It’s Absolutely Possible to Enjoy San Diego Comic-Con International Without a Badge~!

It’s that time of the year again. You tried to get a pass through San Diego Comic-Con International‘s open registration, or through volunteering, or through a friend who’s a professional… and it didn’t work out. You’re sad. You’re heartbroken. You’ve heard and seen all sorts of amazing things about this geek mecca from friends who have gone (blast you, social media!), including the notable “you have to experience it at least once in your life!” or “you don’t REALLY need a pass to get in!”

You may have even scoffed at that second assurance. How the heck are you supposed to enjoy all the cool stuff — the exclusives, the movie studios, the artists, the panels — if you don’t even have a pass to get inside?

Well, if you have the opportunity to crash in a friend’s hotel room (or have family in the area) and just wander around outside, I promise you it is absolutely worth it. SDCC is a world of it’s own and one of my favorite geek meccas for people watching and just being in the moment of geeky spontaneity.

First, the Break-Down

Most free things are going to be available in the following areas right outside the San Diego Convention Center:

  • Petco Park or Petco Park’s parking lot
  • Gaslamp Quarter 
  • The green parks around the con – usually directly around the convention center building in the common greenspace across from the X hotel, or a little across the pier (X Park), or a little ride up the shuttle stop (X Park).
  • Nearby Hotels and Venues in general (some of their events are for badge holders, other things are free for anyone to enter)

Follow #SDCC on Social Media

Companies post last minute cool freebie stuff to do outside the show all the time on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Other attendees also share swag and fun things they find. Check in on Instagram and Twitter as much as you can!

Blogs/Sites to Follow

What to Carry

  • A mini hiking backpack in case you run into marketing teams passing out oodles of swag
  • A battery pack character
  • Possibly a mini camping chair (some events have long lines – tripod stool rocks!)
  • A buddy to share the experiences with (or make a friend there)
  • A hat if you’re stuck waiting outside
  • SUNBLOCK. It gets sunny/hot.
  • Comfortable shoes. To see a lot, you will walk a lot.
  • A sharpie (sometimes celebs walking around are happy to sign stuff. BE POLITE WHEN ASKING.)
  • A camera
  • Snacks

Take Advantage of the SDCC Shuttles

You don’t HAVE to be staying at the host hotels to use the shuttles! Careful check out the shuttle map. We use these to get to free events at certain hotels, or stop at a hotel near where an event is happening. They come around every 15-20 minutes and can save you a walk. You can also use them to scout out the area.

My Favorite Free Things

That food truck gave out free pizza 😀 Free food was everywhere. (2013)

Free Food!

Some companies take over restaurants in the Gaslamp and offer free breakfast, lunch, even happy hours. These often get packed, but occasionally you’ll find people leaning towards one party over another and get in for a great meal!

You Can Still Dress Up

Lots of cosplayers prefer to walk around outside. Many bloggers, new outlets, and entertainment sites flood the outside and set up mini photography studios to capture photographers for their sites. I got on Entertainment Weekly this way!

Viral Events

A lot of the fun shenanigans at SDCC aren’t even advertised. A lot of companies pour money into viral marketing on the street, versus having space inside the con. We’ve run into Sharknado Mardi-Gras style parades with tons of swag, creepy AHS popcorn booth swag,

Free Pedi-Cabs, Uber Promos, and Lyft Promos

Me on the Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag ship promo. You can still wander in costume outside! You’ll meet a ton of photographers. (Media and fans)

Just wanna scout the area without walking through the outside crowds? Enjoy a free ride! Sometimes companies have free pedi-cabs to promote their shows. I’ve seen Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time, and more. Make sure they’re free/promotional before you hop on. Sometimes they pass out swag! Additionally, Uber and Lyft, for the past few years, have offered FREE. Here are some fun free rides we’ve gotten.

  • USA’s Colony – free ride in a military vehicle AND free hats/buttons
  • Gotham – free ride in a Gotham-themed “police car” AND lanyards with a holographic tag
  • Mr Robot – free ride in a repair van AND a virtual reality experience that came with a free t-shirt
  • Ghostbusters – free ride, no swag but free rides are always a bonus.
  • Vice Principals – free ride in a school bus AND free food and swag. This one was my favorite, it was a random school bus on the street with people waving frat paddles. Allen was like “there’s no way we’re hopping on that.” I was like “I NEED TO SEE WHAT THEY ARE DOING!” and ran on. He had no choice but to follow me. On the bus, we got treated to free lunch bags of food and frat paddles. They drove around the Gaslamp area. They even told us the actors were joining the ride in a little bit!

Outside Parties

A lot of companies are kind of crappy at promoting the fun parties or event spaces they have. We got into the Mars party last year when we were wandering around the street in our Star Wars and Aliens costumes. A random lady with a clipboard asked us to check out “A Mars PowerPoint and meet some actors.” We almost walked away, but then she said “free food” so we went inside. It was free VIP food and drinks all night, around a BEAUTIFUL pool/lounge area, with Mars themed stuff for the Nat Geo show! And the actors were just kind of chilling and chatting with fans. Once of the best random things we got into.

This happens a lot. Especially if you are in a cool costume, wandering around. A promoter may not have the headcounts they want for their event, and ask cool-looking people off the street to come on in and flesh out the area for their promotional pics.

Outside Programming

This is the meat of the matter. I can’t count all of the past thing we’ve done outside the con itself. We’ve run as zombies in the Walking Dead obstacle course,  climbing a rock wall for Tomb Raider (which I also fell off, haha), made a 4-story leap off a platform for an FX show, done multiple trippy VR experiences (Mr Robot, American Horror story and more.

This year, check out Petco Park area, the Children’s Museum, Gaslamp Quarter, the Hotels — it really depends on your fandom, honestly. Watch the forums, the SDCC hashtag, and Twitter.

And honestly, just LOOK AROUND. Lots of viral stuff happens. This year apparently Pennywise is gonna be stalking people (Stephen King’s IT). Just keep your eyes open and pick and choose what looks fun.


Yes, you may run into celebrities. 🙂 Don’t freak out and hassle them! But, if they dont seem too busy, they’re usually happy to do a quick selfie.

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In Short: You never know what’s going to happen at SDCC, and that’s half the fun. 🙂 If you go without a badge, you still won’t get bored.