GDC and San Francisco tips from a pro

If you are attending GDC, please make sure you read the following tips.

Martine Spaans has lots of experience visiting professional game events around the globe and she knows San Francisco like the back of her hand. She is willing to share that information. Thank you Martine!


The most important thing is BOOK EARLY! With over 30,000 attendants to GDC the hotels around the city fill up fast. And with San Francisco rapidly becoming one of the most expensive cities in the world, hotels are definitely not cheap. Check out the Orange Hostel near Union Square or the Downtown or City Center HI (
If these are booked up, check the rates and reviews of alternatives on If you happen to know someone who is attending as well, try to team up to save some costs.
If you plan to book an AirBnB, be careful in which area you book. San Francisco is a relatively small city and easy to get around, but it has some dodgy areas where you don’t want to walk alone at night. Make sure to avoid the Tenderloin and Civic Center area as much as possible, since this is an area with lots of homeless people hanging on the streets.
Some of the hostels mentioned above border on the Tenderloin area. Be cautious at night.

Getting Around:

  • The cheapest way to get from the airport to the city is by taking a BART train. You can buy a one-way ticket or a multi-use Clipper card. The BART goes directly to the city center. The stop closest to the Moscone Convention Center is Powell St Station. If you have accommodation downtown you can probably walk from the BART station. This will cost you less than $5.
  • You can grab a taxi, Uber or Lyft as an alternative. Prices vary from $25 to $50 for a one-way trip downtown, depending if you share or not.
  • Bring your comfortable shoes, because the best way to get around downtown is to walk.


  • Things to bring: A bottle of water, mints, some snacks like a granola bar, a US phone charger or a backup battery, pen&paper for taking notes during the lectures, your business cards!
  • The program of talks and lectures is so packed it’s impossible to see everything. Plan in advance which ones seem useful to attend. If the lecture turns out disappointing, then don’t be shy to walk out to see something else. Your time at trade shows is limited and precious.
  • Don’t be shy to talk to people when there’s an opportunity. Waiting in line for the coffee, at a party, the person sitting next to you before a lecture starts, etc. We all love games and we’re all there to learn and meet people. These contacts might prove very valuable in growing your network and career.
  • Visit the Expo floor when there are no lectures you want to attend. This is a good place to see what kind of services companies are offering, or which new games and hardware are coming out soon. There is also a separate Career floor where you can see which companies are hiring. Again, bring business cards!


  • Sometimes it seems that game industry conferences are all about parties. Especially GDC. Most of these parties require pre-registration which will open a few weeks before the conference. Check Facebook groups or unofficial GDC websites for a list of parties. Especially advertising companies or official trade organisations tend to organise “everybody is welcome” parties.
  • If you plan well, you won’t have to pay for a single drink for the entire week. Some parties offer free food as well.
  • Partying is fun, but don’t forget why you’re at GDC. Lectures begin at 10am and it would be a shame to miss them because of your hangover. Schedule your sleep!
  • Legal drinking age in San Francisco is 21. If you are under 21 they might refuse you at parties. They wíll refuse you at most bars, since an ID is required to enter. If the police catches you drinking alcohol and you are under 21, you could get arrested and the fines are pretty steep (it is considered a misdemeanor). Furthermore, getting arrested can complicate future visits to the US. Please note that US police is VERY different from Dutch police. They don’t take underage drinking lightly and neither should you.

Food & Drinks:
San Francisco is a town full of foodies. And luckily some of the best food is very reasonably priced.

  • Food trucks are very popular around lunch time. They are often parked around the SOMA and Financial District. Try some and you’ll be surprised how good truck-food can be!
  • Downtown SF you’ll find a lot of Japanese and South-East Asian restaurants. Check Yelp or Google Maps user reviews to see which ones are good.
  • Market Street offers some high-quality fastfood like SuperDuper Burgers and Boudin Bakery.
  • Coffee lover? Skip that mundane Starbucks! Typical Bay Area coffees you should try are Blue Bottle, Philz and Wrecking Ball.
  • During the conference days you won’t have much time to wander around. Just 1 block away is the Westfield Mall. The basement houses a big food court with lots of choices and free WiFi.
  • OK, you want 1 night of expensive drinks and a unique experience? Check out the cheesy Tonga Room in the Fairmont hotel. Or go to the rooftop bar in the Marriott hotel for the best view of the city. It will be worth your $15 drink.

Do’s and Don’ts:

  • DO fill in your online ESTA application before you go if this is the first time you visit the US. Costs are around $10.
  • DO invest in a local US mobile data card for your phone. It will be so much easier to book an Uber or look up locations on the map when you don’t have to worry about a high phone bill. There is a T-Mobile store on Market Street near the Moscone where you can easily buy a data card.
  • DO check before you go if it’s possible to make international cash withdrawals on your card. Most restaurants or shops will not accept your European debit card. This country is run by credit cards. So either request a credit card from your bank or make sure you always have enough cash on you to pay for your food and transportation.
  • DO take a day extra in SF and leave the Downtown area. Some areas to explore: Haight Ashbury (hippie town!), the Mission (great Mexican food and thrift shopping), Hayes Valley (hipster store galore).
  • DON’T waste your time in Fisherman’s Wharf, unless you enjoy the kitch and fake American tourist experience.
  • DO book your ticket way in advance if you plan to visit Alcatraz. Take into account that this tour will take up half a day.
  • DON’T eat at McDonalds or Burger King. There is really no excuse in a city that offers so many better alternatives for the same price.
  • DO rent a bicycle and visit the Golden Gate Park (the DeYoung art museum is located in the park) and the Golden Gate Bridge. Bucket list items! 😉
  • DON’T plan on visiting the Museum of Modern Arts (MoMa) as it’s closed for renovation right now. Some good alternatives are the DeYoung Art museum (located in Golden Gate Park) or the Asian Arts museum across the street from City Hall.

Martine Spaans – Mobile Game Publisher –