins. I could have browsed through them all afternoon! I bought two posters (Basket Case and Blood Feast) for just $10 apiece.
After about an hour inside we left the convention center and entered the carnival-like Gaslamp District scene:
I wanted to get dinner in Gaslamp to soak up some con vibes, but as you can see, the area was insanely crowded. So my brother made all of us a reservation at Isola Pizza Bar in Little Italy. We had a couple hours until dinner so K and I went to Salt & Whiskey at the Horton Grand to rest and grab a snack and a drink, and John met us there. We went to our respective hotels to drop off our purchases, then met our peeps for dinner. The pizza crust was so good, though I ordered a pizza that had hot peppers on it and they were a little too spicy. I’d go back but skip the spicy peppers next time.
After dinner, some of us went back to Harbor & Sky for a drink. We really enjoyed the place because it was never packed, likely because it’s removed enough from the con.
Final day of SDCC 2023. My brother and K were both leaving that day, so I went to their hotel to see them before they took off. In the afternoon, John and I explored the exhibit hall together. But not before finally getting a photo at our hotel’s superhero photo op setup:
Both Saturday and Sunday afternoons were less crowded than Thursday morning. Many booths come in with a set number of certain items that they sell per day, then restock the next morning. So I think what happens is that everyone packs into the exhibit hall in the mornings to get these items. Then once they’re gone for the day, people start to trickle out. Next year I need to remember that afternoons tend to be less crowded!
With fewer bodies to dodge on Sunday afternoon, I was able to do more in-depth browsing. And I was like a kid in a candy store! I finally got to see so much stuff up close that I had blown past during my previous visits inside. So now I’ll share lots of photos that I took on Sunday…
I always love this silicone mask booth…their work is super detailed and creepy. I especially loved The Night King and Vecna on the top right shelf:
How cool is this giant Lego Magikarp?
I must pause to share the moment that TOTALLY MADE MY CON. While browsing a booth I spotted this guy dressed as Sloth from The Goonies, my all-time favorite movie. I couldn’t not ask him for a photo! He kindly obliged and John snapped this shot of us. Thank you, whoever was under that Sloth mask! You made my day!
You all know I’m a fan of horror. And the SDCC vendors sure delivered the goods! I took so many horror doll and figurine photos that I compiled them in a slideshow, along with a couple non-horror pics as well. Jesus statue, anyone?
I also have a slideshow of the cosplayers that I photographed. I didn’t take too many photos of cosplayers but there was a lot of creativity!
John and I left the convention center once they started announcing that the exhibit hall would close in 30 minutes…we didn’t want to get stuck in a crush of people trying to file out at the same time. We rested by the Marriott pool for a bit, then went back to Harbor & Sky for dinner with friends. We closed out SDCC there with this lovely sunset view:
Somehow, I did the most walking on the last day of the con; I was worn out but managed to pull it off. Our flight home on Monday morning was delayed an hour but otherwise went smoothly, and we were so excited to get home to our cats!
Overall I had a wonderful time geeking out at SDCC 2023. I didn’t attend a single panel, but I love wandering the exhibit hall, people watching, and hanging out with friends. I’m already looking forward to SDCC 2024. 🙂
If you’ve made it this far, thanks so much for reading!