A First-Timer's Guide to San Diego Comic-Con

Lori Acken
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

You got your badge, scored a hotel room, have your costume perfected (or your camera prepped to capture others’ handiwork) and it’s San Diego Comic-Con go-time for your very first time. So now what? We were once Con newbies, too, and know well that your first peek at the crowd — both at the convention center and wandering the festivities around it — can be a mind-blow, so we’ve assembled a tip sheet to help you feel, act and traverse the grounds like a pro, right from the start.

PLAN AHEAD

Hear this now: Once you leave your hotel room, you will never not be in a crowd. Never, ever. You will jostle and be jostled. During prime hours on the exhibit hall floor, your nose will be pressed into the back of the guy who bought or built his costume in the ’90s and hasn’t washed it since. So, if you’re testy about that sort of thing, begin steeling yourself now … or consider selling your badge to one of the multitude of folks desperate to buy it and head somewhere chill.

Don’t drive if you don’t have to. Trolleys, crowds, busses and shuttles make the entire area around the convention center a challenge by car. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s trolley is a great option, amping up the number of trains and limiting stops during the convention. Get yourself a multi-day pass (it’s cheapest), park in Old Town or Mission Valley and glide right up to the Convention Center in a train specially wrapped for the event. If you do need parking, your best bet is to pre-pay and take the pressure off.

San Diego Comic-Con 2018 Schedule: Full List of Television Panels

San Diego Comic-Con 2018 Schedule: Full List of Television Panels

Your up-to-date SDCC lineup, with shows like 'Star Trek: Discovery,' 'Charmed,' 'Magnum P.I.' and more.

Plot your days carefully. Even the most casual Con-goer will quickly discover there’s more to do than time to do it, so check the exhibit hall map early — especially if you’re intent on scoring freebies or getting the good stuff in a popular booth, which you’ll want to do first thing. Learn the lay of the land in the Convention Center and make good use of your guide to find your personal can’t-miss places and panels. Remember, there will always be a sea of people in your path as you make your way from floor to floor and room to room, so even short distances will take time.

Dress the part. This one’s not about costumes (although showing up as your favorite character is definitely part of the fun, if you’re so inclined). You will be walking way more than you thought and sitting and standing for long periods of time, and the temperature in every room varies. Wear comfortable shoes that can take the weight of your fellow Con-goer and clothing that will get you through blistering heat (or pouring rain) outside and air-conditioning inside.

Bring the Essentials. Pack a portable device charger or two. Outlets are in short supply, so if you do see one open, claim that thing as yours if you have a bit of time to charge so you don’t tap your extras out. Pack snacks and water, too. Yes, there are food and beverage kiosks, but the lines can be daunting, the prices aren’t cheap and if you’re in line for a coveted booth/freebie/autograph/session — or camped out in Hall H (more on that in a minute) — you’ll be glad you have sustenance and hydration at the ready. And bring cash. Most sellers have card readers, but Wi-Fi in the entire hall can be iffy, and cash is still the fastest way to get your stuff and go. Bonus: no potential unpleasant surprises when you get that credit card bill.

'Game of Thrones' & More Shows That Won't Be at Comic-Con 2018

'Game of Thrones' & More Shows That Won't Be at Comic-Con 2018

'Westworld,' 'Outlander' & more fan favorites will be absent from SDCC this year.

Be smart with your badge. You got one. Lots of people wanted one. Know where yours is at all times — but if you do lose it or have it stolen, you can get another for a small fee at the Attendee Badge Solutions Desk. And you will scan in and scan out of the convention hall every time you come and go. Get good at swiping your badge and make everyone (most of all you) happy.

(UNDER)STAND YOUR GROUNDS

Take advantage of short lines. Bathrooms, booths, snacks, Starbucks. Even if you only kind of want a latte and there’s but a handful of people in line, drink up. Because that right there is a miracle.

Cell reception and Wi-Fi access are iffy, courtesy of the crowd. Since you really shouldn’t waste your Con time with your face in your phone anyway, take this as a fine excuse to soak in all that’s before you and share your photos and thoughts at night. But if you need to Tweet and you need to Tweet now, and the convention center isn’t cooperating, try the lobby of a neighboring hotel. Use and follow @Comic_Con and #SDCC2018.

Tom Ellis, David Mazouz, Eliza Taylor & More Join TV Guide Magazine's Fan Favorites Panel at Comic-Con 2018

Tom Ellis, David Mazouz, Eliza Taylor & More Join TV Guide Magazine's Fan Favorites Panel at Comic-Con 2018

Plus, a magical queen, a zombie, Superman's grandpa and more are making their way to the stage.

The best costume spotting is in the convention center lobby. Sure, jaw-dropping creatures are everywhere during the Con, but for the best in one-stop shopping for the best in creative Con couture, you can’t really beat the lobby, where themed groups are able to pose together, and outsized creatures don’t have to navigate the exhibit hall crowds.

Ask before you snap a photo. Yes, it’s what most costume-wearers live for — but not all of them and not all the time. A simple “May I take your picture?” allows folks to strike a memorable pose — or ask you for space if they’re just trying to eat that $10 hot dog in peace.

Comic-Con International 2015 - General Atmosphere

Fans dressed in cosplay attend Comic-Con International 2015 on July 10, 2015 in San Diego, California.

About those giant bags on everybody’s back: Those big bags are a big deal to some, and a few are more covet-worthy than others. Trust us — it doesn’t pay to ask Con officials if you can switch. You can’t. And if you land a prized pack, prepare for the herd of hopefuls waiting for you as you exit with it. They’ll try everything to get you to trade. Or if you're not fussy, trade and make someone’s day.

Remember, ya gotta schlep what you buy. Overloaded backpacks are a potential weapon to the bodies and faces of your fellow Con-goers and hard on your body for you. Plus, you have to get that stuff home somehow. If you’re planning to make plenty of purchases, bring a sturdy backpack and items to protect easily smushed takeaways like comic books, artwork, posters and figurines.

Yes, Hall H is mecca for the biggest celebrity sightings. Yes, you will have to do some variation on camping out to get a spot. The convention center’s biggest room holds 6,500 people. That enormous cattle chute of people you’re looking at under the white canopies to the left of the Convention Center? That’s them … eagerly awaiting a spot close enough to see both of Norman Reedus’ eyes or Jensen Ackles’ nose hairs or what have you. Getting into a mega-panel requires large amounts of time, patience staying power, so pick one major event per day, commit to it and just forget about what else you might be missing. Ballroom 20 is next biggest. It's upstairs and also home to many TV and film-related panels.

Comic-Con doesn’t clear rooms after each panel. This is big — and a double-edged sword. Once you’re in a room, you’re in — that includes the coveted Hall H — so if you score a great seat and love every panel crossing the room’s stage that day, hurray for Con paradise. But people have to leave for other people to get in. So, if you’re bouncing around and always end up at the back of the room, that’s likely why.

A 'Jack Ryan' Obstacle Course & More Interactive Experiences at Comic-Con 2018

A 'Jack Ryan' Obstacle Course & More Interactive Experiences at Comic-Con 2018

'Legion,' 'Wynonna Earp,' 'Buffy,' and more are also getting in on the fun.

Be considerate. ADA seats are for folks with physical disabilities and their helpers only. Press seats are for reporters only. Save more than a couple seats for more than a couple minutes at your peril, especially if you’re toward the front. And don’t get into it with the guy or girl who wants to argue you out of them if you know your pals are truly on their way. Let them get tossed — not you.

Make your question count. If you score a spot in the Q&A line, earn your fan cred and ask a thoughtful, creative question. The talent will love you, your fellow audience members will love you and you’ll leave feeling like a rock star.

Good stuff happens everywhere. Networks and studios set up fun stuff for you to see and do across the street, behind the convention center and at nearby hotels and eateries, so if the main deal feels a bit too crowded, head out and see what else awaits.

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