“Did you come here for Comic Con?”
A question we got asked tens of times with no simple answer. Yes and no. Yes, we tried to get tickets for Comic Con but did not get them. Yes, we knew there would be a lot to do even without tickets to the actual event. But no, we wanted to visit regardless of Comic Con and it would have been on the list even without the event.
There is a lot more to San Diego than just Comic Con and we were happy to make it one of our stops along the West Coast. Matthias will write something about La Jolla Cove and Balboa Park, I will focus on downtown area. But since we did not really spent much time there outside of Comic Con, they are strongly linked together and thus I will write about both.
For anyone who has not heard about San Diego Comic Con: it is the biggest event not only for geeks and nerds, but also for tv-, movie- and game industry to promote their current and upcoming productions. This year big, visible things were for example Suicide Squad, Vikings, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Star Wars and South Park.
And to be honest it is a bit unfair to say ‘geeks and nerds’, since that is no more than a common misassumption of the people who attend the event. All kinds of people go and of those who don’t, many would still enjoy. If you like tv-shows, movies, games, actors and/or pop culture, the chances are you would find something to do.
It is really hard to get tickets for the actual event (6.11% chance to be exact), but luckily there are a lot of side-events (often free!) all around downtown. We also enjoyed just walking around and do some people-watching, since the atmosphere was happy and positive, and the cosplays were quite often creative and fun. This years biggest hit was definitely Joker and Harley Quinn, which we saw strolling around regularly.
We attended events like NerdHQ, Square Enix Experience and Nerdist Camp Conival. In these you could try out new games, rockclimb a wall, do some minicarting, try lasertag or attend panels where celebrities and industry people talk about their upcoming projects. Our Off-site Comic Con experience was mostly free.
Comic Con is known for its massive lines. We mostly did activities where we did not have to wait in line for too long (patience is not a virtue to Matte, but a waste of time). This was possible by just being in the right place at the right time, or doing most of our activities during Thursday and Friday, when it was a bit less hectic around the city.
There were many things that would have been fun to try, but did not quite feel worth queuing for two hours, not even to me. The sun was burning hot the whole weekend. But it was the lines and massive amount of people is what got us by the third day. We just had had it. So we took off the area and started walking around all around downtown to see what else is there. Two nights we spent in the movies to disconnect and rest.
We did spend time in the area for four consecutive days. We had fun and enjoyed it and would recommend visiting Comic Con even without a badge to the real event. That being said, if we were to visit again, we would not do it if we had to do only side-events. It does get tiring.
Luckily there is more to San Diego. Downtown has beautiful, old school architecture. There are many nice places to eat and drink, and cute little shops closer to the harbour. A short ferry trip away there would have Coronado Island, that was recommended to me several times. It is known to be a holiday destination, but just having been to Australia and Hawaii, we thought were not in the need of a beach right now.
One thing that sadly popped out to us was the amount of people living on the streets. It was something we kept talking about every time we visited downtown, and if I did not mention it, I would be leaving out a prominent part of our San Diego experience.
There are several streets with permanent tent ‘houses’. Also the people asking for money or needing something from us was constant. When there is someone coming up to you and asking to give them something multiple times every day, it starts to get to you. When people call you names or shout at you for not giving money or not replying to the requests, the issue-at-hand becomes even more in-your-face.
Also seeing people talking to themselves again – and again, and again – makes you feel a bit weird, even though the rational side of you acknowledges that most of those people are harmless. But mostly it just makes you feel sad and powerless. There is no end to giving money if you start. We struggled with this in Australia as well (we are not completely heartless but did give some dollars every now and then – but this is just me trying to make up for my bad conscience), and there the situation is not even as severe as what it is here in the US.
Despite this experience we did feel San Diego to be quite safe. We lived on the outskirts of the city, in a more diverse and poor neighborhood (our accommodation was a real bed in a party tent with curtains as walls, during Comic Con you have to book months in advance if you want anything proper). The long bus drive meant that we normally returned ‘home’ during the dark hours of the day, but we never felt uncomfortable when walking from the bus stop.
To both of us our favourite days in San Diego were spent outside downtown. One day we spent walking nearly 20 kilometers to see the shops and cafes on cool hipsterish University Avenue around the North Park neighbourhood, and a very nice cultural hub like Balboa Park. The next day we took a few buses and 2,5 hours later got to La Jolla, which is a popular tourist destination north of downtown San Diego.
But to give you an idea of the public transportation, 2,5 hours was the same amount of time we later spent on a bus from San Diego to Los Angeles. Also a 10-minute car drive to downtown turned into 1 hour and 15 minutes with the walk to the stop and the bus drive itself. Public transport is not your friend, if you are a tourist on a tight schedule. We are lucky to have some flexibility with ours, so we were happy to take the cheapest option to explore San Diego.
I am curious how different our San Diego experience would have been without the Comic Con craziness. Gaslamp Quarter was full of people, but the further away you went from the convention center, the less people you saw – even in the city center. Now San Diego downtown was buzzing and full of energy, but I do wonder if that is the case during a normal weekend.