Want to hold a sea star? Or get up-close and personal with sea turtles? Watch an orca whale leap from the water, see penguins dive into icy water or observe beluga whales below water? Want to meet a dolphin (and probably get splashed?) Then Sea World San Diego is the place for you! This is the family guide you need to have a great day at this park.
As a San Diego native, my family and I have been going to Sea World for as long as I can remember. The park has changed quite a bit over the years but some things have remained constant throughout. Sea World San Diego has always been a unique experience. It’s safe, clean and well-kept with offerings of education alongside the fun!
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Guide to SeaWorld San Diego
These SeaWorld San Diego tips will help you properly plan your day. The park is very easy to navigate. Start your planning by looking at the park map and plot out your day. It is quite possible to see all of the exhibits in one day (if you aren’t lingering too long in any one place). However it might be a challenge to see all of the shows. Show times often overlap so you’ll need to choose your must-dos.
Tickets: I recommend pre-purchasing tickets ahead of time. You can purchase vacation packages or just tickets on the SeaWorld website. Some of the packages include free dining offers, front of the line access or special souvenirs.
What Should You Bring to SeaWorld?
Bring a lightweight jacket or sweatshirt. SeaWorld is located along the bay and it can be chilly and windy. Always pack your sunscreen. While it might be overcast early in the day, the sun often peeks out after noon and it may get very hot. A hat is a must as the show stadiums do not offer much shade.
General parking is $20 per car. If you arrive before or at park opening, the general parking will suffice. If you’re arriving later in the day during peak season, consider $25 for up-close parking or VIP parking, which starts at $35.
Is Outside Food Allowed at SeaWorld?
While the official website says that only water is allowed, we have brought in small snacks with us for our kids without issue.
All packages, backpacks and purses are inspected before park entry.
Should you get soaked anywhere in the park, there are convenient drying stations where you can purchase a warm air full-body drying!
Must-See Shows at SeaWorld San Diego
- One thing you’ll notice that has changed at SeaWorld is they no longer mention the name “Shamu”. The SeaWorld San Diego orca show is now called Orca Encounter. The show is now more about education and learning about these beautiful creatures than pure entertainment. Orca Encounter is a must-see. Even though trainers no longer join the orcas in the water, the show is still very exciting. Seeing enormous killer whales leap so effortlessly is a magnificent sight.
- Pet’s Rule! animal show with rescued pets is a family favorite.
- Sea Lions LIVE is fast paced, funny and very popular so make sure you get there early for a good seat!
- Dolphin Days features the swift and playful dolphins and pilot whales.
Tips for Watching SeaWorld Shows:
- Remember to pay attention to the “soak zone” areas and protect your belongings.
- Show times often overlap so I definitely recommend choosing your must-do shows ahead of time.
- Make sure you get to those shows early (at least 20 minutes, but 30 minutes is even better on busy days) for the best seat.
- Guests can purchase a Reserved Seating Pass for popular shows, which offers special viewing areas. This is a good idea during peak seasons, as the stadiums do reach capacity.
Sealife Interactions & Touch Pools
There are several places around the park where guests can interact with sea life. Right inside the front entrance is Explorer’s Reef. With four touch-pools it’s an incredible interactive experience. If you want more intense education or want to get into the water, there are special tours available for purchase.
See my post about the SeaWorld San Diego touch pools for more details!
Thrill Rides at SeaWorld San Diego
Sea World has always been the place for unique interactions with marine life and now with the addition of several thrill rides, Sea World San Diego is a place for mild and wild thrills as well!
- Manta is a fast roller coaster. Afterwards you can visit the interactive manta ray exhibit. The rays flop right up next to the ledge and let you “pet” them!
- Journey to Atlantis is my kid’s favorite; they love that 60-foot drop!
- Coming this spring is Electric Eel, which will feature inversions and loops in a high speed ride.
SeaWorld Vacation Tip: SeaWorld offers a front-of-the-line access pass called Quick Queue. This priority boarding access can be purchased online (or in the park) for select rides around the park.
Mild Thrills Attractions
In addition to the high thrill rides there are some really fun attractions for younger kids too. With under-the-sea themes like Tentacle Twirl and Sea Dragon Drop, little kids will “get” the pun.
SeaWorld Vacation Tip: If you have younger children who enjoy rides, head for this area first thing in the morning for the shorter queues. You might even get to ride it all by yourself, like my son!
Aquariums at SeaWorld San Diego
- One of the most amazing attractions is Shark Encounter. After viewing the sharks from above, you’ll journey through a tunnel that transports you right into the shark tank! As sharks float above and around you, you’ll be thrilled and terrified all at the same time!
- Next door to Shark Encounter, be sure to visit Turtle Reef and see these gentle giants floating inside a floor-to-ceiling tank (and they are usually eating lettuce for lunch!)
- The Wild Arctic Flight Simulator ride takes guests on a fantastical journey that lands them on a glacier. Afterwards get close to real arctic animals like polar bear, walrus and beluga whales. This is one of my favorite areas of the park because you can view the belugas both above and below the water. SeaWorld Vacation Tip: You don’t have to take the ride. Choose the non-simulator side and either watch the show or immediately walk through to see the animals.
- Everyone enjoys the ice wall feature inside Wild Arctic! You can run your hands across it (some guests press a penny into the ice to make a hole).
- Across from the Wild Arctic area you can visit the Penguin Encounter which is my most favorite place. A long moving sidewalk takes you through the exhibit where you can view nearly 300 penguins in action. I love watching the penguins swimming so quickly underwater and then propelling themselves straight out to land on the rocks…I could watch that all day!!
Sesame Street Bay of Play at SeaWorld San Diego
Sesame Street Bay of Play is the place to let little ones burn off some energy. There are several family rides aimed at the younger set. Kids will also enjoy ropes to climb, fun house mirrors and slides. Cash-play carnival games and an arcade are here as well. We won a giant giraffe pillow on the ring toss!
There is a baby and toddler soft-play area as well. Elmo and friends make an appearance at scheduled times for photo opportunities with guests. Bring a bathing suit, towel and water shoes for toddlers and preschoolers to splash in the water-play area.
SeaWorld Vacation Tip: The Sesame Street Bay of Play is a popular area that can get quite congested. Stop here first thing in the morning and the ride lines will be very short.
Other Fun Things to Do at SeaWorld
Sea World San Diego offers Premier Experiences that put guests right into the water with beluga whales, penguins or dolphins (for an additional fee). You can also get a more in-depth experience or a behind-the-scenes peek at marine life with one of several tours that Sea World offers.
Stop over at the Sea World San Diego website to learn more about their park, educational programs and both day and overnight camps for students and families. Sea World is a place to learn, discover and also have a lot of good family fun!
Dining at SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld has many great choices for dining that will please everyone. The food is always really high quality and delicious. My favorite is Calypso Bay Smokehouse (it’s hard to resist when you smell the barbeque ribs and chicken!) SeaWorld offers a very reasonably priced All-Day Dining Deal for guests, which includes dining at six of their popular restaurants for the entire day you spend at the park.
There is also the unique dining option of eating alongside the orca tank at either Breakfast with Orcas or Dine with Orcas. Both are buffet-type meals with delicious dishes on the menus. My family enjoyed our meal here, read up for all the details and tips: SoCal Guide – SeaWorld San Diego Dine with Orcas
SeaWorld San Diego Special Events
SeaWorld San Diego Seven Seas Food Festival takes place during the spring each year. This event highlights some special food and drinks sold throughout the park, as well as family-friendly entertainment.
New in summer 2018 is the Sesame Street Party Parade. Returning is Electric Ocean Light Festival with nighttime shows, lasers and dancing. Fireworks spectacular shows take place on various summer holiday weekends.
Families can enjoy seasonal fall fun at the SeaWorld Halloween Spooktacular. Children may dress in costume and trick-or-treat through the park.
Get into the holiday spirit at SeaWorld San Diego Christmas Celebration. We loved this special event which includes greetings with Santa and elves, holiday food and spirits and fun entertainment.
Save Money on Your SeaWorld Vacation!
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