Summer’s Comic-Con International convention—with its star-studded lineup of comic book and entertainment industry pros—put San Diego on the map as the mother ship for nerd-friendly fun. Thanks to the arrival of the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park, fans can soak up this culture—superheroes, science fiction, gaming, and fantasy—12 months a year.
What to See at the Comic-Con Museum
Even if you don’t think of yourself as a typical Comic-Con attendee, the museum’s engaging exhibits appeal to just about any consumer of pop culture, from TV and movies to video games and toys. Depending on the current exhibit lineup, you might get an up-close look at jumpsuits from the original Star Trek television series, see evocative drawings by the artist behind the Addams Family, or test your old-school gaming skills on vintage Pac Man machines.
The museum is spread across three floors of Balboa Park’s Federal Building, originally built for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Its Art Deco exterior exudes a certain Hall of Justice vibe, while the airy interior houses large exhibit spaces, smaller galleries, a theater, and gift shop.
The small permanent collection is comprised of one core element from the Comic-Con experience: elaborate cosplay. Outside the museum’s theater, stroll past fashions donned by superheroes, villains, aliens, and even fairy tale characters, all created and worn by fans at Comic-Con’s annual Masquerade event over the years.
The vast majority of the museum, though, is devoted to rotating exhibits, which stay at the museum for up to a year or more. Giant displays and framed pieces are accented by photos, costumes, movie props, and memorabilia, often from the artists’ personal collections.
This museum’s current featured exhibit is Spider-Man: Beyond Amazing, an immersive, multimedia exhibit that traces the beginnings of the iconic superhero and how his evolution ran parallel to the development of comic-book art. The Pac-Man Arcade exhibit, meanwhile, is enthrallingly interactive, featuring not only the original penciled plans for the beloved video game but also several game consoles for hands-on reminiscing, including a few rare models. Other gallery-style exhibits celebrate the range of comic-strip art, such as 80 years of Archie Comics; Dave Stevens and The Rocketeer: Art for Arf’ Sake; and a fascinating exhibit showing how Ernest Hemingway has been portrayed in comics over the years.
Comic-Con Museum Events
Before you arrive, check the museum’s calendar of events and offerings. The on-site theater hosts occasional movie screenings, talks, and book signings, while the Education Center holds classes on animation, drawing, and cosplay. Some ongoing classes and creation spaces are geared to locals, and other quick classes are tailored for weekend visitors. Don’t miss a stop at the Marvel Adventure Lab, a colorful photo booth where you can produce a Marvel comic book cover starring yourself.
How to Plan Your Visit
While getting a badge for Comic-Con can be a challenge even for superfans, accessing the Comic-Con Museum is incredibly easy. Located in the heart of Balboa Park, a trip to the museum can be combined with a visit to the San Diego Zoo and other cool park attractions such as the Fleet Science Center, the Timken Museum of Art, and the Japanese Friendship Garden. Park at the Pan-American Plaza lot for the most convenient access to the Comic-Con Museum as well as the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the San Diego Automotive Museum, and the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages.