San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter might as well be rechristened the Lightsaber District as San Diego’s Comic-Con International begins once again, and hundreds of thousands of fans descend upon the city for the biggest popular culture event of the year.
I have been fortunate to attend the big show countless times over the years as both a fan and professional fan, and I’ve discovered that — amidst the quest for swag, hitting up activations, waiting for panels, people watching, celebrity spotting, and, hopefully, comic buying — there’s actually quite a lot to do in San Diego. And what’s more, even the most dedicated of con nerds should take advantage of what “America’s Finest City” has to offer when they need a respite from the revelry.
What follows are my top suggestions for expanding your San Diego con-versation beyond SDCC.
(psst…you’ll also be able to get discounts on select activites with our code, ACTIVITY15 at checkout)
USS Midway Museum
Before Nick Fury had his helicarrier, there was the USS Midway, the aircraft carrier that once had the reputation of the largest ship on the globe — and she is docked a short walk from the San Diego Convention Center. This floating city operated for 47 years (1945-1992), and served in both the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm.
Now, the Midway Museum is open for exploration with more than 30 restored aircraft, and 10 acres of exhibits on the hangar deck, below decks, and 4-acre flight deck. The museum brings to life the real heroes (without capes) who served aboard this vessel. Also, during Comic Con week, the museum is offering $2 off its $23 admission for event badge holders. Bonus tip: While at the carrier, make time to visit the 25-foot “Unconditional Surrender” sculpture by J. Seward Johnson based on the famous photo of the kissing couple on V-J Day in 1945.
Old Town Tequila and Tortillas Tour
The giant-sized bag you get at the con is not only ideal for holding swag and collectibles, it is pretty darn handy for filling to the brim with tortillas and souvenirs from Old Town. Also known as the “birthplace of California” – because, in 1769, the first permanent Spanish settlement in California was founded here – Old Town is the historic heart of the city because of its food, crafts, and folklore.
It is also where you can down some tequila and eat enough freshmade tortillas to cause a supply shortage for Deadpool’s chimichangas (although he actually prefers enchiladas). And on this $61 Urban Adventures tour, you’ll have a chance to wander through an open-air mercado, shop for authentic souvenirs, stroll by the supposedly haunted Whaley House, sample a tortilla and street taco, and finish off with a shot from a local tequileria.
Explore Balboa Park Museums
Taking a break from the con should involve a visit to the wonders of San Diego’s Balboa Park, which is one of the “Great Places in America,” and, more importantly for this site, a collection of geek wonders. Home to more than 16 museums, the park hosts so many weird features. There’s the Moreton Bay fig tree (one of the largest trees in California); the super cross country roadtrip vehicle known as Louie Mattar’s Fabulous Car from 1952 featuring a shower, and washing machine, on display at the San Diego Automative Museum; the butterfly sanctuary of Zoro Garden that began as a sideshow exhibition of nudists.
Plus, the Museum of Man – home of the famous California Tower seen in Citizen Kane — has an impressive ancient Egyptian collection, and the gore-free but impressive exhibit Cannibals: Myth & Reality. And the $46 Balboa Park Explorer Pass opens the door to all of these goodies.
Gaslamp Quarter Culinary Walking Tour
So this is a bit of a cheat, since there’s no way to take a break from SDCC while walking around the Gaslamp Quarter. However, the So Diego Tours culinary visit through the quarter’s questionable past includes booze, bites, brothels incorporated into sightings of Borgs, bronies, and Batmen.
Promising enough food to fill your belly, and ample stories to sate your curiosity, the $60 tour visits signature spots such as Ciro’s Pizzeria as tales unfold about the area’s brothels and Prohibition-era gangsters. The tour also includes a drink sampling, but if you start seeing double, or triple, or quadruple Harleys, it’s not the booze, it’s the cosplayers.
Lockdown Ultimate Escape Room
No matter how good your Batman or Sherlock cosplay may be at SDCC, you aren’t likely to be known as a super sleuth – but a trip to an escape room with your closest nerd friends may convince them you’re better than an average junior detective.
Featuring four themed rooms of varying difficulty (Medieval, Voodoo, Western, Science), the Lockdown Ultimate Escape Room is an hour-long immersive adventure you tackle with up to 10 teammates for $32 per person. And while I cannot confirm if either the Riddler or Moriarty are behind any of these mysteries, these rooms look like the kind of fiendish plot the villains would be attracted to.
Craft Brewery Tour and Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens
Beer nerds and comic book nerds often go hand-in-hand (or hand in mug) and San Diego caters to both. The city is a great hub of craft beer, and the Five Star Tours Craft Brewery Tour takes visitors out of the downtown area for excursions to Green Flash, Ballast Point Brewery, and either Rough Draft or Ale Smith for $95. But a trip to SD is not complete for beer fans without hitting Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens.
Stone is a great craft brewery, and their facility features a comfort food menu with “locally grown, small-farm ingredients.” The Liberty Station location, formerly a U.S. Navy mess hall, has a bocce ball court and outdoor cinema. And lots of beer, of course — as in more than 40 taps of it, as well as bottles from around the world.
Spruce Creek Suspension Bridge
220 W Spruce St, San Diego, California, 92103, United States
Seventy feet above the beautiful Sessions Canyon is a 375-feet long pedestrian bridge – which happens to sway with a gust of wind (or thanks to mischievous “friends”). This 106-year-old hidden gem has gained some recent popularity, and offers up a gorgeous view, but will certainly terrify those with a fear of heights. A peaceful departure from SDCC, the bridge shows off the splendor of San Diego. Thanks to Atlas Obscura and Hidden San Diego for the tips on this one.
Indoor Skydiving Experience
Just because you put on a cape and pair of red trunks doesn’t make you Superman. But even though you can’t stop bullets, you can simulate Supes’ power of flight at the iFLY Indoor Skydiving Experience. Gather your closest flying superfriends, for $80 each, and feel the sensation of floating weightless in in these vertical wind tunnel. I can tell you, it’s harder than it looks, but feels incredible. Just don’t go trying to test out Superman’s bulletproof powers afterwards.
Ghosts and Gravestones Tour
After a long day at the con, you can hang out at a local spot, and engage in some celeb sightings. Or you can head to a local haunt for some ghost sightings. Personally, I prefer the latter and am always up for a tour of the spooky side of San Diego. There are many supposedly haunted locations in town (the aforementioned Whaley House, the Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House, Horton Grand Hotel, Hotel del Coronado, Pioneer Park, El Campo Santo Cemetery, etc), and it seems nearly as many tour companies.
My favorites have a heavy dose of factual history, coupled with alleged paranormal sightings. I recommend the hour-and-half Ghosts and Gravestones Tour ($28-$42), which certainly indulges in some theatricality with its Gravedigger Guides but gets the history largely right as you hit popular hot spots. Just don’t show up dressed as John Constantine lest you scare away the specters.