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by Karina Montgomery, contributing writer

In this four-part series, we will share some tips and tricks for maximizing your enjoyment and that of others for attendees of San Diego Comic-Con, this year taking place July 24-27, 2014. Tune in the next three Tuesdays for more tips on what to bring, how to behave, and ways to maximize your experience.

Crowds throng the streets of the San Diego Gaslamp District

Photo Source: Gaslamp.org

Coming to San Diego for the first time? Welcome!

Nervous about transportation, parking, lodging, local customs? If you didn’t book your lodging near the con right after or even before buying your tickets, you probably are having trouble finding a place to stay, even with hotels.com and airbnb.com and such.

San Diego is a big city and 250,000 people are descending upon downtown to enjoy the offerings of the convention, so there are many opportunities for things to go wrong. Exercise caution and stay with people or in well-lit areas, be nice to locals as you invade our sleepy little hamlet for the weekend, and everyone will have a good time.

One good trick is to find a hotel or something away from downtown but near the trolley line, which extends out to nearby towns Santee and San Ysidro, and take the trolley straight to the convention center. Lodging is more plentiful and less expensive, and a 4-day trolley pass is actually pretty cheap. If you end up making it a late night and need to take a cab back after trolley hours are done, you might want to stay a little closer into the city.

Pedicab cyclists pose with their Game of Thrones-themed cabs

Source: Mamarazzi Knows Best/Suzette Valle

If you’re staying in one of 60 locations that offers a free shuttle, you can get their schedule here (PDF). You can even grab a pedi-cab (keeping to the flat Gaslamp area) to get around a little faster. During Comic Con they are often decorated and extra fun; get a ride to that cheap pizza in the Iron Throne!

Renting a car costs a lot of money and if you park it downtown it can be $20 or more a day; wouldn’t you rather drop that cash in the Small Press area? If you simply must have a car, check out Lyft or Cars2Go. But as someone who has tried to simply be dropped off by car near the convention center, a car is pretty much your worst enemy. You can rent reserved parking spaces for SDCC, but they sell out fast and cost a lot.

What about food options?

Inside the convention center are various kiosks with nerd-sustaining junk delicacies like Starbucks, hot dogs, pretzels, sodas, and cookies. In the few cafes in the facility, you can get pre-made sandwiches, pizza slices, salads, and the like. Of course you’re going to pay through the nose for that, but you won’t have to wend your way out of the convention center and down the block through traffic, either.

Leaving the convention center can add time and expense to your weekend (though certainly sodas and water will be cheaper), but there are some cheaper places to eat. The nice thing about leaving the immediate convention center area is there are some wonderful places to eat that are lower on chaos than the immediate vicinity. One of my best Comic-Con memories was grabbing a pint and a shepherd’s pie at The Field next to a table full of Ghostbusters. Away from the convention center you can find a cheap slice of pizza or a multi-dozen dollar entree, depending on what you’re looking for. A good hike from the convention center will bring you to Ralphs, the downtown grocery store, or the food court at Horton Plaza. Tipping of wait staff in California is not only recommended, it’s imperative. Remember, these folks’ livelihood in this expensive city is entirely dependent on your tips ? and they are taxed accordingly. With a quarter million excitable geeks coming from all over the world, they are going to be under some considerable strain. Be awesome and represent your nerd community by tipping at least 15%, though 20% is considered usual for dinner.

The blocks in downtown San Diego (also known as The Gaslamp Quarter) are shorter than average length, but there are a lot of them. Lettered streets (which includes Front and Market) go north/south, and the numbered streets go east/west. Further away from the convention center is earlier in the alphabet and higher numbers. So if you park at A and 11th, you are plenty far away. At F and 4th, you are in the heart of things at the Hard Rock Hotel.

If you have multi-day passes but nothing scheduled at the convention, pick up your badges on Wednesday and then enjoy the Nighttime Zoo or the Embarcadero or Old Town before the con. However, there is plenty to do associated with the convention that maybe you should extend your trip to enjoy these things.

Crowds throng the crosswalk between the Convention Center and the Gaslamp.

Crowds throng the crosswalk between the Convention Center and the Gaslamp.

How much to do?

Unofficial SDCC blog. Offsite events and other offsite events and even more offsite events. (That was 3 links!) And more info!

If you’re coming from out of state, you may be surprised by California’s strict anti-smoking regulations and open container laws. If you must indulge, know the laws. We’d hate for everyone’s weekend to be ruined by ignorance of the law.

When visiting any city, please remember the traveler’s basics: don’t leave a mess behind you, be cool to the service industry, and enjoy the convention and all its wonders. We live in a desert, so conservation of water is appreciated. San Diego Comic Con is a huge, wild, wonderful place, and if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket, we hope you will return the favor so we can consider ourselves lucky that you came to visit.

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Karina “Cinerina” Montgomery
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