Comic-Con International. America’s largest event for fans of comic books, pop culture, superheros and fantasy memorabilia can cause peals of joy among lovers of geek chic…or eye rolls from those who dismiss it as, well, geek chic.
Whatever your reaction, there's no denying that this annual convention turns downtown San Diego lightning hot for a few days each July (this year, July 20-23). Even Hollywood studios have taken notice – Comic-Con is the place to release the scuttlebutt on the next action blockbuster.
The rest of San Diego ain't stupid. Businesses cater to Comic-Con attendees with specials and events, and even the municipal trolley is planning signage in Klingon and Dothraki (the Game of Thones language, duh!), and the rest of America's Finest City (a superhero-worthy slogan if there ever was one) awaits in the great beyond.
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.
Events Around Comic-Con
How does a Game of Thrones musical (gotthemusical.com) strike you? Or how about an epic light saber battle (facebook.com/events) at the Balboa Park Water Fountain, or Pirate Con aboard an old sailing ship at the Maritime Museum?
Late night host Conan O'Brien returns to Comic-Con to tape several episodes of his TBS channel show; guests include Aubrey Plaza, Elle Fanning and Will Ferrell. For tickets and information check the show's website.
San Diego is one of America's craft beer capitals, and there are two big beer events around Comic-Con. On July 19, Stone Brewing Company hosts its 5th annual Hop-Con, lovingly nicknamed "our annual celebration of nth-degree beer geekery" with tastings, fun and games and beers by Will Wheaton, the actor (now brewer) from the classic film Stand by Me and TV series Star Trek: Next Generation. On July 22, the Heroes Brew Craft Beer Festival (heroesbrewfest.com) takes over Waterfront Park, offering craft brews, comic book artists, DJ and live music sets headlined by Kristian Nairn (who plays Hodor on Game of Thrones), the latest tech, and – hooray! – a superhero costume contest.
Harry Potter fans might want to stick around after the convention. The San Diego Symphony screens Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in hi-def by San Diego Bay while the orchestra plays the haunting soundtrack, July 29 and 30.
Year-Round San Diego
With some 60 beaches in San Diego County, picking the best is like deciding whether Superman, Wonder Woman or Spiderman (or none of the above) has the most awesome superpowers.
That said, Coronado State Beach consistently appears on lists of America's best beaches, across San Diego's majestic bay via bridge or – even better – ferry.
It's in the shadow of the landmark Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888 and a haunt of world leaders and celebs ever since. "The Del" also offers a unique mermaid-themed fitness class – participants don mermaid fins for the workout in the pool. The hotel says there haven't been any merman participants so far; who wants to go first?
Northwest of Downtown San Diego, Mission Beach is a classic California beach scene: oiled bods on beach towels and a boardwalk bursting with joggers, skaters and cyclists. Just inland is Belmont Park, a vintage 1925 amusement park complete with classic wooden roller coaster, carousel and newer attractions like adventure golf, an escape room and simulated surfing in the Flowrider.
Animals, Animals, Animals
Holy cow! America's Finest City is home to the nation's finest zoo. 650-plus species live at the San Diego Zoo, many in custom bioclimatic environments. Top billing goes to giant pandas and the largest koala colony outside Australia, and the Komodo dragon looks like it could do some Godzilla-style damage if you get on its bad side. The 8-acre Africa Rocks exhibit is opening this summer, with six more habitats.
For even more animals, the zoo's Safari Park is about a 35-mile drive north of downtown. The surrounding landscape may look like suburban California until you spot the animals of the African plains - giraffes, lions, rhinos and more – roaming on the valley floor. A tram ride circumnavigates this mini-Africa in 25 minutes.
While in northern San Diego County, check out Legoland California, where rides salute adventure, sci-fi, fantasy and creativity in general. A lot of it is targeted at kids, but it's loveable for grownups too. Miniland recreates iconic scenes from Star Wars fashioned from 1.5 million Lego bricks, alongside incredibly intricate Lego models of world monuments.
Out to Lunch (or breakfast, or dinner…)
Almost under the radar, San Diego has become a foodie destination, with gourmet fare taking its place alongside longtime local icons like fish tacos. Liberty Public Market is one-stop shopping for Mexican, Thai, French pastries, seafood and more in a stylishly converted former naval facility. Across town in the hipster-friendly North Park neighborhood, Waypoint Public is a homey, friendly gastropub, while a short ride north Nomad Donuts turns these humble treats into gourmet extravaganzas, in flavors like bacon and ube taro coconut. At the high end of the scale, the molecular gastronomy at Juniper & Ivy fuses tech and food with delicious results.
Out at Night
In North Park, Coin-Op Game Room seems a match made in Comic-Con heaven. Dozens of vintage arcade games line the walls, and you can quaff videogame-inspired cocktails and chow on deep-fried goodness like truffle-parmesan tater tots. Tiki aficionados (and who isn't one?) will love the Grass Skirt, a hidden cocktail bar in the Pacific Beach neighborhood. Closer to the convention center, work off your energy at East Village Tavern & Bowl, a sports bar with pub food and six (thankfully walled off) lanes. Or party with the in crowd at Bang Bang. It can be a scene, and there's sometimes a cover, but where else can you find bathrooms themed for Ryan Gosling and Hello Kitty?
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