SDCC Newbie Guide – Part I: Offsite Events and Scheduling [Updated for 2012]

There can be only one…

Whether you’ve attended a local Wizard con, or even the bigger cons like C2E2 in Chicago or New York Comic Con, you’ll never experience anything as awesome as San Diego Comic Con. Take even your most inflated expectations, multiply them by 100, and you’re still just a fraction of what you’ll find yourself a part of during the weekend.

The weekend moves way too fast, so you too have to be prepared to move fast to keep up. That’s where we’re here to help. Over the next few weeks we’ll be writing a series of posts here to pass along what we’ve learned in years past. Whether this is your first trip or your tenth, we hope you get some useful tips out of them!

Put Your Money Where The Con Is

Companies like Hasbro and Mattel are already announcing their exclusive SDCC merchandise, and you’ll most likely want to save your money for some of these limited-edition mementos for your geek mantle. The best way to do this is to limit the amount of cash you spend outside of the convention center by keeping an eye out for free events and parties. There are always events hosted by Hollywood studios, video game companies and entertainment blogs where you could partake in SDCC-exclusive merchandise giveaways, meet celebs, and most importantly score free food and drink. Keep an eye out here for offsite events as they are announced, and jump on them quickly, as the free ones are limited capacity and fill up fast.

Schedule Anxiety

In a couple of weeks when the schedule is released, you’ll undoubtedly go through the descriptions for each panel and give an enthusiastic “yes!” to attend each one. The problem with this, as you will soon find, is that you’ll look at your schedule and find you’re triple and quadruple-booked for almost the entirety of the weekend. Even after a third and fourth elimination round, you’ll still find yourself having to be in more places at once than humanly possible. Wait, this is SDCC we’re talking about – dare we say you need to be Superman?

First, prioritize. Identify the panels you absolutely can’t miss. You’ll still have some schedule conflicts, because there’s just so much going on during the weekend, so you’re going to have to make some tough choices.

Second, adjacent panels in the same room are a smart bet, because they don’t clear out the audience between panels. That means once you get a seat, you can squat as long as you want. Look at your schedule and make sure you save time before an important panel to get there as early as you can. This is advised for some of the bigger panels in Ballroom 20 and Hall H – for the really popular ones, you’ll need to get in line at least a couple hours in advance for a better chance for a seat.

Third, we recommend to always have a backup to the most popular panels. Instead of waiting two or three hours in line without knowing if we’d ever get in, we bailed and went to several smaller but just as enjoyable panels. And remember, the bigger panels always get the coverage from the blogs, so you can always catch up on all the headlines online or from conversations with others while waiting in lines, which brings use to our fourth tip – expect waiting around in a lot of lines. Be flexible and don’t stress out about getting into everything. You’re going to have to sacrifice more than a few times when it comes to the schedule, but SDCC is just as much about the experience as it is the panels, so you’ll be blown away at whatever you do!

Last, we recommend you plan most of your time on the show floor on Thursday. The crowds really fill up Friday, Saturday and Sunday, along with the big panels you’ll most likely want to attend. Hit your favorite booths and gather your swag early.

Check back next week for more tips on preparing for this year’s SDCC!

About Jeremy Rutz

  • Hi Jeremy,

    Great first piece on the blog. I started reading this blog last year in preparation for my trip to SDCC and you guys do a great job of helping people prepare, both newbies and vets alike.
    I’ve been attending SDCC since 2006 and scheduling is never easy. I always start out with a grand plan and it usually goes out the window about two hours into the show. As much fun as some of the big panels in hall h and ballroom 20 are, I’ve found it harder and harder to get inside those rooms for the panels I want to see. Last year my two favorite panels ended up being in smaller rooms (that were still standing room only with many folks left out) and I took away more from those then I did the big ones in hall h.
    I’ve also had great success with leaving the con and finding great events that I stumble into in the city. Two years ago Disney had that great walk through exhibit for Alice and Wonderland and last year we made it into a small party in the Puma shoe store where we ended up getting to meet Stan the Man Lee!
    It’s a big big shoe and it is always what you make of it. Trying to do it all leads to disappointment, but being flexible and enjoying the moment can lead to some amazing surprises and encounters.

    Keep up the good work and thank you for running this awesome blog. I’ll be checking back daily.


  • tyler

    Thanks Jeremy! Last year was my first comic con with my wife and two kids. This website was sooooo helpful in planning. And although i was STILL overwhelmed Wednesday night (for Preview night) this blog REALLY helped set my expectations at a reasonable level. Looking forward to more to help make this year’s comic con even more enjoyable!

  • Artimus

    Last year was my first time too. And I agree with planning backup panels. I forget what I was supposed to be going to, but it was full and I ended up stumbling into one of the smaller rooms where Stan Lee and Neal Adams spoke about their Holocaust motion comics. It was heart wrenching, educational, and beautiful all at once.

  • I’ve been going to SDCC since ’04, and I can say the panel scheduling conflicts have only gotten harder each year, especially considering the ENORMOUS amount of events occurring *outside* the convention hall that was seen last year. There have always been external, after-con events – but last year events went above and way beyond anything we’ve seen prior. This is AWESOME especially for the multitudes that couldn’t even score SDCC tickets this year (thank the heavens for press passes), but has the unfortunate side-effect of causing even more scheduling conflict. So my advice in this is: have a plan but don’t be married to it. Don’t let missing one panel keep you from having a great time.

    Second piece of advice which has served me well over the years – BRING YOUR OWN FOOD / WATER. By food, I mean things like granola bars, 100 Calorie Packs, energy bars, etc – little things that can hold you over between (all too scant / expensive) meals. For water, just a single bottle (either pre-filled disposable or permanent water bottle or will serve you fine, you can refill at any of the abundant drinking fountains found around the hall… although I prefer the disposable since there’s no great loss should you forget to grab it on your exit from B-20 to head to Hall H :D). For drinking variety, bring some Crystal Light On The Go packets, or a couple MiO bottles, to add flavor to your water. Trust me, just these little things will make all the difference in your Con enjoyment.

    Hope to see some of you guys this year! I’ll be again covering any ARGs / transmedia events for Alternate Reality Gaming Network, and you can follow me on Twitter (@SDCCBanshee) for any up-to-the-minute shenanigans I find 🙂

    (PS that twitter account doesn’t go “live” until the week of SDCC. If you want to follow before then, it’s @redbanshee).

    See you at the Con!

  • SpotAnime

    @Celina: Stop! You’re spoiling all my ideas for future posts! 😀

  • Kirk Staley

    Wait a minute! That Puma Event right across from the Machete Taco Shop? Is that the one you are talking about? I was there, but 1st in line.

  • Tori

    If we were unable to get tickets for preview night, what are our chances of still getting swag on the first day?

  • SpotAnime

    @Tori: you still have great chances, probably better than on Preview Night. There were a few big vendors who were still unpacking and setting up on Preview Night last year, and I got the most swag Thursday through Saturday. Also, a few exhibitors would hand out different swag every day, so it’s always good to check back at your favorite booths throughout the con.

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  • What are your favourite booths to visit on the show floor?

  • Greetings, Earthling 🙂

    Well done on Baby’s First SDCC! ‘Tis this baby’s first trip, although not my first publication within the Souvenir Book: 2010 lead Peanuts article and this year’s, 2012, Tarzan/Jane piece.

    I feel psyched for the crowds, though most likely not adequately so 😀 In the past, I have attended regular media events at the Palais in Cannes, but that’s just dodging skittish Londoners and obnoxious New Yorkers with rolling briefcases. This shall be bonkers! As for the panels … Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, The Simspons and The Lone Ranger. Of course, if I don;t get in, no worries … just happy to know Tim Burton and Johnny Depp might be in the vicinty 🙂

    I have linked to your helpful posts, via my sites, as the date draws near, as I post my own pending thrills to readers.


    J.S.Devore (Ici, I write under the pseudonym Miss Hannah Hart, ghostdame of the Hotel del Coronado … Hannh’s def. going to the Con!)

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  • TIPS FOR NEWBIES FOOD CHEAP outside you have:
    1. Subway sandwiches at 6th and K. We had a long line last year but it moved fast. Suggest pick up sandwidch early then head back in to eat inside at lunch time. Cant remember if any seating.
    2. Cine Cafe between 4th and 5th on K. Family deli/market venue. ATM inside. No real seating.
    3. Lucky’s Lunch Counter on 7th between K and J. New place with more order and go thingy. Some seating but yeah, it’s the Comic Con so good luck. They have breakfast also.

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