If you read all the online Comic-Con coverage, you can come away with the impression that SDCC is only for the affluent. Invite-only parties at fancy clubs. Events with $200 tickets. Exclusives that run $300 for a simple action figure.
Given that most of us aren’t multi-millionaires, and are already shelling out for 4-5 days of restaurants and hotel rooms, and maybe even airfare, it can be disheartening to think that the really good parts of Comic-Con are out of reach. So I’m here to tell you that you can have just as much fun – or more – doing things that are free or inexpensive. (And please believe me when I say that all those celebrity parties are so unbelievably boring. Attendees throw the really fun parties at SDCC.)
But before we get into that, here's an idea if you’re really strapped for cash. One thing you can do now is cancel your Saturday night hotel room. You’ve probably put down a two night deposit which could cover Wednesday, Thursday or Friday if you have them booked; you can still cancel the other nights at most hotels. So if the Sunday programming isn’t doing it for you, consider leaving Saturday night. Or just ask around and see if a friend will let you crash on their floor. Right there you’ll save a good sum.
In the meantime, there are plenty of options for the budget-conscious.
First, don’t forget about the many, many nightlife options SDCC gives you. They’re all free and some of them are way more interesting than your typical party. Movie marathons, screenings (like Justice League on Friday night and Scream Queens on Saturday night), trivia contests, Spike and Mike, a gay mixer, creative workshops, Nickelodean’s Variety Breadwinners show – there’s a lot to choose from.
MTV is throwing its usual Fandom party Thursday night in Petco Park. That’s free.
Adam Savage on Friday night is also free, and will have drinks and food.
The Bad Ass Music Festival is only five dollars for badge holders.
Nerd HQ may charge for conversations but you can participate in all their other activities for free, including nightly parties.
The official SDCC off-sites – the Game of Thrones experience, Adult Swim, the Assassin’s Creed obstacle course – are all free.
There are seriously so many gaming events even if you don’t want to pony up for Gam3rCon. The Xbox Lounge at the Manchester Grand Hyatt and the Nintendo Lounge at the Marriott Marquis. Nintendiego’s tournament at the Mission Brewery. You can game your heart away for very little at the Con.
Boom!’s 10 year anniversary party at the Hilton Bayfront on Thursday is free.
Crave Online is allegedly giving out 2,000 tickets to their USS Midway party.
Nerdist and Geek and Sundry teamed up for a free Friday party at Petco Park.
Mcfadden's is throwing a free event every night of the Con, including a performance by David Hasselhoff. Now really, where else can you see David Hasselhoff turn in a free bar show while you're surrounded by spilled beer and raucous nerds?
Eating on the cheap
I covered some of this earlier, but there are a number of alternatives to splashing out on restaurants all the time.
The most obvious: getting groceries from Ralph’s or some other spot and creating some of your meals yourself in your room.
Pricey restaurants abound in the Gaslamp but there are cheaper options too, like getting a slice of pizza at Gaslamp Pizza or a huge sub at the 24-hour Subway; Horton Plaza Food Court has a lot of fast food options. We’ll have more food trucks this year, but how cheap they are remains to be seen.
If you want to get away from the Con, go to Mission Beach or Ocean Beach. You can get shrimp tacos or other beach fare for under 10 dollars usually.
A lot of bars offer super-inexpensive happy hour options during SDCC. So if you don’t mind greasy bar food (or you even love it) skip the restaurant lines and stroll straight into the nearest saloon.
This is such a tiny portion of the gifts and swag that will befall you:
Star Trek: Axanar is handing out giveaways. So is the Power Rangers Dino Charge panel, the TokyoPop panel and the Lego Marvel Avengers panel.
Free ice cream is being passed out randomly around the convention center in honor of Scream Queens.
The Artist as Brand: Rise of the Artist Entrepreneur panel will give out 3 Artist as Brand workbooks.
Anyone who goes to the Magnetic Press panel will get a copy of Poet Anderson #1.
The Something Old, Something New/Classic Comics panel is handing out books. So are the Harper Collins and the Penguin panels, along with ARCs (advanced review copies.)
Nickelodean’s Variety Show featuring Breadwinners Live will hand out “swag bags packed with exclusive collectibles.”
Creepy & Eerie’s Saturday panel will hand out swag “for the demonically deserving.”
The Adult Swim activities always give out t-shirts and other prizes to most participants.
The Archie panels typically are very generous with bags of free books and comics and promo codes.
If you donate blood at the Hyatt, you get a swag bag full of books, shirts and other merch, and entered into multiple drawings.
While I can’t say for sure they’ll do so this year, the Game of Thrones experience usually hands out shirts and other stuff.
Kids’ panels especially give out a ton of stuff.
But here’s one thing that isn’t free – a lot of the postcards and other art at indie and small press booths. Attendees tend to come along and grab stuff without paying for it because they’re used to the giveaways at the big studio booths. But small artists depend on selling those items. Just ask first.
Also – be prepared for some companies to ask for your social media or contact information in order to get their giveaway. They won’t all do it, but some will. So decide in advance if you want to do that, or use fake information.
Again, this is just a portion of the freebies and deals you'll find at Comic-Con. So if your wallet is on the thin side, don't be depressed or think you can't have a good time. You absolutely can. The magic of SDCC isn't about expensive exclusives or glitzy parties. It's about having fun with your friends, other attendees and immersing yourself in the nerd passions that motivated you to go through all this hoopla in the first place.