San Diego Comic-Con: Commuter’s Guide

While many attendees are settling into their hotel rooms on Wednesday afternoon, there are quite a few who are preparing for four days spent driving between their home and the convention center.

I spent seven years commuting from Orange County for multiple days of SDCC. Here are the tips you need to keep yourself sane this weekend.

Traffic heading into the Hilton Bayfront garage.

Traffic on 2015 Preview Night heading into the Hilton Bayfront garage.

1. Use an alternate route.

Don’t follow the exit signs that CalTrans posts unless you absolutely have to – they will often direct you to exit at Front or Imperial, and so will all those other people you’re stuck in a traffic jam with. Make use of the apps below for real-time traffic updates and check out our map of alternate routes.

Other traffic resources:

  • Waze. Waze is a traffic app for Android & iOS that uses crowdsourced info to re-route you around slowdowns. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good resource to have on hand.
  • Sigalert. Locals know that when a Sigalert is called, it’s bad news for traffic. But in this case, we’re referring to their Android and iOS apps, and their online San Diego map.
  • Radio. In San Diego, try KFMB 760 AM or KOGO 600 AM. If you’re coming down from LA or Orange County, KNX 1070 AM does traffic every ten minutes on the 5’s. They will cover the Camp Pendleton and San Diego areas if there are catastrophic incidents there.

2. Know where you’re parking.

You most likely have pre-purchased your parking permits. Make sure you have directions to your parking lot, not the convention center (it should be printed on the second page of your parking permit).

If you haven’t pre-purchased parking permits, check to see if they are still on sale. This is your best bet! things just got a lot more difficult for you. Ace Parking usually closes the pre-sale a few days or weeks before the con.

Parking fee markup is no joke during Comic-Con.

Parking fee markup is no joke during Comic-Con.

If you miss the pre-sale, you may find lots in the Gaslamp that were not pre-sold. (Watch out! Some lots jack up rates to be upwards of $50 a day.) You can also look for park and ride lots along the San Diego MTS trolley routes and then take the trolley into downtown. Parking at these lots is free and the trolley costs $2.50 each way.

For those planning to camp overnight in a line, Horton Plaza reportedly allows 24-hour parking. Another cheap option is long-term airport parking.

On Sundays, metered parking in San Diego is not enforced (unless otherwise posted). Metered parking is only enforced Monday through Saturday, 8:00AM to 6:00PM. If you need a spot to park overnight (since your pre-paid permit is only valid from 6:00AM to 2:00AM), you can try a metered spot.

SDCC 2015.GaslampNight.146


3. Leave early.

Especially if you don’t have pre-paid parking permits, are attempting to get into popular panels in Hall H or Ballroom 20, or want to be the first ones on the floor to buy exclusives. But everyone should leave early – leaving before dawn will help you avoid weekday rush hour traffic and you’ll beat the more casual commuters that arrive later in the morning.

Leaving early also applies to the end of your day – you need enough energy to safely drive home, and you’re going to get up early tomorrow and do it all over again. Take a rain check on that 9:00 PM panel or that late-night bar crawl and head home to rest.

I used to leave north Orange County at 5:00AM and leave San Diego around 8:00PM each day. Many will tell you this isn’t an “ideal” way to do Comic-Con, and they’ll also tell you the “ideal” is to get a downtown hotel (which is salt in the wound if you tried & failed at the hotel lottery). But whether you commute by choice or chance, don’t let anyone tell you your con experience is ruined or inferior because you’re doing it differently. Nobody, no matter where they stay or what hours they keep, can see and do everything at SDCC. Choose your schedule wisely, and plan your commute around it.

Try to have an emergency plan in the event you’re too tired to drive. You might have a friend with a hotel room that would let you crash for a nap in a pinch. Maybe a family member can pick you up. Or if you live close enough, a cab or Uber could be expensive but worth it. Stay safe!


Bag check at the FedEx in Lobby D.

4. Pack wisely.

Unlike your hotel-having compatriots, you don’t have the luxury of dropping things off in your hotel room mid-day. You can make use of the bag check service at the convention center (head towards the FedEx in the lobby, it’s usually $1-$2 per item) for purchases or camping gear if you’re overnighting in a line.

But otherwise, you need to pack enough to get through the day but not so much that your back aches by noon. This can be a real challenge!

There are water coolers available inside panel rooms, but convention center food is terrible: carry snacks but opt for a refillable water bottle. Hang on to a light sweater for chilly programming rooms, but check that parka you wore outside at 6 AM by the windy waterfront. We’ve got more tips on what to bring in our Basics: How to Pack post.


5.  Keep things in perspective.

Traffic can be frustrating. You’re about to spend four days dealing with it in the morning and going home at night, plus the sea of humanity you’ll face at the convention center. Commuting is a big money saver and it makes a lot of sense for many people – but it can be tiring and stressful nonetheless. Don’t let it get in the way of having a good time. If you need to miss a panel and head home early to rest, don’t get upset. If you drop a few extra bucks on bag check every day so you don’t have to lug heavy exclusives back to your car, don’t feel guilty.

Everybody does the con differently – as long as you’re enjoying yourself, you’re doing it right!