Dave Lauridsen

Spotlight: SeaWorld San Diego

From swooshing and swooping rides to interactive animal experiences and world-class attractions, SeaWorld San Diego truly makes a big, big splash. See—and learn about—the amazing undersea worlds of animals from around the globe, including penguins, turtles, walruses, beluga whales, and sea lions. Behind the scenes, SeaWorld is also home to marine animals that were injured or orphaned on Southern California beaches, and are being nursed or rehabilitated before they can be returned to the wild.  

Located just off San Diego’s Mission Bay, the park offers a variety of ways to learn about and celebrate marine life. Dive into a deep-sea adventure in the Ocean Explorer area, the family-friendly realm that opened in 2017. There, you’ll find five children’s rides and unique aquariums with giant Pacific octopuses, Japanese spider crabs, and California moray eels. See (and touch) harmless rays and sharks, or just be inspired by the killer whales in one of the park’s latest additions, Orca Encounter. Rather than a traditional show, the area with a Pacific Northwest-themed setting features the orcas breaching, spouting, and generally acting naturally in the water, against the backdrop of an infinity screen showing a documentary-style presentation with interesting facts about the majestic mammals. Or, take one of the park’s exclusive tours and you can get up-close encounters with resident dolphins, sea lions, penguins, or gentle beluga whales, also known as the “canaries of the sea.”

Climb aboard a host of rides, too, including the teacup-style Abby’s SeaStar Spin, the flume ride Journey to Atlantis, or Manta, a high-tech, double-launch coaster that has you twisting and diving like a ray. Stay late during the summer (through September) for the Electric Ocean, a light show that transforms rides, shows, and attractions into vibrantly colored displays inspired by the phenomenon of ocean bioluminescence.

Manta
Dave Lauridsen

Manta

Manta
Soar, dive, and twist 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-liter aquarium. There’s also a grotto where you can touch the harmless California bat rays as they glide by.

Live shows at SeaWorld
Courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego

Live shows at SeaWorld

Live shows at SeaWorld
See dolphins, seals, and pot-bellied pigs do amazing stunts

Come watch acrobats of the ocean jump, flip, and spin in SeaWorld’s newest show, Dolphin Days. Bottlenose dolphins and short-finned pilot whales are the stars of this lively yet intimate show—a great chance to see how SeaWorld San Diego’s professional trainers work closely with these marine mammals. It’s also a lot of fun, and a chance to get doused in designated splash zones.

Other shows invite you to see what park residents can do. SeaWorld San Diego’s resident sea lion comedy team, Clyde and Seamore, 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.

Explorer's Reef
Courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego

Explorer's Reef

Explorer's Reef
Immerse yourself in an undersea oasis—without getting wet

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.

Robert Souey/ SeaWorld San Diego

Special Experiences at SeaWorld

Special Experiences at SeaWorld
Enter the water with beluga whales and see what dolphins feel like

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’re 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.

Christie Kreider on Getting Up Close
SeaWorld San Diego's Senior Trainer inspires guests every day to care for our natural world by sharing her own passion for animals.
Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego

More Rides at SeaWorld

More Rides at SeaWorld
Zoom, twirl, and get soaked all over the park

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-meter 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.

Mission & San Diego Bays
Dave Lauridsen

Mission & San Diego Bays

Mission & San Diego Bays
Visit waterfront parks for boating, biking, and coaster rides

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 kilometers of water’s-edge pathways, perfect for strolling and biking.