Each year it gets increasingly difficult to get a San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) badge. This assumes you want to go downtown and be immersed in a sea of costumed people living out their comic book and alternate reality fantasies. No judgement here, it’s a must do at least once. During SDCC, the Gaslamp Quarter becomes a wonder-filled arena of immersive experiences, events and photo-ops to coincide with the convention — and many don’t require a badge, as in free!
Sometimes these outside activations become the best part of the convention. For example, in 2017, both “Blade Runner 2049” and “Stranger Things” brought experiences to the Gaslamp Quarter that were free to attend.
Of course, you’ll have to pay with your time. Some of these activations have lines that span entire blocks and take hours to get through. If you’re willing to wait though, these off-sites can be just as good as being on the convention floor.
From scavenger hunts to augmented reality experiences, and even a party or two, here are just a few ways to celebrate your fandom without a ticket to the main event. And, be sure to keep checking back as the con approaches; this list will be updated as experiences are unveiled.
The Gathering: Inaugural Comic-Con Museum Event
Wednesday, 5 p.m., The Comic-Con Museum (Balboa Park)
This event celebrating one of pop culture’s most popular superheroes comes with a hefty price tag ($250 for the main event), but if you’re a Batman fan, it may be worth it. DC is making The Dark Knight its inaugural inductee into the Comic-Con Character Hall of Fame and hosting a party to celebrate. The event is a fundraiser for the not-yet-open museum and will provide a host of special experiences for fans.
For those that want to check out the experiences without the price tag, The Batman Experience Powered by AT&T at the museum will be open to the public from 10 a.m. Thursday to Sunday and no badge is required to attend this free! exhibition. “The Dark Knight Dive” will combine skydiving with virtual reality for a unique experience. “The Batcave” will give guests a chance to experience generations of Batman video games. Plus, hundreds of pieces of DC memorabilia will be on display. You won’t want to miss this one. Click here for a full look at The Batman Experience from DC’s Jim Lee.
SherlockeDCC Scavenger Hunt 2k19 Family Friendly
6 p.m. Wednesday to 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Gaslamp Quarter
Anyone with a mobile phone can participate in this scavenger hunt a la Sherlock Holmes. Competitors will use a mobile app to complete a range of tasks throughout the convention, from easier tasks, like snapping a photo with Iron Man to more challenging endeavors, like meeting a celebrity in an elevator. Each task gets a participant a number of points, which will be used to calculate a winner when the hunt ends at noon on Sunday. Participate in as few or as many as you want! Entry to the hunt costs $10 and can be purchased here.
WB’s Detective Pikachu and Shazam! Experiences Free!
Wednesday to Sunday, times vary, Outside The Omni Hotel
Warner Brothers is bringing two of their 2019 motion pictures to the Gaslamp Quarter — “Detective Pikachu” and “Shazam!” Both are free and open to the public outside The Omni Hotel at 6th Avenue and L Street. The Detective Pikachu and his pals will be on-site for photo-ops with fans at this walk-through experience. Meanwhile, experience a carnival filled with games at the Shazam! activation. The activations are open on Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m., on Thursday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Ready Party One Adult Only
Wednesday, 8 p.m., Fluxx Nightclub
The Great And Powerful Og invites Comic-Con-goers to The Oasis’ hottest party. Taking the stage will be a lineup of DJs and live bands, including The Flux Capacitors. General admission to the event costs $35 with VIP options available. This event is 21-and-up only.
Doug Loves Movies
Wednesday, 8 p.m., American Comedy Company
The name says it all. Comedian Doug Benson hosts a podcast where he shares his love of, what else, movies. That podcast is coming to the mecca of pop-culture, San Diego Comic-Con, for a special taping that fans can attend for $20.
Rooftop Cinema Club: “Labyrinth”
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., Manchester Grand Hyatt
Directed by Jim Henson, starring David Bowie… What else do you need? Maybe spectacular views of the San Diego Bay? On Wednesday, the 1986 cult classic “Labyrinth” hits the screen at the Rooftop Cinema Club’s outdoor theater on the fourth floor of the Manchester Grand Hyatt, just a short walk from the convention center. There are a variety of ticket options available, starting at $17, for this 18-and-up screening.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” Experience Free!
Thursday to Sunday, times to come, Tin Fish (The Gaslamp Quarter)
Brooklyn takes San Diego for the first of three NBC experiences taking over the Gaslamp Quarter this year. NBC is again taking over Tin Fish at the intersection of all Comic-Con happenings, right across from the famed Gaslamp Quarter sign. Guests will be given a variety of tasks to complete before they can become a true member of the 99th precinct. All three experiences will be open for fans from Thursday, July 18 to Sunday, July 21. NBC is also bringing “Superstore” to the Hard Rock Hotel lobby and “The Good Place’s” IHOP (Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes) outside the con. For more information on all three experiences and how to RSVP, visit here.
Comic-Con International 2019 Art Show Free!
Thursday through Sunday, times vary, Manchester Grand Hyatt
Hundreds of art pieces will take over the first floor (lobby level) of the Manchester Grand Hyatt for the annual CCI Art Show. Both amateur and professional artists put their work on display (and for purchase). The public is invited to check out the drawings, paintings, sculptures and other pieces on Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sunday from 12 to 7 p.m.
“American Horror Story: 1984″ Face the Darkness Free!
Thursday to Sunday, times vary, Hilton Bayfront Park
FX is bringing horror back to SDCC with their “Face the Darkness” activation. Little info has been released on what fans can expect but an online registration will open ahead of the event so keep your eyes glued here. The FX Fearless Forum at Hilton Bayfront Park (1 Park Blvd.) will also have “Archer,” “What We Do in the Shadows” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” experiences. Hours for the activation are: Thursday 12 to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 10 to 2 p.m.
Step Into “The Twilight Zone” Experience Free!
Thursday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., The Lexus Lot at Petco Park
You’re traveling through another dimension and your next stop is The Twilight Zone thanks to this immersive experience coming to the Gaslamp Quarter. Little is known about the experience that will be held in Petco Park’s interactive zone, other than it is free for guests and general admission is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Online registration is at capacity but CBS All Access says guests can still pre-register at the both each day until 2 p.m.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Car Lot Free! Family-Friendly
Thursday to Sunday, 10 to 6 p.m., The Lexus Lot at Petco Park
In search of a new ride? How about the world’s smallest street legal car? Or a Humvee made out of lotto tickets? These cars may not actually be for sale but Ripley’s Believe it or Not is bringing the best parts of a car lot (inflatable tube men, anyone?) to their activation, which will feature some of the most unusual and unbelievable cars. Guests can expect some fun surprises and giveaways at this activation just outside of Petco Park.
Jean-Luc Picard: The First Duty Exhibit Free!
Thursday to Sunday, times vary, Michael J Wolf Fine Arts Gallery
Welcome back to the Enterprise, Patrick Stewart. This special exhibition in the Gaslamp Quarter (363 5th Ave.) is celebrating the actor’s return to his “Star Trek: TNG” role. Original props and costumes from the fictional Jean-Luc Picard’s life, including the Ressikan flute, the legendary Picard family album, his Starfleet uniforms. There will also be props for the upcoming “Star Trek: Picard” series. Check out the exhibit from 11 to 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and until 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Amazon Prime Video Experience Free!
Thursday to Sunday, 12 to 6 p.m., MLK Promenade and 1st Drive
Amazon Prime’s Comic-Con activation will take over a whopping 60 thousand square-feet of the promenade across from the San Diego Convention Center as it introduces the world to the upcoming Prime Original series “The Boys,” “Carnival Row,” and the next season of “The Expanse.” On top of the interactive experiences, the Prime Video activation will provide relaxation zones, beverages, bites provided by Carl’s Jr. and more. Anticipate heavy lines at this one.
Adult Swim on the Green
Thursday (4 to 10 p.m.) Friday and Saturday (12 to 10 p.m.), Convention Way and 5th Avenue Pier
Adult Swim is once again overtaking the lawn behind the San Diego Convention Center, this time for a carnival! During the day, Adult Swim on the Green will be loaded with games, character meet-and-greets, show screenings and more. After hours, the lawn becomes Nighttime at the Green, where a host of free events will be held but pre-registration is required. Get tickets here. For the full lineup of what to expect from Adult Swim’s activation, click here.
Her Universe Fashion Show 2019 Free!
Thursday, 6 p.m., Manchester Grand Hyatt
While most wouldn’t think pop culture fandom and fashion go hand and hand, actress and Her Universe founder Ashley Eckstein is here to tell you that it does. Back for its 6th year, the Her Universe Fashion show has become an annual tradition for both professional and amateur designers who dazzle the runway with pieces flaunting their fandom. The winner gets a chance to join Eckstein in creating a new collection for Hot Topic. Fashion and pop-culture fans line up for hours for this free fashion show in the Harbor Ballroom of the Manchester Grand Hyatt, which may even include a celebrity sighting or two. Seating is first come, first served (but there are 1,500 seats!) and the line opens at 1 p.m.
Hop Con 7.0
Thursday, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., Stone World Bistro & Gardens (Liberty Station)
Each year, only one event can connect the worlds of beer fandom and pop-culture geekery into one perfect night: Hop Con 7.0. Stone founder Greg Kock, Fark.com creator Drew Curtis and actor Wil Wheaton will debut a special batch of brew, the famed w00tstout, at the suds-filled event. A $75 ticket to this year’s Hop Con gets attendees 15 three-ounce pours (five are w00tstout), three specialty casks of w00tstout, a commemorative glass and unlimited access to gourmet food tastings. Non-drinker tickets cost $35. There will also be a special Quiz-O-Tron show and a costume contest. Of course, the highlight is the 2018 version of w00tstout, an Imperial Stout made in a pecan, rye and bourbon-soaked barrel. This year’s bottle will come with a special wrap featuring a Gargoyle-esque superhero by artist Alan Davis.
The Upside Down
Thursday, 8 p.m., Fluxx Nightclub
Things are getting strange in San Diego. Enter the Upside Down at Fluxx Nightclub where a lineup of DJs and live bands, including The Flux Capacitors, will take the stage for a party hosted by Nerdist. General admission to the event costs $35 with VIP options available. This event is 21-and-up only.
“Galaxy Quest” in Concert
Friday, 7:30 p.m., Copley Symphony Hall
Even the San Diego Symphony is getting in on the Comic-Con action. Academy Award-nominated composer David Newman will lead the symphony through the score for “Galaxy Quest,” as the sci-fi spoof plays on the big screen. It’s the first time the 1999 film, which features a star lineup of Tim Allen Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman and others in what has become a cult classic, will be screened as part as a concert. Tickets to the event start at $26.
Animaniacs in Concert
Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Balboa Theatre
It’s time for Animaniacs! The songs used to get stuck in your head; now relive them live on stage! This musical revue-style show features characters singing live on stage while Emmy-winning composer Randy Rogel plays some of those memorable tunes you love, all for a $29 ticket.
Kristian Nairn at Omnia Free! Adult Only
Thursday, 9:30 p.m., Omnia Nightclub
He may be known for holding the door but this actor can also hold a beat. Kristian Nairn, who plays Hodor on Game of Thrones, is also a house DJ and he’ll be spinning at Omnia Nightclub in the Gaslamp on Thursday. Register to get on the guest list for free access before 10:30 p.m.
Awesome Mixer Vol. 2
Friday, 8 p.m., Fluxx Nightclub
Pop in that 80s mixtape for this Comic-Con after party. The 21-and-up event themed to “Guardians of the Galaxy” will have musical performances from Run-DMC’s Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and “Fantastic Beast’s” Dan Fogler. General admission tickets will start at $35.
Middleditch & Schwartz
Friday, 9:30 p.m., The Balboa Theatre
Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) and Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation) make things up on the spot for this improvised comedy show that starts with audience suggestions. The duo brings their show to San Diego during SDCC 2019 but few seats are left, and tickets start at $25.
Impractical Jokers: Jokers Island Free! Family-Friendly
Saturday, 12 to 9 p.m., Park at the Park (Petco Park)
The Impractical Jokers are bringing gifts, giveaways and gags to Park at the Park following their first-ever panel at SDCC. This day-long event will be hosted by NSYNC’s Joey Fatone and will feature a live DJ, Tru-TV show screenings, autograph signings, photo experiences, free food and more. The line for this event may start forming early, but entrance to the venue, from 7th Avenue and K Street, won’t start until noon.
“Back to the Future” in Concert
Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Copley Symphony Hall
When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re going to see famed conductor David Newman (“Anastasia,” “Matilda,” “The Sandlot”) take the reigns to Alan Silvestri’s “Back to the Future” score for this concert perfect for San Diego Comic-Con. Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg’s classic film will screen behind the orchestra. A half-hour before the concert, both Alan Silvestri and David Newman will discuss the memorable score and its impact. Tickets range from $26 for balcony seats to $80 for the main section.
Pacey-Con 2019 Free!
Sunday, 6 to 8 p.m., The Dubliner (The Gaslamp Quarter)
All year long, the San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog keeps us updated on all things SDCC. But once the convention is over, it’s time for these bloggers to cut loose and they’ve invited us all to join! This year’s post-con party is themed around Dawson’s Creek‘s Pacey Witter. Convention-goers get a chance to mingle with their fellow nerds at this free, first come, first served event at The Dubliner in the heart of the Gaslamp.
We will continue to update this list as Comic-Con approaches. If you have an event you’d like to be considered, please email Christina.Bravo@nbcuni.com.