Comic-Con and beyond: seeing San Diego

America’s largest event for fans of comic books, pop culture, super heroes and fantasy memorabilia catapulted from an obscure, one-day comic book convention in 1970 to a proverbial monster. 

These days, Comic-Con International is a multi-day event with numerous Comic-Con adjacent activities all over San Diego spanning the entire month of July and everyone gets in on the fun. It can cause peals of joy among lovers of geek chic…or eye rolls from those who dismiss it as, well, geek chic. 

woman dressed as a black red Darth Maul Sith with her light saber under the Gas Lamp sign
Come show off your amazing cosplay at San Diego Comic Con. Its even fun without tickets © Daniel Knighton / Getty Images

Whatever your reaction, there's no denying that this annual convention turns downtown San Diego lightning hot for a few days each summer – this year, July 18-21, with Preview activities commencing July 17. 

So after you've sashayed your cosplay, visited the booths, heard the talks, seen the screenings and bought the merch, get out there and explore; Comic-Con badge not required. 

A woman dressed as an IT clown munches on a fake arm and bares her scary teeth
Scarediego is just one of the many Comic Con-adjacent events that pop up around the city © Joe Scarnici / Getty Images

Primetime Favorites

Get a sneak peek at what’s to come during the convention at the new Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park on July 17. Dubbed The Gathering, the event will honor Batman as the inaugural character to the museum’s Hall of Fame. “This is a Hall of Fame for iconic characters from popular culture that are beloved by fans,” said Adam Smith, Executive Director of the Comic-Con Museum.

Following official Comic-Con activities, Maritime Museum will host its annual Pirate Con on July 20 aboard the Star of India (which is purportedly haunted.)

ScareDiego returns in 2019 with an offsite panel and sneak preview footage starring New Line Cinema and Warner Bros.’s upcoming horror flicks at Horton Grand Theatre. This year is It: Chapter Two. Avid Comic-Con followers also predict a preview of Doctor Sleep

Late night host Conan O'Brien also returns to Comic-Con to tape several episodes of his TBS channel show at Spreckels Theatre. In the past, superstar guests have included the cast of Breaking Bad, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, actress Sarah Paulson, and actor Jason Momoa. For tickets and information check the show's website.

a field of light sabers lights up in front of a stage with musicians and a screen
In 2015 the San Diego Symphony performed music from Star Wars: The Force Awakens © Jesse Grant / Getty Images

Arts and Culture

As part of its Bayside Summer Nights Series, the San Diego Symphony will musically transport guests to the ‘80s and ‘90 with Galaxy Quest and Back to the Future, in concert. The experience includes a screening of each respective film while the symphony plays the score live.

In Barrio Logan, Border X Brewing will host its 5th Annual Chicano Con; a two-day family oriented event filled with comics and music, and dedicated to highlighting the work of Latino artists in the spirit of Comic-Con. For the kids: Superhero piñatas, comic book giveaways, and tacos for all.

A group of breakdancers performs in Spiderman costumes at ComiCon in San Diego
Themed beer, cookies and tacos will have you dancing too © Daniel Knighton / Getty Images

Food and Craft Beer

On July 18, Stone Brewing Company hosts its 7th annual Hop-Con, lovingly nicknamed "our annual celebration of nth-degree beer geekery." Expect tastings, fun and games like a comedians vs. scientists Quiz-o-Tron, and Hop-Con exclusive suds like a chocolate orange black IPA collaboration with Criminal Minds actress, Aisha Tyler.

At Petco Park’s Interactive Zone, Hello Kitty Cafe returns in 2019 with themed bites and treats, including a new, exclusive 5-character macaron set featuring Hello Kitty, My Melody, Chococat and more.

Restaurants get hip to the Comic-Con frenzy too, like modern Mexican restaurant Puesto at The Headquarters. They’ll serve an El Héroe taco—lobster, filet mignon and chipotle “super hero” sauce, a Villain taco of fried calamari and pickled avocado, and a watermelon mezcal “Sidekick” margarita.

Read on to plan your trip to San Diego

This article was originally written by Andrew Bender in July 2017 and updated by Ligaya Malones in July 2019.

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