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SDCC: An introvert's guide to navigating San Diego Comic Con

Where at San Diego Comic Con to find a moment's quiet, get fresh air, and shop without bumping shoulders

Nighttime photo of San Diego Convention center with the San Diego Comic Con logo over it
Image credit: Popverse (Graeme McMillan)

San Diego Comic-Con, officially known as Comic-Con International, boasts a six-digit annual attendance. Hundreds of thousands of people converge over five event days in a vortex of sights and sounds, oscillating between seven programming venues, the heart of which is the multi-level San Diego Convention Center in Downtown.

The outsized comics fest is a boon for fans who thrive on frenetic activity and constant social interaction. But what about fans who flourish best by taking breaks from the fold? How does one find quiet amongst the SDCC frenzy?

Here are Popverse's recommendations for reclaiming some calm while you're at San Diego Comic-Con.

How can I navigate the San Diego Comic Con convention center?

Photograph of at booth panel at San Diego Comic Con
Image credit: Marvel

Before you show up in person, boost your Purah Pad: Download SDCC's annual Quick Guide and review its maps, the best of which are the 2-page layout of the Convention Center Upper Level and on Mezzanine, and the 4-page fold out of the Exhibit Hall.

On your first day at SDCC, pick up your badge and take a breath. Then, give yourself at least 10 minutes to match reality to the Quick Guide maps before you start wandering in any direction. Also, consider these basics:

  • Hall A is located at the northwest end of the Convention Center, and Hall H is located at the southeast end.
  • Deaf & Disabled Services are located in Lobby A (i.e., the lobby directly outside of Hall A.)
  • The Exhibit Hall is on the main level. Gaming rooms are located on the Mezzanine. The majority of panel rooms at the Convention Center, including Ballroom 20 and Room 6BCF, are located on the upper level, i.e. same level as the Sails Pavilion.
  • Hall H is the only panel room located on the main level.
  • If you plan to ask Convention Center staff or Comic-Con staff for directions, be ready for them to refer to the west side of the Convention Center as the "Bay Side" (i.e. the side that faces the San Diego Bay) and and the east side as the "City Side" (i.e., the side that faces the Gaslamp Quarter).

How do I find less crowded spaces at San Diego Comic-Con?

San Diego Convention Center
Image credit: San Diego Convention Center

First, it's good to know which hallways and spaces are typically the most crowded. In our experience:

  • The most packed spaces are often Halls C, D, and E of the Exhibit Hall.
  • The most packed hallways are the main level lobbies of the Convention Center during Exhibit Hall hours, the Hall H line area, the Ballroom 20 line area, and the Ballroom 6 Lobby.
  • If you plan to see panels in programming rooms 2–11, be aware that they are surrounded by one-way hallways. To avoid being told by security or line volunteers to turn back and try again, refer to the map "Convention Center Upper Level • Rooms 2–11" in the Quick Guide to know which hallways are designated entrance hallways and exit hallways.

In general, if you're at the Convention Center, the least congested hallways are around programming rooms 26AB, 28DE, 29AB, and 29CD once the exhibit floor has opened for the day.

If you're at the neighboring Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, breaks from the masses can often be had by grabbing a seat in the Anime Room, the IFF room, the Films room, and the E-Sports lounge.

How do I navigate the San Diego Comic-Con schedule?

Photograph of a DC panel from SDCC 2022
Image credit: Popverse

Visit the programming schedule online or via the recommended Sched mobile app from the comfort of your home. There are four views to toggle between to see the schedule, from list format to grid format. You can even look up events by Special Guest.

Bear in mind, too, that the online programming schedule provides the most accurate and official information. Refer to it, rather than the printed Event Guide, for up-to-date panel details.

Where do I get fresh air at San Diego Comic-Con?

Comic-Con International: San Diego 2022
Image credit: Popverse

Take to the outdoor Mezzanine terraces, Pavilion terrace, and West terrace located on the Bay Side of the northwest end of the Convention Center. There are two ways to warp to these spaces:

  • From the Ballroom 6 Lobby, walk south towards the Bay Side of the building and take the escalators or stairs down a half-level (if you find yourself walking into the Exhibit Hall, you've gone too far). Once on the Mezzanine or "Mezz," head towards the glass doors to the outdoor terraces.
  • From the Lobby, head through the Hall B2 doors and walk straight back, across the exhibit floor until you find yourself just beyond the Exhibit Hall and in front of restroom entrances. Across from the restrooms are the escalators and stairs that take you up the half-level to the Mezz.

What are the best calmer activities to do at San Diego Comic-Con?

Photograph of panel reading in front of SDCC banner
Image credit: Popverse

At the Convention Center, try the gaming rooms on the Mezzanine, or catch a panel in programming rooms 2 (the Comic-Con How-To Room), 11 (the Comic-Con Workshop Room), 26AB (which includes the Comics Arts Conference), 28DE, 29AB, 29CD, and 32AB.

At the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, catch a screening in the Films room, the CCI-IFF room, and any of the four Anime Rooms.

At the San Diego Public Library, go to the Neil Morgan Auditorium and listen in on panels of comic and fandom podcasts and web series', several of which pre-record their conversation for airing after SDCC.

Where are the best less-crowded places to shop at San Diego Comic-Con?

Make your way to Artists' Alley and the Small Press Pavilion to support artists and small publishers. They'll certainly appreciate it.

What is the best way to commute in and out of Downtown during San Diego Comic-Con?

Comic-Con International: San Diego
Image credit: San Diego Convention Center

Take it from this local: Use the San Diego MTS Trolley. Whether you're staying as far north as University City, as far south as San Ysidro, or as far east as Santee and El Cajon, the most you'll pay on round-trip transportation per day is $5 ($2.50/day for people eligible for MTS reduced fares) when you take the Blue, Green, or Orange lines in and out of Downtown San Diego from one of the Park & Ride parking lots, most of which are free to park in.

Got kids? On Saturdays and Sundays, up to two children (age 12 and under) may ride free with a fare-paying adult (age 18 or older) on all MTS routes, and up to two children age 5 and under may ride free any day with a paying passenger.

What are the best places to people watch at San Diego Comic-Con?

If you want to people watch, you'll want to head to The Sails Pavilion, aka "Sails." Cosplayers like to pose for a quick photo in this open-airish thoroughfare because it offers good space and natural light.

Where are the best bathrooms at San Diego Comic-Con?

In the Convention Center, try the bathrooms on the Mezzanine and the ones nearest rooms 2, 29AB, and 32AB. If by "best" you mean "hotel-quality," then head to the nearby Hilton San Diego Bayfront, the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, or the Omni San Diego Hotel.

Just remember: Even the "best" bathrooms may have a line at some point.

Is there a San Diego Comic-Con quiet room?

Historically, there hasn't been a room designated as a "quiet room" for attendees who need to reduce stimuli. If you're at the Convention Center, our best suggestion is to visit the outdoor Mezzanine terraces, which also come with serene views of the San Diego Bay.

Where do I store or ship my stuff from San Diego Comic Con?

Comic-Con International: San Diego 2022
Image credit: San Diego Convention Center

If you've done a fair bit of shopping, you'll certainly have your arms full of bags. Here are a couple ways to offload your burden.

Where to put your stuff: The Bag Check service, often located in Lobby Hall E and Lobby Hall F (check the Quick Guide for 2023 information). Beyond that, stick to your stuff or store them back in your hotel room.

Where to ship stuff: There's a FedEx Print & Ship Center in the Convention Center and in the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina; a UPS Store in the Hilton San Diego Bayfront and in the Omni San Diego Hotel; and if you're willing to take the trolley into Little Italy, there's a well-rated shipping center called Go Postal located two blocks east of the County Center/Little Italy stop, on India Street.

Popverse can't wait to head to San Diego Comic Con this year. Here's all our coverage on the event so far.

About Comic-Con International: San Diego 2023



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Christine Pasalo Norland

Christine Pasalo Norland: Christine Pasalo Norland is a storyteller whose work prioritizes people who aren't typically given space or treated with dimension. As the founder and president of Hello Barkada, she publishes articles, comics, and resources for, about, and by creators and fans from historically underrepresented communities, and produces programs like the cultural criticism show The Call Out with film & culture critic Jonita Davis and the artist interview series Allowed. Her downtime is spent playing covers on her ukulele, watching shows on streamers, growing her TBR piles, and listening to her son discuss Super Mario Maker levels.


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