These are a few tips and reminders for your travel to San Diego – but aside from local specifics, most of these reminders go for any show you’re traveling to.
If you’re local and you’re going to commute daily to the convention, check out our separate Commuter’s Guide.
Arriving by Plane
For anyone coming in from out of state or just up north (California’s real big, y’all), San Diego’s Lindbergh Field is the first stop on your grand tour. We’re sure you booked your flight long ago, and we’re guessing it’s not your first air travel rodeo. But here are a few tips on thinking ahead for the convention:
- Luggage. Think carefully about what you’re packing. Yes, we can all probably do five days at SDCC with a carry on. But remember that San Diego is warm, and you might get sweaty while waiting in line outside – make sure you pack enough shirts. On the other hand, the air conditioning is usually cranked up in the panel rooms – you’ll also want a sweater. If you decide to check your bag and it gets lost or delayed, don’t panic – there are malls within easy access of wherever you’re staying (downtown, try Horton Plaza; Mission Valley, swing by Fashion Valley Mall) and you’ll find hundreds of geeky t-shirts for sale on the show floor.
- Stay hydrated. This is frequently given advice at any con, and it should start before you even get to the show. Air travel is notoriously dehydrating, and there’s nothing worse than landing in San Diego with a terrible headache. Bring an empty reusable water bottle in your carry on and fill it up once you’re through security. Start drinking on the plane and don’t let go of it for the rest of the weekend!
- Ground transportation. Do you know how you’re getting to your hotel? Not all hotels have airport shuttles; now is a good time to see if yours does. If it doesn’t, you can try a taxi, a shared shuttle service (like SuperShuttle) or some Uber/Lyft/Sidecar drivers are now permitted to pick up at the airport. If you’re renting a car, be sure you know how much parking at your hotel will cost – some are so pricey, it may well be cheaper to utilize cabs and the free shuttle all weekend.
- What’s that? Free shuttle? Yes, Comic-Con offers a free shuttle service beginning Wednesday afternoon, although it does not make an airport stop.
Arriving by Train
If you are relatively new to Southern California, taking the train to San Diego might not be on your radar. But it’s easy, takes about the same amount of time as driving (in traffic), and is relatively inexpensive when compared with the cost of parking.
Note: for the summer of 2016, the bus plaza at Los Angeles Union Station will be under construction. If you’re taking a bus to pick up your train, especially if you’re flying into LAX and connecting to Amtrak to get to San Diego, make note of the change in pickup location.
Want to skip the traffic jam and give the train a shot this year? Read on:
- Take the right train. These tips are geared toward travel between Los Angeles and San Diego on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner line. If you’re coming from North San Diego County, look into the Coaster train. If you’re in LA or Orange counties, there are also local Metro and Metrolink trains. You can use these two to get to an Amtrak station, but they don’t run to San Diego. Amtrak recently added more trains to this route during Comic-Con, which has shifted some of the departure times; double-check yours!
- Reserve in advance. By now you should know that it’s best to pre-purchase everything you can for SDCC, and Amtrak is no exception. Trains down to San Diego on Wednesday and Thursday are always packed*, as are the trains returning to Los Angeles on Sunday (and even Saturday afternoon). And when we say packed, we mean standing room only. In fact, our trains from Anaheim to San Diego have been crowded we had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow cramped passengers in the entryway of the car, in front of the bathroom. Note that buying a coach ticket gets you a spot on the train, which can sometimes sell out. But it doesn’t guarantee you a seat. For that, you’ll want to read on about business class.
- The Del Mar race track season schedule and the dates of Comic-Con play a part in how crowded the train is.When Comic-Con happens in mid to late July, it will overlap with the Del Mar season: this means much larger crowds on the train, as there is an Amtrak stop in Del Mar with a direct shuttle to the race track. Del Mar has races Wednesday thru Sunday. When Comic-Con falls in early July, pre-dating the opening of Del Mar’s season as it did in 2015, train crowds won’t be quite as bad.
- Consider business class. Forget the other benefits that come with Amtrak business class like free snacks – the extra $20 for business class is sometimes worth it just to get a guaranteed reserved seat. If you’ll be boarding at Union Station in Los Angeles or anywhere further south, spring for business class. Particularly for Orange County riders, the trains will already be full when they arrive at your station.
- Business class is also a great option when coming back from San Diego, since you won’t have to get to the station two hours early just to line up for a seat. If you’re traveling on “bookend” dates (e.g., Tuesday or Monday), you’ll be fine without business class.
- Ground transportation. Yep, this one goes for you too! You have a few options from the Santa Fe Depot Amtrak station: the typical taxi/Uber/shuttle ride, walking if your hotel is nearby, or the trolley. The free Comic-Con shuttle also has a stop at the Amtrak station, so check the shuttle map to see if it stops at or near your hotel. Otherwise, to use the shuttle you’ll have to drag your luggage to the convention center and change to another shuttle line. The trolley is fast and cheap, and probably your best option if you’re staying in the Gaslamp at a hotel not on the blue shuttle route.
Arriving by Car
Southern California’s car culture means plenty of attendees will be coming to San Diego by car – and that means traffic, full parking lots, and… more traffic. While we’ll have tips for daily commuters next week, here are some basic things to remember for you drivers out there:
- Traffic. There will be traffic jams all along the 5 south on Wednesday, and traffic heading out of San Diego on Sunday evening is miserable. It’s so bad, CalTrans even notes the event on the SigAlert map. If you can, schedule your travel time early or later to avoid the worst. And beware of accidents and jams through Camp Pendleton, the Marine base that divides Orange and San Diego counties – there are no freeway exits and no other roads through this area, and bad accidents can stop all traffic for hours. In a worst case scenario, your only alternate is going out of your way to take the 15, way to the east of the 5.
- Choose your off-ramp wisely. CalTrans freeway signs will often advise Comic-Con attendees to exit at Imperial, directing you to the parking lots near Petco, or exit at Front Street, directing you to the convention center. Unfortunately, that means everyone else in your traffic jam will take those exits too. If you know exactly where you’re going (hotel or parking lot), search out alternate routes that utilize side streets. Try exiting at Cesar Chavez to come into the Gaslamp from the other direction, or exit near the airport at Sassafras and take Pacific (also because Sassafras is a sweet name). Check our commuter guide for a map of alternate routes.
- Plan ahead for parking. Naturally, daily parking permits went on sale weeks ago and the best spots are long gone. (Classic SDCC scenario.) However, for those driving to their hotels, check ahead to find out the parking situation at your hotel. It’s always extremely expensive ($40+ each night at most Gaslamp hotels) and you may want to consider cheaper options, like long-term lots at the airport or other area overnight lots. Daily parking permits sold through Ace Parking are not valid overnight, so don’t rely on those. Or, you might do the math and realize it’s cheaper to take the train.
A few notes on using these app-based rideshare services for the uninitiated:
- Watch out for surge pricing. Lyft and Uber both show you the price at the end of the ride, although you can use their online fare estimators (Lyft estimates here and Uber estimates here) for a basic idea. However, Uber and Lyft have “surge pricing,” where the fares are multiplied during periods of heavy demand.
- Have fun with promotional rides. Uber and Lyft often work with big studios to promote a new film or TV show during the con. These rides might be free or they might be in a special car (say, a Gotham City police cruiser). These are very fun but don’t depend on them for a timely trip – the wait for these branded cars can be very long.
- Select the right car option. Both apps offer different levels of service. Obviously, they get more expensive as you go up the list:
- Shared rides: Lyft Line and Uber Pool are like taking a carpool with strangers – your driver picks up and drops off other rides along your route. It’s cheaper, but slower.
- Regular rides: like a taxi on demand, from your pickup point to your destination, with only you or your group in the car. These are usually sedans that seat up to four passengers.
- Large vehicles: Uber XL and Lyft Plus are for large parties who need a car with six seats.
- Luxury vehicles: Uber Plus will get you a luxury car. Uber Black and Uber SUV are commercial livery vehicles – that is, full-time registered professional drivers.
- Use a referral code for a free ride. If it’s your first time using the app, grab a referral code and get a free or discounted ride. You can trade these between a group of friends to get several free rides over the weekend, or you can use ours (yes, we get a referral bonus back from these but you also get a free ride!).
- Uber: uberconshark
- Lyft: SARAH882520
Planning for Comic-Con can be daunting – there’s a lot to consider! But whether you’re flying, driving, or riding the train, a little forethought now will make your trip go so much smoother. And what better way to start the best five days of the summer than by showing up relaxed and ready?