No badge? No problem at mostly free Comic-Con outdoor events

An acrobat from Ripley's Believe it or Not! balances her body weight on the heads of two bottles Friday morning at the Petco Park Interactive Zone
An acrobat from Ripley’s Believe it or Not! balances her body weight on the heads of two bottles Friday morning at the Petco Park Interactive Zone, one of several free outdoor no-badge-required activation areas related to San Diego Comic-Con 2019.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Huge outdoor festivals attract thousands of San Diego families for games, freebies and photo opps


Gabriel Flores of Paradise Hills remembers the golden days of his youth when he could buy a badge to Comic-Con for just $25 or $30.

Those days are long gone, but the 30-something dad has found a new way to enjoy the convention at the no-badge-required activation zones that stretch for a half-mile along Harbor Drive from Park Boulevard to Front Street. For most of these activations, all you’ll need is some patience for the long lines you’ll encounter, sunblock and a good pair of walking shoes.

Flores and his 12-year-old daughter, Summer, were queued up Friday morning in the free T-shirt line for Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” promotion at the Petco Park Interactive Zone. After spending an hour or so there, they planned to spend the rest of the day working their way west to the Ferris wheel at the Fox Fun Fair.

“It’s fun to see all the stuff and try new things,” said Summer Flores, who was visiting her dad for the weekend from her home in El Centro.

Here’s a look at some of the many free activities available for families at the Petco Park Interactive Zone and Fox Fun Fair. Parking downtown is limited this weekend, so take the San Diego Trolley, which stops at several spots along Harbor Drive.

Visitors to Fox Fun Fair this weekend can play a giant game of corn hole for fun and prizes.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Fox Fun Fair - Harbor Drive at Front Street

Children’s Park has been transformed into a family-friendly carnival hosted by Fox Network to promote its Sunday animation series lineup, hence the “ANIDOM” logo on all of the booths. Shaded by trees, with plenty of seating, the fun fair is ideal for young families. Everything is free at the event, including bottles of water handed out by volunteers.

The main attraction is a Ferris wheel decorated with characters from Fox animated series, including “The Simpsons,” “Bob’s Burgers,” “Family Guy” and “Bless the Harts!” Activities include a 16-person watergun squirt race arcade game, speed basketball toss game, bucket-hole game, super-size corn hole, foam block stacking and four-in-a-row game. Game participants get a pin-on Fox character button and game winners can choose from a bandanna or lanyard prize.

Free Ferris wheel rides are being offered at the Fox Fun Fair at Harbor Drive and Front Street in San Diego this weekend.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

There’s also a Bob’s Burger food truck serving free ice cream during select hours.

The fair is right next to the New Children’s Museum, which is closed to the public during Comic-Con, but badge-holders get in free.

Fox Fun Fair is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. Some activities at the fair will close at 6 p.m. Saturday. At 326 Harbor Drive, San Diego.

A family enjoys a photo opp in the Rainbow Butterfly Unicorn Kitty booth at the Petco Park Interactive Zone on Friday.
((Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Petco Park Interactive Zone - Harbor Drive and Park Boulevard

One of the largest Comic-Con outdoor activations this weekend is at The Lot near Petco Park. Most of the hands-on activities and many of the promotional items are free. There are also a number of food trucks selling food, drinks and other merchandise. There is partially shaded picnic table seating, but the rest of the area is not shaded, so bring sunglasses and a hat for the kids.

You can’t miss the giant inflated rainbow unicorn balloon at this event. It’s promoting Pepsi-Cola, which is being offered in free Dixie cup-size samples. Next door is a shaded Axe lounge for video-gamers who can relax on bean bags and lounge chairs.

The longest lines are for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week attraction celebrating the 31st year of the shark-themed programming. The centerpiece is a 40-foot life-size model of the extinct megalodon shark species. Megalodons had massive jaws with 20,000 pounds of crushing power, which Discovery Channel staff is demonstrating every hour on the hour by feeding a large costumed mannequin into the jaws for a crushing demonstration. Visitors can also stand in line for a free made-to-order shark T-shirt, while supplies last. There are also free blue foam shark fin hats.

One of the other long lines at the zone is for the CBS All-Access’ “Twilight Zone Experience.” It’s a mirrored room with a light and sound effects show that lasts about 45 seconds.

Gundam, the Japanese maker of animated robot cartoons and toys, is hosting a large installation with free giveaways of backpacks, printed hand fans, badges and lanyards. Customers can wait in line for the chance to build a free, take-home Bandai-brand Gundam model or play a demo version of a new Gundam video game. There are also daily giveaways.

A family builds free Gundam models at the Petco Park Interactive Zone, in the Lot near Petco Park through Sunday
A family builds free Gundam models at the Petco Park Interactive Zone, in the Lot near Petco Park through Sunday.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

SpongeBob SquarePants fans can visit the Bikini Bottom driving school to get their photo taken for a boat license, play a SpongeBob video game and pose for a photo in a Sponge-ified Toyota SUV.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! has a display of miniature cars and other oddities, including a large model of Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder, vintage pinball games and a full-size replica of a Hummer H-3 car made entirely out of lottery tickets glued to a wire, wood, glass and plastic frame.

There’s also a walk-through museum for Tru-TV’s “Impractical Jokers” series, where a quartet of Staten Island guys play practical jokes on an unsuspecting public. The museum features costumes and props the men have worn during various episodes. Fans who’d like to meet the stars in person can see them from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Park at the Park, where they’ll be signing autographs and hosting giveaways. Special guests DJ G Money and NSYNC’s Joey Fatone will make appearances.

A view of the Petco Park Interactive Zone from the Harbor Drive pedestrian bridge on Saturday, July 19.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Visitors will have to pay for food, drinks and merchandise at the food trucks lined up along the east end of the zone, but there is one free food item being given away at the zone during select hours. Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice cream is serving free scoops of its Popeye-themed vegan spinach ice cream.

The Petco Park Interactive Zone is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today through Sunday. The Shark Week attraction will close each day at 5 p.m.

There are several other free activations along the north side of Harbor Drive. Just follow the sidewalk near the Trolley tracks to find them. And a few others are sprinkled in the Gaslamp Quarter.