A dad and kid riding a dragon at San Diego Comic Con, with the caption, The Ultimate Guide to Surviving SDCC with Young Kids
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Ah, conventions. The mecca of geek families everywhere! 
Attending pop culture and fan conventions can be a lot of fun for all ages, but stressful, too. And the granddaddy of them all, San Diego Comic Con, is a special kind of beast that can make even the most confident parent wonder if they should just leave the kiddos at home. One thing is for sure — it is a very different experience than most smaller conventions.
But don’t worry! We’ve successfully attended this massive event with the little ones in tow each year, and we always have a great time. We’re happy to share what we’ve learned on how to best navigate the monster that is SDCC without missing the things that YOU want to experience too… whether you have a baby, a toddler, or a big kid nerdling!
The Morgan Family and their kids pose with Spongebob Squarepants and Patrick at San Diego Comic con
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
In Part 1 of our SDCC post series, we’ll look at the planning process. What do you do BEFORE SDCC, where should you stay, and how will you get there? 

Already have your badges, hotel and transportation figured out? In Part 2, we’ll discuss all the ins and outs of a day at SDCC with kids: what to bring, how to manage your schedule, and our best secret tips we’ve learned for avoiding the crowds. 

And as an extra treat, when you join our WanderFam email list (to get notified of more cool content like this), we’ll give you our free Ultimate Comic Con Packing List to help you make sure you’re bringing everything your family needs to the Con! You can do that here:

Ready? Let’s dive in. Here is what we’ll be discussing, if you’d like to jump around.

Badges and Member IDs: Getting Into Comic Con

Because of her voice acting work, Laci often gets the chance to attend comic conventions with a Creative professional pass. This means that she gets to register for badges ahead of the general public, and sometimes gets a complimentary admission. If there are available slots (the computer system randomly assigns number of guest passes available) Josh gets to tag along too. 
The voice cast of Billy Dilly
Meeting the voice cast of Disney's "Billy Dilly's Super Subterranean Summer." Laci especially enjoyed finally getting to say hello to Tom Kenny, best known as the voice of Sponge Bob!
If you work in an industry that directly contributes to things that SDCC might be promoting (comics, tv or film), this might be an option for you. It requires you to submit credentials and a resume of work every few years, however, so they can verify that you are indeed in the industry. Check out the Professionals page on the SDCC website for more info on that process. 
You might also be able to qualify for a Media pass if you work for an outlet that reports on pop culture, but that process tends to happen AFTER all the general badge sales.
Planning on just buying SDCC tickets at the door? Or even a few weeks ahead of time? Er, sorry…you’ll be out of luck. Just know that you will likely have to plan this trip at least a year in advance, and it’s not guaranteed that you will get admission. Most of the time, it comes down to luck! 
Sorry if that just dashed your dreams of going this year. 🙁 
But don’t despair!
A family plays air hockey in a purple lit room, themed like Ready Player One at SDCC
We had fun playing air hockey in the retro Ready Player One offsite experience
If you don’t have a badge for this year’s convention, but you do plan on being in the San Diego area at that time, you can still experience a lot of the fun of SDCC by visiting the offsite activations spread around Downtown San Diego! Read more details about offsites in Part 2, coming soon. Just know that many hotels/parking close to the action will be sold out or the prices will be triple the cost of normal rates, so you may need to commute. More on that soon.
If you’re not a Pro or Media, you’re looking at joining the General badge sale. You’ll need to register for a Member ID (a username/login) before badge sales start, so do that NOW for next year if you haven’t already. The bad news: San Diego Comic Con badges are probably THE HARDEST to score, especially if it will be your first time attending. (As in: people create teams, load the ticket site on multiple computers and frantically refresh their browsers the SECOND tickets go on sale, and many still don’t get them, because they sell out in minutes) I won’t go into the details of how to up your chances of buying a badge, as there is plenty of info on the web about that if you do a search.
The good news is that once you attend SDCC, you’re now eligible for returning registration the following year, which gives you a leg up and puts you ahead of the general sale.
"I'm only here for the photo ops."
The best news of all, though? Kids under 12 are freeeeeee! As long as you have a registered badge, you can bring up to 2 kids with you (per paid badge). It just takes an extra step of taking the kids upstairs to the Registration desk in the Sails Pavillion and getting them a badge for identification before you enter the convention. It will require a wait in line, which isn’t usually too bad, since it’s inside. You can usually do this before the Con opens, if you’re already in the area, the day before your first badge. We often go before Preview Night starts on Wednesday, since we have full conference passes, but if you only have a one day badge, you can only pick it up one day ahead. Check the Registration tab of the SDCC website for details on when Child Badge Registration opens.
It’s important to sign up for updates on the official SDCC website so you don’t miss the announcement of the registration date. The Facebook page and Twitter account are also great places to get fast info. 
And please don’t try to buy passes on Ebay (unless it’s officially from CCI, in the returned badge sale) or borrow a friend’s badge… often times those badges are fake, and if you’re caught using someone else’s badge, you can be banned for life. Not worth the risk!

Where To Stay

This can be a tough one. You could risk taking part in Hotelpocalypse, the lottery system similar to the general badge sale where you log into an online waiting room and hope you’re awarded a hotel downtown for a decent price. You have a chance of booking a hotel right next to the Con, so it will be easy to get around or head back to the room for rest. 
BUT… you may not get anything at all, or you may be assigned a place that is not ideal for a whole family. You are given the opportunity to rank your preferences on hotel brand, location, size and price, but whether you actually get it is – you guessed it – luck of the draw. You might be scrambling to find accomodations, and paying 3x a normal room cost if you don’t get assigned.
A screenshot of comic con Hotelpocalypse
Wait too long to book, and THIS is what you'll see.
This is actually the first year we participated in Hotelpocalypse, and we were super stressed about it. When we travel, we tend to choose hotel chains that are more family friendly, and book way ahead of time. That is, they have larger suite rooms, possibly kitchenettes or full fridges and a microwave, or they serve full free breakfasts. We ranked those kind of hotels highest in our list, and hoped that we’d get one as close as possible. (Luckily, we got our top choice this time!)
But please, DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST. Hotels that look good in photos or have a great price may not be the best choice during Comic Con week. Think about potential issues you may experience during your stay. Is the hotel on the free shuttle route? Are there any food options nearby, or will you have to walk through a not-so-great area to get to them? Is it particularly noisy, or understaffed? Do they charge astronomical parking fees? 
Our best trick is to visit travel review sites like Tripadvisor, and search the reviews for keyword terms like “comic con,” “convention,” or “noise.” That will give you personal accounts from other con-goers (not just travelers from other times in the year), and will help tremendously. For example, we were able to eliminate two hotels based on reviews that said they have non-stop loud rooftop party music during SDCC, and another where guests explained that it was built up along the train crossing, so horns blew loudly at 2am and gate clanging kept people awake. With young kids, we need our sleep!
Two cute Morgan kids standing on a flower rug in front of a bookcase in an airbnb house.
Airbnbs are another great option for families, because you can often get a WHOLE HOUSE for the price of a hotel room instead. In previous years, we’ve stayed at a lovely guest home further away from downtown that even included a pool. Alas, this time, someone else beat us to booking it, months and months in advance. 🙁  
If you do choose an Airbnb, be careful to read the reviews (make sure they’ve had plenty of verified stays and positive guests) and know that there’s a possibility of cancellation…we have heard some horror stories of hosts cancelling reservations or raising rates drastically at the last minute when they realize it is a popular week and that someone will be forced to pay more. That being said, we’ve only had wonderful experiences with Airbnbs in our travel so far. 
Whichever way you choose, you may want to book a backup hotel early on. Before the Hotelpocalpyse sale, we made a reservation through a discount booking site for a San Diego hotel much further away from downtown, so it had rooms available at a non-inflated price. Not knowing if we’d get a good hotel in the lottery, it helped us stress less knowing that at least we had a place to stay, even if it was further away. We simply cancelled the backup reservation once we had a confirmed booking from the lottery sale. 
The ideal is to find a hotel that is close enough to walk to offsites or the main convention, but peacefully tucked away from the noise, and that offers space and perks for families without being too expensive. They do exist, if you do a bit of digging and planning!

Getting Around SDCC

Josh loved the Star Trek Discovery themed pedicabs found around the Gaslamp District
First of all, don’t forget to download the official SDCC app so that you have a map to help you find where you want to go! It can get quite confusing for newbies. Once, we trekked a long time in the hot sun to see a panel at “the Hilton,” only to realize that there were MULTIPLE Hiltons and that we were at the wrong one, in a totally different direction, across a crowded street. 
Don’t do that.
If you’re bringing a car, know that most of the streets surrounding the convention are closed down to vehicles for public safety. You wouldn’t want to drive through anyway; the crowds are massive. Try to reserve parking ahead of time at either end of the downtown area, so you’re not stuck getting in and out in long waits. We’ve liked parking at the Hilton Bayfront, but it tends to sell out of spots quickly. Like the rest, parking spots are now part of a lottery (look up the “ACE Parking sale” and register early), but there may be some locations still available after it concludes.
A much better option, if you’re not within walking distance to your hotel, is using public transportation. SDCC offers a free shuttle bus that goes back and forth to most hotels in the area, but expect a wait during busy travel times (beginning and end of day).
Our favorite way to get to and from the Con if you’re not within walking distance? Take the trolley!
The MTS trolley offers a special Comic Con pass where you can pay ahead of time and ride it as often as you want. If we’re staying in the Hotel Circle/Mission Valley area away from downtown, we simply park our car for free in the morning at Qualcomm stadium, then enter a nearly empty trolley car because it’s the start of the line. That allows us to stake out a safe spot for the kids to sit, and to fit our stroller before it gets far more crowded closer to the stops around Hotel Circle!
Brendan thinks riding the trolley train ROCKS!
Kids LOVE riding a “train,” and looking out the window as the city rushes past. The trolley stops right across the street from the convention, too! It’s also a great option if you want to take a lunchtime trip out to an area like Little Italy that offers more fast food, away from the downtown crowds.
The downside of riding the trolley is that EVERYONE gets on at the Convention Center stop at the end of the day, so it may be a struggle to cram on with the kids, a stroller, and swag bags in tow without getting really squished. Our advice: pick up your kids, fold up the stroller, and know that you’ll probably have to be a little pushy at this point to make sure you safely find a spot. If you’re from New York City, this probably will feel like home to you, though…it’s just like the subway in peak hours!
We will admit that riding the trolley back to the hotel was probably the most stressful part of the days, when we’ve done it. It’s loud, crowded, frantic, and oftentimes the kids are hungry and tired, sometimes leading to whining and meltdowns. Make sure to have a snack handy and keep reminding yourself that people will be clearing off more and more with each stop! If you’d rather avoid that, you may want to head home BEFORE the evening rush.
Crowds outside an art gallery in San Diego during Comic Con, where the Star Trek Discovery cast is appearing
This area outside an art gallery will give you a good idea of what kinds of crowds you can expect on the sidewalks and streets. Bonus points: how many Star Trek Discovery cast members can you find in this picture? 🙂

Other transportation options might be Uber/Lyft (but you may need your own carseats), pedicabs, or rentable scooters/bikes. Just keep in mind that the scooters and bikes are NOT permitted on sidewalks, helmets are required (who carries a helmet with them around a convention?!?), and that kids are not allowed to ride them, so they aren’t as appealing as they seem.

All About Strollers at SDCC

A little boy in a Spock Star Trek costume falls asleep in a stroller
Even Spock needs naps.
If your kids are under 5, you’ll probably want to bring a stroller, even if they prefer walking. Why? Well, SDCC is MASSIVE. Even the most energetic toddler will inevitably get tired legs, and it gets tiring to have to carry them when it’s hot and crowded. Our 6 year old likes to ride perched on the front of the stroller when he gets tired, and we’ve also used Buggy Boards like this to allow him to stand while moving quickly through a crowd.

Also, a stroller lets YOU be a little less burdened when you’re moving. You can store your backpack, snacks, or swag bags in the stroller, keeping your shoulders from aching. We joke that we don’t know what we’ll do when our kids outgrow the stroller…maybe bring a helper donkey with saddle bags? Haha!

That being said, not every stroller type is allowed. According to SDCC’s official policy page, “No Handcarts, Trolleys, Rolling Luggage, or Oversized Strollers” are allowed in the Exhibit Hall. We have a BabyTrend jogging stroller, which is big enough to hold both kids if necessary in a pinch, but not big enough to qualify as oversized. You wouldn’t want to bring a double-wide stroller, anyway! Keep in mind that the Exhibit Hall can be hard to move through at many times, with people walking shoulder to shoulder. 
Some Con-goers will give you the evil eye for even having a stroller (they clearly don’t have kids), but as long as you use common sense and courtesy, you’ll be fine. Be loud, but polite when you can’t move or are forced to push through an area. Watch out for swinging merchandise bags that might be at your child’s head level. Be alert! Be careful not to bump into people’s heels, and watch where you’re steering. Try to stay to the outer walls and close to booths rather than the center of aisles, where people in a hurry might trip over the stroller. 


If an autograph session is going on, nearby? Don’t even try to get through with a stroller, or you’ll get stuck or trampled. Go way around and come back later, or if you want to see the celebs, trade off with another adult and walk by on your own while the kids are safely further away.

See how crowded the exhibit hall gets, especially around autograph sessions? Yeah. Your stroller isn't getting through there. Bonus points: what's the name of the dog on the table?
If you do get separated, make sure you have a way to contact each other or have a designated meeting area, though… security tends to make you move if you stop for too long in one place by the walls, and they will NOT let you leave the stroller unattended!
We also like to bring our trusty Lillebaby carrier for our youngest, for areas where the stroller can’t go (see below), or when it seems too crowded for him to safely be seated where people not paying attention could bump him with their bags. We roll it up and store it under the stroller when not in use, or put it in a little drawstring bag. Though he’s 3.5 years old now, the Toddler CarryOn still fits Toby well, and it’s often easier to keep him contained and close by wearing him on our backs. When it’s really crowded, it’s just not safe for him to hold our hand and walk next to us, where taller people could trip over him. It’s a great place to nap, too (baby carriers seem to have magic sleepy dust!). 
Josh Morgan with the character of Glory from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, at SDCC
Josh and Toby meeting "Glory" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That carrier also puts Toby at just the right height for pictures!
The Morgan family at SDCC, meeting R2D2. The baby is in a green Lillebaby carrier
Hangin' with R2D2. Boy, I sure wish I could be carried around like that when I'm tired!
If you do bring a stroller, you’ll have to park it in a stroller parking zone at some point if you plan on seeing any panels. Strollers are not allowed in most panel rooms, including Hall H. In our experience, this is always a really confusing process. The convention hires lots of staff for this event, and it seems like most don’t actually know where the stroller parking zone is. We have been given the wrong information often, being sent across the whole building only to discover that there isn’t any marked zone and no one knows anything about it. Other times, we’ll leave our stroller in one place, only to have it been moved when we return and have to search around to find it. (So make sure you don’t leave anything valuable, and mark your name and contact info on it somewhere!)
The two stroller parking areas we DO know of are found at 1) The entrance to Hall H, just outside on the corner of the building by the cement planters, and 2) On the second floor, on the patio facing the bay, outside Ballroom 20. Plan ahead if you’re seeing a panel and be sure to drop off your stroller at a known parking area first…
map of stroller parking areas at SDCC San Diego Comic Con
Where we THINK the stroller parking will be most of the time. This can sometimes change, however, so you may need to ask onsite.
We learned the hard way after waiting in a long line outside for an event in the Indigo Ballroom at the Hilton Bayfront. We kept our stroller with us, wanting to protect the kids from the sun while in line. When the doors opened, they suddenly changed direction and sent the line single file up an escalator. Surprise! Of course we couldn’t take the stroller up, so Josh had to go ahead with the kids while Laci frantically searched for an elevator. By the time she got to the top and parked the stroller, the room had reached capacity and she had to beg to be let inside…which only happened halfway through the panel when a staff member finally understood what she was trying to convey. (“No, really! My husband and two little kids are just inside! I DID wait in line!”)  It was a little frustrating, after having waited fairly but having those behind her in line making it inside first. I wonder if those in wheelchairs had a similar issue, so I hope they resolve this at some point. That escalator allows hundreds to move through the door ahead of you in the time it takes to ride an elevator up to the entrance. :/ 
Moral of the story: if you have a stroller, you won’t be able to ride up the escalators with it, so you’ll have to seek out an elevator, and it often has a little bit of a line. Plan accordingly on your map, and send a partner to scout ahead to see when and where they’ll make you leave your stroller. The rules might be different in various locations. It is sometimes worth it to keep your stroller with you in a line until the last minute, if possible, because it can provide shade, a seat for tired legs, a snack tray, or easy portability through a long line that might otherwise be difficult for your kids if you decide to brave a panel event.

Planning Your Schedule

There is SO much to do and see at SDCC, that it’s impossible to do it all. Don’t expect to cram it all in, especially with kids. Plans will change, crankiness will occur, lines will reach capacity, and exclusives will sell out.
Pick ONE thing you aren’t willing to miss each day, and make that your priority. Other than that, be open to stumbling across things and just exploring. Sometimes our favorite parts of the Con have been things we’ve randomly walked by at just the right time! 
While walking around the Gaslamp District, we stumbled across this GIANT laptop computer! Brendan got to dance on the keyboard and play a rhythm game. We would have never known about it if we hadn't turned down that particular street!
It IS wise to put together a list of events and offsite activations that you’re interested in, before the Con starts. We look at the SDCC schedule (https://www.comic-con.org/cci/programming-schedule) when it’s released, and make an Evernote file on our phones of things we’re each interested in seeing that we share with one another. That helps us stay on task, and we can check it as we go along to see what is coming up.
Here are a few blogs and social media accounts that you should be sure to follow in the weeks leading up to SDCC. You’ll be able to get all the info you need and put together the perfect “must see” list for your family!
– Toucan, official blog: (https://www.comic-con.org/toucan)
– Unofficial SDCC Blog: (https://sdccblog.com/)
– Outside Comic Con: (https://www.outsidecomiccon.com/2019-events/)

Want to Get Into Hall H?

Even if you’ve never been to SDCC, I’m sure you’ve heard stories about the famous “Hall H.” This is the biggest venue at SDCC that hosts the most popular panels. Marvel, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Star Wars, etc. 

This is about the closest we were able to get to the panelists in Hall H. And that's only because Josh got in the line to ask questions, which allowed him to walk up toward the front. That's Peter Capaldi on the left!
The hard part about Hall H is that people have been known to line up DAYS in advance, camping outside to get a good spot. They also do not clear out the hall after each panel, so if you hope to see one later in the day, you’ll probably have to get in there at the beginning and just stay in your seat. (Yes, there IS a bathroom inside)
We really wish this was done a little differently, because it makes it nearly impossible to experience if you have young kids. Over the years, however, it has become almost a badge of honor, an “I survived the Hall H line!” thing. It could probably be fun if you have multiple family members to trade off with and a nearby hotel, since you can meet a lot of like-minded people to chat with. Celebrities have even been known to do surprise things like bring donuts to line campers in the past. 
Most of the time this will be your view in Hall H...so, basically, watching a big screen.
However, we’ll be honest.
If you are there with young kids, Hall H is probably not worth it. The amount of time you’ll spend in line means you won’t get to see much else that day, and kids just don’t enjoy long lines. Much of the time is spent standing or in the sun, and that gets pretty tiring. While you may get to see a favorite actor in person, the actual content of the panels is not always that exclusive… the cast tends to stick to safe topics that don’t give away spoilers, any trailers shown usually get released soon after anyway, and much of the panel ends up being posted online later. You probably have a better chance of seeing that celebrity just by walking by their autograph table, too.

If you just want to be able to say you made it to Hall H though, it is possible. One year we had really hoped to somehow get to see the Sunday Doctor Who panel with 12th Doctor Peter Capaldi’s farewell, so right before it started, we moseyed on over to check how long the line was…. 
We made it into Hall H!
It was WALK IN. 
Yep, we walked right in to Hall H. Sure, it was way in the back (the panel participants looked like ants), but there was a big screen. And we didn’t have to camp out in line all day! 
We were lucky enough to make it into the Doctor Who panel the next year for 13th Doctor Jodie Whittaker’s intro, too, though that required a slightly longer wait outside as we crossed our fingers and hoped that enough people left the previous panel to allow us seats inside. We just fed the kids lunch there under the tents, and it wasn’t too bad. I think they cut off the line right behind us, so we were pretty fortunate that day!
Bottom line, if you want to get in, you likely can, if it’s not as popular a day. Sunday is usually possible.


Phew! That’s a lot to digest, and the Con hasn’t even started yet! We hope we gave you a little to think about, that will start your planning process.
empty halls of the San Diego convention center during Comic Con, late at night with no crowds
That's my brother Cody, who joined us last year at SDCC. We were one of the last attendees to leave the building one night, so we had to take a pic to show how empty it was!

Now if you’re ready to brave SDCC, let’s move on to Part Two, where we talk about what a day at SDCC might actually look like.

Have you braved San Diego Comic Con with Young Kids? What are YOUR best tips for the pre-planning stage?
Tell us below in the comments!