(A continuing series of hints, tips, and observations based
on stuff that worked for me. Your mileage may vary.)
Now comes the interesting part: Getting from your hotel to the San Diego Convention Center. Unless you have a professional reason to stay there, or if you're easily parted with your money, the hotels within easy walking distance of the Convention Center probably won't be part of your plan.
Happily, there's a wide variety of reliable transportation options available for (the vast majority of) San Diego "pilgrims" who are staying in hotels farther away from the action...and many of those options are very "budget friendly".
1. Many hotels and parking lots are part of the special Comic Con shuttle bus service. Complete route lists and schedules are usually finalized a few weeks before the Con.
2. I've heard San Diego's bus system is okay, but using it requires more knowledge of San Diego than the average traveler would know or is willing to learn. Instead, I highly recommend San Diego's excellent trolley system.
The distinctive red San Diego trolleys offer daily service on three color-coded lines that run every 15 minutes from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., and every 30 minutes from 9:00 p.m. to 1 a.m. For my 2005 visit, I stayed in the northwestern Old Town region of San Diego and found it extremely convenient and efficient to ride the trolley. The prices are very reasonable, usually between $1.25 to $3 each way, and the routes are much easier for "outsiders" to wrap their heads around than the more complex bus routes. However, something to keep in mind with the trolley is that peak times such as the morning or afternoon rush can be quite hectic, so you might want to avoid riding it at those times. There are also rushes of fans to and from Padres games that can sometimes intersect with Con traffic, which again can make for some very crowded trolley rides (speaking from personal experience on that one). Update: I just checked the Padres schedule, and there are no home games taking place during the Con...so that's one less hassle to deal with!
3. Considering how quickly the metro area hotels fill up during the Con, many attendees will have to stay in hotels much farther away in the northern suburbs. In these situations, you might want to consider the COASTER commuter train, which will take you right to the downtown Santa Fe trolley station, where you can then catch a quick trolley ride to the Convention Center. Depending on how far your ride into San Diego is, a round-trip fare on the COASTER can range anywhere between $8 and $11, which seems pretty reasonable to me in comparison to standard bus, taxi or rental car costs. Fourteen trains operate on a Monday through Friday schedule, while only four are in operation on Saturday (the Con's busiest day). The Coaster does not run on Sundays.
Speaking of taxis, I've read that cabs are rarely hailed in downtown San Diego (though they're readily available at the airport, some hotels and certain shopping centers), so be sure to call and order a taxi well ahead of your departure time.
You may want to rent a car for your San Diego stay, and that's great if you want to get out and do some exploring (I recommend Saturday for that), but forget about parking it anywhere near the Convention Center. With so many parking options available outside of the downtown area (see item #1), you'd be wasting your valuable time, money and patience trying to find a parking space near the Convention Center.
As you can see, there are plenty of transportation options available in San Diego. My list is by no means exhaustive (nor was it intended to be), so if you need to fill in some of the blanks, be sure to access the links I've provided and spend some extra time doing a little research online before you leave, such as confirming if your hotel offers a shuttle, or (if not) planning your routes by trolley or train. I have to admit it's a bit intimidating at first, but after your first ride to and from the Convention Center, it's a snap. My first trip back to my hotel on the trolley was a bit bewildering (I wasn't sure which direction I needed to go on my trolley route), but after talking to a few of my fellow fans, I figured it out. Which reminds me: don't be afraid to ask for help or offer help to your fellow "pilgrims". Remember, you're all in this crazy thing together!
Next time, in Part Five, I'll get into some of my thoughts (based on my experience) on planning your days at the Con...specifically striking a good balance between programming and seeing the other sights the Con has to offer.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention the Special Event trolley route the MTS (Metropolitan Transit System) runs during big events like the Comic Con. You can park your car at Qualcomm Stadium in the Mission Valley section of town and catch the Red Line trolley in to the Convention Center. Click here for the complete listing of stops, pickup times and hours of operation.