SDCC Hotel Tips & FAQ: A Beginner’s Guide

SDCC Hotel Tips Advice

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SDCC Hotel Tips & FAQ

This series of articles is going to break things down into segments. Our first segment covered badges (2017 Update: We have a new guide here). This one will focus on SDCC hotel tips. We’ll follow this up with installments about off-site events and much, much more. If there’s a topic you’d like to have covered drop us a line and we’ll see what we can do. Information in these articles is gathered from Comic Con International’s official website, Friends of Comic Con International forums, and personal experiences.

2017 Update: These SDCC Hotel Tips have been extensively updated as of 2017

SDCC Hotel Sales

Unfortunately, getting a good SDCC hotel isn’t much easier than getting badges and can cause people the same level of stress. You can try to book a hotel on your own but it will probably be either really far away (I’m talking 20-30 minute drive or more), or extremely expensive ($400+ a night). Sometimes you can get something close for less, but usually these come with no refund options, a high deposit, or require you to book for an entire week. If none of this sounds appealing to you, you probably want to participate in “Hotel Day” or the “Early Bird” specials.

Let’s break down what all of this means…

SDCC Hotel Day

SDCC Hotel Tips Advice

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On one specific day you will log into a system and select your top choices of hotels. This year’s system hasn’t been announced, but usually this is done through an organization called “Travel Planners” (Update: SDCC now uses OnPeak). Last year we were allowed to choose up to 6 hotels, but in years past you could choose a lot more. (2018 Update: You can now choose 12.  Six downtown and 6 elsewhere.  Only one is required for submission).

2018 Update:  The hotel lottery is now much like the badge sale lottery.  There is now an online queue and you will be granted a room based on when you are allowed access to the form.  In the past, the people who filled out the form fastest were given the rooms first.  This system appears to have been done away with entirely.  But, as with all things, it’ll surely be tested this year to see if speed has any weight at all.

Getting an SDCC Hotel can be hard.  In 2013 my group of four all submitted our forms quickly. Three of us got nothing and one of us got a room in a hotel that wasn’t even on our list way out in Mission Valley (I’ll explain locations more later). We all submitted in under four minutes, too. This probably sounds pretty discouraging, but hey, the point of this post is to be upfront and honest with you about what to expect. Like badges, it’s a challenge that you have to face if you want to experience the world famous San Diego Comic Con. There are 130,000+ people headed to this convention, along with the typical summer California tourist crowd. Finding a place to crash at night is going to be a bit challenging.  But it’s doable.

SDCC Hotel “Early Bird” Sale

In my opinion, the Early Bird Special isn’t much of an advantage, but some people find peace of mind in locking in their hotel room and not having to deal with the stress of SDCC Hotel Day. The Early Bird sale is when a bunch of hotel rooms out in Mission Valley or near the Airport (again, I’ll explain locations later) that are less popular than the ones downtown become available. There is no refund or cancellation available for these rooms and you have to pay in advance.

The thing that attracts a lot of people to this option is that they’re cheaper than rooms near the convention center and you won’t have to battle other con attendees on Hotel Day.  It kind of depends on what your priorities are on whether the Early Bird special is worth it. Don’t care about being directly downtown and want to avoid the headache of Hotel Day? Then go with the Early Bird sale. Want to stay near the convention center and play your odds on Hotel Day? Skip this option.

If the odds are not in your favor, however, you may end up in the same batch of hotels that were available during the Early Bird special, but you had to battle out Hotel Day with the rest of us anyway, so it’ll seem like a huge waste of time for you. In 2013 we stayed at the Sheraton in Mission Valley, which is an Early Bird hotel, but we went through the stress and headache of hotel day anyway for no apparent reason.

Independent Booking for Hotels

You might see the list of con SDCC hotels and decide, hey, this is a hassle and everything sucks.  That’s alright.  You do you. But if you decide to book independently outside of the convention hotel services, there are some things you need to know.

First of all, all of San Diego is aware of Comic Con so anything within, say, 20 miles of the convention is going to hike up their prices to some degree. I called a Travelodge last year and they were charging $350 a night. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Travelodge, they are very basic motels with not many luxuries available. Despite this, they were charging a nightly rate on par with a nice hotel. Part of the “Travel Planners” Update: OnPeak system is aimed towards keeping hotel prices down, so if you go outside of the system it’ll probably be very difficult to find a good deal. It’s not impossible, but it is very challenging.

Secondly, if you aren’t booking a convention hotel you need to be conscious about how you plan on getting to the convention each day. Look at the public transportation or consider renting a car. If your car rental costs $70/day and you are burning several gallons of gas each day is it really worth it to stay at a motel an hour away? You’ll probably spend the amount of money you are saving on the room on the cost of transportation and parking. Sure, you might avoid the headache of SDCC Hotel Day, but if that’s your motive you might want to just book a room during Early Bird and at least be on a shuttle route. At least it’ll be one less thing you have to pay for and it’ll be a lot more convenient.

Condo Rentals

Most people who rent condos either use the same people every year or they fire off inquiry emails as soon as the previous convention ends, so get in on this option as quickly as possible. If you find one available this late in the game chances are the prices will be hiked because, as I said in the last section, all of San Diego is aware that the nerds are coming and that hotel rooms are at a premium. If you want to try you can check out AirBnB or VRBO.


Hostels fill up fast. Right now if you start trying to book a room you may find that everything near the convention center is completely full. People cancel, though, so if you’re interested in doing this you should check the hostel websites every single day. You might even want to call and see if they have a waiting list available. Some might, some might not. I recommend using Hostel World or to scout, but you might consider calling directly to book if you don’t see anything available.

SDCC Hotel Locations

The convention center is located directly across from the Gaslamp District. Any hotel with the term “Gaslamp” in the title is going to be within walking distance. These hotels are usually more expensive than hotels further out and prices here can get hiked up during the convention. If you get something under $200/night you are a very lucky person. The average hotel in the Gaslamp district is usually $200-300/night. Sometimes they can be a bit more, but that means it’s going to be more luxurious or you’ll be able to see the convention center out your hotel room window.

SDCC Hotel Tips Advice

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The absolute closest hotels are:
Hilton Bayfront: located directly across from the Hall H line right on the bay front.
Marriott Marquis & Marina: located right next door to the convention center and houses some convention events.
Hard Rock Hotel: directly across the street and home to many private parties.
Omni: also located directly across the street from the convention center.
Hilton San Diego Gaslamp: same intersection as the Omni and Hard Rock.

The above five hotels are probably going to cost you $300+/night or more on average. Sometimes much, much more. Almost everyone tries to get those so competition can get fierce, but the higher price drives some people away.  This is where you’ll have to weigh how much walking a few blocks is worth to you.

There are also hotels located out in Mission Valley. These are about 20-30 minutes away by shuttle. The shuttle system is pretty extensive, but if you need to get to the convention center by a certain time I’d give yourself several hours to make it. Sometimes there can be a line for the shuttles and sometimes the shuttles fill up before they get to your hotel.  Full shuttles pass right by without stopping can become very frustrating. Getting back to my room in a timely manner was never a problem, but getting to the convention center in the middle of the day was a hassle.

There are also hotels located near the airport and Shelter Island. There aren’t many hotels located in either location that are used for the convention, though. Most people stay downtown or in Mission Valley, but these are still options that you might consider. Both locations are traditionally served by shuttles, but are more than 30 minutes away. There are also con hotels located in Old Town, Mission Bay, and Coronado Island, but they don’t have shuttle service. Don’t select these hotels unless you have a car or are willing to take public transportation or a taxi/Lyft/Uber every single day.

So there you have it. You are now equipped with the knowledge you need to select the best hotel room based on your specific needs. Good luck! LLAP

2017 Update: Please see our NEW SDCC 2018 Badge FAQ.

How to Attend SDCC: A Guide for Newbies

Author: Angel Wilson

Stephanie “Angel” Wilson is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and has essays published in Fandom Frontlines.

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