From swooshing and swooping rides to interactive shows and million-gallon aquariums, this is one theme park that truly makes a big, big splash. See—and learn about—the amazing undersea worlds of animals from around the globe, including walruses, sea lions, polar bears, and penguins. See (and touch) harmless rays and sharks, and be entertained by Shamu and other killer whales, as well as dolphins, in daily shows and presentations. Climb aboard a host of rides, too, including Manta, a high-tech coaster that has you twisting, diving and turning like a ray.
Shaped like a giant ray, this coaster uses advanced technology and computerized imagery to make you feel like you’re swooshing, soaring, twisting, and diving through the air, just like a ray. After the ride, see the elegance of these amazing underwater creatures in a 100,000-gallon/378,541-litre aquarium. There’s also a grotto where you can touch the harmless California bat rays as they glide by.
Shamu may get star billing at the park, but other animals entertain the crowds throughout the day. Nearly 70 animals and 30 trainers and other staff take part in the music-filled Blue Horizons show. In One Ocean, killer whales, dolphins, and other creatures perform to a show with a strong eco-message. SeaWorld San Diego’s resident sea lion comedy team, Clyde and Seamore, will inevitably crack you up as they spoof TV shows and more in Sea Lions LIVE. At Pets Rule!, watch a spirited pack of dogs, cats, birds, and pot-bellied pigs do entertaining stunts with their trainers.
Even from your first few steps into the park, SeaWorld aims to transport you to the edges of the ocean and beyond. At the park’s entrance, walk under a huge wave sculpture to discover the edge-of-the-sea world of the coral reef. Wrap-around touch pools let you stroke brown-banded and white-spotted bamboo sharks (don’t worry, they’re harmless), plus California round rays and other creatures. For one of the world’s weirder sensations, dangle your fingers and let some of the exhibit’s 4,000 cleaner fish, each about the size of a child’s pinky, harmlessly nibble on your skin. Explorer’s Reef also has dining and shopping options.
It’s one thing to see SeaWorld San Diego’s remarkable collection of exotic animals performing in shows or in their enclosures. It’s another (unforgettable) thing entirely to get up close to the creatures—and even touch them. Two of the most remarkable experiences have you climb into a SeaWorld San Diego wetsuit to get right into the pool with gentle, snow-white beluga whales, found in Arctic waters. The Wild Arctic Up-Close Tour includes a behind-the-scenes chance to see other Arctic creatures, including walruses and polar bears, safely in enclosures they use when they are not on view to the general public.
At Dolphin Encounter, you get to feed, touch, and use special signals to communicate with bottlenose dolphins; the Dolphin Interaction Program lets you get right in the pool with the creatures and play with them. Go behind-the-scenes again with Penguin Up-Close Tour to learn everything about the little black-and-white seabirds, including what they eat and how to help protect them in the wild. If you or your family still hasn’t gotten its fill of wildlife, take them on an Animal Spotlight Tour, for an insider’s look at sea turtles, moray eels, and other SeaWorld San Diego creatures.
The aquatic animals aren’t the only ones who get wet at SeaWorld San Diego. Climb aboard water rides like Journey to Atlantis to sploosh through flumes and kersplash at the bottom of a 60-foot/18-metre plunge. On Shipwreck Rapids, board a tricked-up inner tube to follow a winding watercourse through a peaceful island setting, then hold for the finish—over waterfalls and into watery cave. Climb aboard a simulated jet helicopter to zoom above icy landscapes on the Wild Arctic ride.
Tamer options abound, especially for the smaller set. On Riptide Rescue, kids climb into seats styled to look like yellow life rafts before setting off on a simulated sea turtle rescue mission. Classic rides get a watery twist, with names like Elmo’s Flying Fish, Abby’s Sea Star Spin, and Oscar’s Rocking Eel. Tip: Lines tend to dip during the most popular shows. For speediest entry, get a Quick Queue Unlimited all-day pass for express entrance to rides.
Synonymous with SeaWorld San Diego, Shamu is the star of the show. Highly intelligent, curious, and social, killer whales are presented to maximize your ability to see these remarkable undersea creatures. The killer whales’ giant pool has glass-panel viewing windows built below the water line, so that you can watch the enormous black and white whales swim by. Popular shows, like the nighttime dazzler Shamu’s Celebration: Light Up The Night show off the killer whales' incredible power and athleticism. Just be warned: sit in the “splash zone” (designated as the first 16 rows of seating) and you're likely to get drenched. For a VIP splurge, reserve a table at “Dine With Shamu,” where you can enjoy a buffet meal on the patio next to the private pool of Shamu and other killer whales.
Mission Bay and San Diego Bay trim the edge of the city like sparkling gems. Dozens of outfitters can get you out amidst the blue via every imaginable conveyance; kayak, stand-up paddleboard, motorized watercraft, sail boat, or kite board. For a more novel approach, board the Bahia Belle, a Mississippi riverboat, snuggle aboard a romantic Venetian gondola, or try jet-packing to skim across the water like James Bond.
Cruise in style too. Hornblower and Flagship Cruises let you get a millionaire’s view of the bay on scenic tours, as well as dinner and brunch cruises.
You can have fun on land here, too. Mission Beach, the narrow strip of land between Mission Bay and the Pacific, is a chock-o-block assemblage of surf shops, t-shirt joints, and funky beach bars, and there’s a 3-mile/4.8-km oceanfront boardwalk that rivals Venice Beach for people watching. At Belmont Park, classic amusement rides include the Big Dipper wooden roller coaster. Mission Bay also has 27 miles/43 kilometres of water’s-edge pathways, perfect for strolling and biking.