[Originally posted in 2016. Updated for 2022.]
The first in-person San Diego Comic-Con since COVID hit returns in one week! This year will mark my twelfth year of attendance, so I’ve gathered some advice based on my own experience. That said, no one has any experience attending SDCC during a pandemic, so we’ll just have to see how it goes.
VERY long post ahead, nerds!
Let’s address the pandemic stuff first. Now that there’s a new, even more infectious variant circulating, I’m not sure I’ll do much inside the convention center at all. But that’s just where I’m at with it; everyone has a different comfort level with the pandemic.
In 2022, SDCC is requiring all attendees to either be fully vaccinated or to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the start of the show. In addition, all attendees are required to wear an approved face covering that covers the nose and mouth, regardless of vaccination status.
Check this page for details on what sort of vaccination proof and COVID-19 test results they’ll accept. If you’d like, you can download the CLEAR Health Pass app on your phone and upload proof of vaccination there.
SDCC has stated that security will enforce the policies. For me, it’s at least somewhat comforting that these policies are in place. Please don’t make a stink about wearing a mask or providing health status proof. This is about trying to protect the health of attendees and staff. Put your big boy or big girl pants on and deal with it like an adult. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that most attendees will want to help protect themselves and others.
We’re All in This Together
I know that sounds cheesy and played out two and a half years into a pandemic, but it’s true. I’d wager that a decent chunk of SDCC attendees are people who, even pre-pandemic, usually avoid events with massive crowds and a buttload of social interaction. So it’s comforting to keep in mind that many of us will feel similarly about the con’s hustle and bustle. Add a dash (or a heaping helping) of COVID anxiety and you have the groundwork for a mass of people on edge. All we can do is mentally prepare ourselves and maintain empathy for others. Like I said, everyone has their own pandemic comfort level. So please respect boundaries regarding personal space, masking, not wanting to dine indoors or go to parties, etc.
One very important general tip is to be patient. Comic-Con can be trying for those who don’t enjoy waiting (so…everyone, basically). We don’t know what attendance will be like this year, but if it’s anywhere near non-pandemic numbers, there will be a shit ton of people everywhere, all the time.
One inescapable element of past cons was that you had to wait to do anything, like buy coffee, use the bathroom, get into panels, participate in booth activities, board SDCC shuttles, get a table at a restaurant, gain entry to parties, and even to cross the street to get to and from the convention center. Let’s assume it’ll be the same this year. Just take a deep breath and enjoy the best people-watching in the world while you wait.
The official SDCC shuttles offer free rides to the convention center if your hotel isn’t within walking distance. As mentioned, there is often a line to board shuttles. Depending on your hotel’s location along its color-coded shuttle route, the first couple shuttles that come by may be full…so leave early if you want to arrive at the convention center by a certain time. The shuttles will not run 24/7 in 2022; check the shuttle schedule here. Uber and Lyft are obvious alternatives, but prices and wait times will likely increase during the con. Note that face masks are also required on shuttles. Also, you have to have an SDCC badge in order to ride a shuttle.
Fuel for the Day
Carry water and snacks, especially if you’re expecting to wait on panel lines for hours upon hours. Lines often idle for hours, offering ample time to jump out and grab concessions. However, once a line starts moving you won’t want to leave, it so it’s a good idea to have snacks with you. Plus, it’s cheaper to BYO than to buy the not-so-appealing concessions inside the convention center.
There’s a Ralph’s supermarket in the Gaslamp District on G Street at 1st Avenue, which is a good place to buy provisions. There are a couple CVS locations downtown as well: one on 5th Avenue at J Street, the other on Market Street between 6th and 7th Avenues.
There’s a ton going on at SDCC at all times, and you might have a long to-do list. However, it’s wise to manage your expectations. Say there’s one panel you’re absolutely dying to see, but the room fills up and you can’t get in. Or you have your heart set on buying a con exclusive but it sells out before you get to the booth. These things happen, not infrequently. So have a backup plan for something else you’d like to do or buy…or just choose to be okay with the randomness of it all. Sometimes just going with the con flow can lead to fun experiences.
Be open to talking to strangers! Comic-Con is traditionally a magical place where it’s easy to meet like-minded people—especially if you’re waiting for hours to get into a panel. The overall “Excited Nerd” vibe sets the stage for bonding and making new friends.
Keep Calm and Comic-Con
If you’re anxiety-prone, come prepared with some breathing and calming techniques as well as prescription anxiety meds if you have them. Meditation apps like Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer (which has a free version) can also be helpful.
Need a break from the exhibit hall? That’s okay. There are quieter areas inside the convention center that you can seek out. Take the escalators upstairs on the Hall H end of the convention center—there’s usually space to sit on the floor, and security (probably) won’t ask you to leave. Don’t bother sitting on the floor in the main lobby; security will invoke the Almighty Fire Marshal and tell you to get up.
The two hotels closest to the convention center (Marriott Marquis & Marina and Hilton Bayfront) also have lounge areas where you can go to escape, though open seats can be hard to come by. And because we’re in a pandemic, hotels might limit entry to guests only. My guess is they won’t restrict entry, but we won’t know until we get there. If nearby hotel access is limited, you could duck into a random panel in one of the smaller convention center rooms and chill out in the back.
Regarding when to get in line for particular panels or rooms, I don’t have much advice—I didn’t go to many panels at the last few cons I attended.
My general advice for the more popular panels in larger rooms is that if it’s something you really want to see in person, get on line significantly earlier (like maybe even 2 hours earlier) than you thought you should. And I don’t mean two hours before the start of the panel…in recent years, two hours before a popular panel’s start time sometimes wasn’t nearly enough to get you in.
Hall H, Ballroom 20, and Room 6BCF have the largest capacities inside the convention center and offer arguably the most popular panels. Therefore, they’re the hardest to get into, though smaller rooms and Indigo Ballroom at the Hilton Bayfront can also be tough depending on the popularity of the topic and panelists. In past years, Twitter accounts @HallHLine and @Ballroom20Line have offered real-time updates on what those lines are looking like. Checking the hashtags for panel rooms on Twitter can also give you a sense of what the wait is like in real time.
Hall H Hell
TBH, I don’t fully understand the Hall H line wristband system because I haven’t gone through the experience since they instituted the system years ago. However, if you’re going to try for Hall H panels, make sure you understand how it works.
Read this post on the official SDCC Toucan Blog for updated details on the Hall H system. Many people spend a full day waiting on the Hall H line to get a wristband for access to the panels the next day. So it’s up to you to decide if the panel you want to see is worth missing an entire day of the con.
Panel Return Policy
During panels you can leave the room to use the bathroom or buy concessions. When you leave, you’ll be given a pass that allows you back into that room during that same panel only. If you return after that panel has ended, you’ll have to wait on line again to get back in. So time your trips accordingly! The exception to this rule is Hall H, which has restrooms inside of it as well as its own dedicated concessions stand just outside the hall.
Don’t Be That Person
During panels, don’t hold your phone or camera up to take photos and videos the entire time; you’ll block the view of people sitting behind you. If you want to take pics or a video—it’s okay, we all do it—just be quick.
Take Comic-Con from the Rear
The back (marina) side of the convention center used to be a mini respite from the indoor insanity. In recent years, the Hall H line has turned the marina into a giant nerd encampment and the marina side of the convention center now has zero chill (see photo above). However, the marina side is still a sight to behold. There are some great bay views from the second floor terraces behind the convention center, and the lawn behind the center is jam-packed with con-related activities. There’s also usually a no-frills taco truck stationed by the base of the stairs behind the convention center. You can get yummy breakfast tacos there if you’ve been waiting on the Hall H line all night!
TV Guide used to rent a yacht on the marina where they would interview and do photo shoots with the stars. IMDB took over the yacht starting in 2016, so there’s still great celeb-spotting along the marina. Now that the yacht activities are common knowledge, though, hanging out there to see celebrities has become a shitshow.
Again, it remains to be seen what sort of rear convention center access we’ll have this year and what sort of crowd control will be going on along the marina.
Cosplay is Not Consent
There is an unspoken etiquette for photographing cosplayers. Odds are that if someone is wearing a costume they probably won’t mind being photographed. BUT…it’s polite to ask for permission. After the cosplayer agrees and you’ve taken your photo, thank them and compliment them on their costume. Many cosplayers put tons of time, effort, creativity, and money into their costumes, and showing your appreciation is kind.
Also: you will see many people in costumes that show a lot of skin. On more than one occasion, I have seen grown men—in front of their children, no less—taking pics of scantily clad women without their knowledge. That type of behavior is inappropriate and gross. Don’t be a creep.
Random celebrity encounters are a super fun element of SDCC, though it’s hard to say how likely these will be during a pandemic. I imagine studios will want their actively-filming stars to have as little contact with the public as possible to try and avoid post-con COVID outbreaks on set. Plus, stars will each have their own comfort level with being around folks in a pandemic. But some celebrities may still be out and about, as with any other year.
If you do encounter a celebrity, DO be respectful and DON’T get up in their face with your phone without asking. ESPECIALLY because we’re still in a pandemic. Many celebrities have been quite open to posing for pics with fans at SDCC. But remember that many humans, famous or not, don’t enjoy being yelled at, touched, or having their personal space invaded by strangers.
Additionally, celebrities tend to be on very tight schedules at SDCC. Their appearances are for work, so they spend all day doing interviews, panels, photo shoots, and attending parties. Don’t take it personally if someone declines your selfie or autograph request—they may literally not have time, or they may be trying to avoid contact for health reasons. Or they may simply not want to, which is also valid. And if a celebrity handler or security person asks you to step back from a celebrity, just do it.
There’s a TON of stuff going on outside the convention center, whether it’s along the marina or across Harbor Drive in the Gaslamp District. The SDCC Unofficial Blog (a GREAT resource) has a calendar dedicated to offsite info. Note that offsite activations often have lines just as long as panel lines.
There are tons of parties during SDCC; some of them require an official SDCC badge for entry, some don’t. I recommend keeping your badge on when you head out for a night out in case the evening takes you somewhere where a badge is needed. You do not want to schlep back to your hotel room to grab it. And lots of people wear their badges at parties…no one will think less of you if you have one around your neck.
Here’s a list of items I recommend packing, in addition to standard packing lists:
- Face Masks. Required for all attendees. Have backups with you in case of strap breakage.
- Hand Sanitizer. Duh.
- COVID-19 Rapid Tests. Much easier to have these in your room than to run to CVS or find a testing site if you start having symptoms.
- Comfortable, broken-in shoes. Comic-Con is not the time to break in new shoes. You’ll walk A LOT.
- Gadget chargers/extra batteries. Available outlets are often in short supply, so an external charger is key.
- Refillable Water Bottle. I don’t recall if the convention center has bottle filling stations, but there are water fountains. Panel rooms usually have water coolers, too.
- Meds: OTC and any RX, if needed. Bring extra RX meds in case of return flight delays.
- Travel Kleenex. Necessary for when you end up in a bathroom stall that’s out of TP.
- Deodorant. An SDCC constant is that some people stink. Don’t be one of them.
- Sunscreen (minimum SPF 30). Unless you attend panels all day long, you’re going to spend at least time in the San Diego sun. And some panel lines end up outdoors (especially Ballroom 20 & Hall H).
- Sunglasses. Easy to forget to pack.
- Fold-up tote bag. Perfect for smaller purchases & can easily be stowed in your purse, backpack, or fanny pack when not in use.
- Light jacket, hoodie, or sweater. July in San Diego is warm, but the convention center can get chilly. The temp drops at night, and if you’re in the Hall H line on the marina at 3am (I’ve been there) you’ll want an extra layer.
- Towel or mini fold-up chair. Recommended for the the Hall H line. Sitting on concrete for hours can be painful, so at the very least, pack a towel to fold up and sit on.
- Cash. Not sure if this is necessary anymore, as a lot of vendors only take cards now. But it can’t hurt to have a little cash.
Additional Packing for Collectors
- Poster tube. If you plan to buy posters, you’ll need a tube to transport them home intact. If you forget to pack a tube, there’s a mail supply store in the Marriott Marquis lobby (and probably most other nearby hotels) where you can buy a poster tube.
- Sharpie and notebook. If you’re an autograph seeker, you’ll want to have these in case you run into a celebrity whose autograph you’d like to ask for, assuming anyone is willing to interact up close with fans this year.
- Extra Baggage. If you expect to buy a lot of stuff, pack a fold-up duffel bag or something similar inside your luggage. Every attendee receives a giant Warner Bros con bag, but it’s not super sturdy and doesn’t have a closure so it’s not good for carrying on or checking on a plane.
Last but not least…SDCC can be very overwhelming, but try to remember take it all in and HAVE FUN! I think that’s about it—I hope this post has been helpful. See you at Comic-Con!