San Diego wouldn’t be the same without Comic-Con in July. (Photo: Hayne Palmour, Zuma Press Inc/Alamy)
If you’re traveling to San Diego in July, there’s a good chance you’re going for the sun, surf and nerds who flock to Comic-Con. We’re definitely one of them. And we’re hoping that never changes.
After hosting its first meeting for comic book fans in a hotel basement nearly 50 years ago, San Diego Comic-Con has become the city’s largest convention, attracting more than 160,000 each year who flood its meeting spaces and the downtown streets of its popular Gaslamp Quarter.
There’s a reason why cities like Anaheim, Los Angeles and Las Vegas have lobbied to steal the event away: It isn’t just one of San Diego’s biggest moneymakers, Comic-Con is one of those annual halo events that puts a major spotlight on a city and generates considerable goodwill among its visitors. In other words, you can’t buy this kind of promotion.
San Diego is set to continue to host Comic-Con International through at least 2018. Here are reasons why we hope it never leaves the laid back coastal city:
It’s Easy to Get There
Hollywood’s studios and TV networks have long flocked to San Diego with their biggest stars because the city is just an easy two-hour drive from Los Angeles (if Interstate 5 isn’t backed up), or a short private jet flight away.
For fans, skip the highway and ride the rails, if you can. Amtrak offers a scenic and relaxing three-hour train ride along the coast from Los Angeles’ Union Station, dropping riders off downtown San Diego, an easy walk to the convention center and area hotels. San Diego International Airport is also large enough to handle direct flights from most major cities. It’s also conveniently located downtown.
The Gaslamp Quarter
Few cities have the kind of downtown entertainment district that can host more than 100,000 people and not feel overwhelmed. Sure, the San Diego Convention Center has reached capacity, forcing Comic-Con organizers to use area hotels, including the Marriott Marquis and Marina, next door, for panels and presentations. But the Gaslamp provides a safe place for convention goers to spend the day and night without having to wait in long lines for food or to get in a car and leave the area.
All Are Welcome
It’s hard not to like San Diego, given its laid back attitude. It might be one of America’s least stressful cities. Its residents are there to enjoy life — they seem to have a great work-life balance — and are pretty welcoming to those who want to explore what makes San Diego special. There’s very little pretense or arrogance.
The Food is Great
No question, the best fish tacos can be found in San Diego, whose food scene offers up some of the best Mexican cuisine around. It’s attracted notable chefs like Chef Javier Plascencia, and more recent newcomers like “Top Chef” winner Richard Blais, who has embraced “left coast” cooking, after opening up burger shop Flip Burger in Atlanta, with his great downtown San Diego eatery Juniper & Ivy.
Don’t miss local staples like Hash House a Go Go, with its enormous platters of fried chicken, and a personal favorite, Urban Solace, in the neighborhood of North Park — not far from downtown — which offers live blue grass jazz during Sunday brunch, and serves up a mean biscuit. Be sure to order an extra one as a side to your benedict.
There’s Enough Fun for the Entire Family
If you’re looking for an alternative to Anaheim’s Disneyland and California Adventure, or Universal Studios Hollywood (and its new Wizarding World of Harry Potter park), in Los Angeles, San Diego has one of the world’s best zoos, Legoland and SeaWorld.
Belmont Park is a beachfront playground with a boardwalk, rides and games. There’s also the massive 1,200-acre Balboa Park, with hiking and biking trails, restaurants and 15 museums well worth exploring.
Of course, there are also the beaches and small communities that lines the Pacific Ocean, including Pacific Beach and hidden treasure, Tide Beach Park at the north end of Solana Beach, which doesn’t get too crowded and best of all, parking is easy to find.
And, Of Course, There’s the Scenery
With its skyline rising up above Coronado Bay, San Diego easily provides a welcome escape from the crowded convention floor just a short walk away. Its beaches and surrounding activities are the reason many Comic-Con attendees add a few more days before or after the convention to turn the event into a great summer vacation. The city’s cooler climate certainly doesn’t hurt, providing a respite from the scorching temperatures that usually heats up the rest of the country this time of year.
About the Author: Marc Graser, Marriott’s Editorial Director, has attended San Diego Comic-Con as a journalist for Variety, and as a fellow fanboy, since 2004. His favorite comic book character is Batman. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcGraser.