Tired of shouting, “Don’t touch”? Then SeaWorld San Diego is the spot for you and your younger kids. At this San Diego attraction, kids are invited to get their sticky fingers on everything—including the sea life itself. At the Explorer’s Reef and California tide pools, they can get touchy-feely with schools of cleanerfish, crabs, sea stars, and brownbanded bamboo sharks before heading to the park’s two-acre kid zone, Sesame Street Bay of Play. In addition to the water fun and three Muppet-themed rides—Abby’s Sea Star Spin, Elmo’s Flying Fish, and Oscar’s Rockin’ Eel—kids will get a chance for a photo op with Elmo himself. Or perhaps the giggle-inducing Pets Rule! show, where rescue animals perform off-the-wall stunts.
You won’t find much refuge from the SoCal sun here, so stay on top of the sunscreen and take advantage of the indoor exhibits. Tots can put their noses to the enormous Turtle Reef window, walk through the acrylic viewing tunnel at Shark Encounter (as sand tiger and bonnethead sharks circle overhead).
To help ensure a stress-free day, rent a stroller at Guest Services inside the park entrance. For mobile kids who might like to wander, pick up a wristband on which you can enter your cell phone number if you and your kids get separated. And if your children love to sit in splash zones, stash a change of dry clothes in your day pack.
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.
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 (and this version of a shipwreck happily includes a café at the end). The 150-foot Electric Eel, which opened in 2018, is now the tallest and fastest roller coaster in San Diego.
Other rides transport you in different ways: Bayside Skyride offers a scenic ride above the bay—and be sure to take the elevator up the Skytower, with its panoramic view of Mission Bay, the Pacific Ocean, downtown San Diego, and beyond. Or, climb aboard a simulated jet helicopter to zoom above icy landscapes on the Wild Arctic ride, which transports you to find a realistic Arctic research station with up-close looks at beluga whales, seals, and walruses. For an immersive "underwater" experience with killer whales, check out virtual reality DeepSeeVR Orca 360, a mesmerizing attraction that takes you on a virtual up-close expedition.
The Ocean Explorer area, which opened in 2017, includes the Submarine Quest ride, the swing-style Tentacle Twirl, and little-explorer-friendly rides Octarock, Aqua Scout, and Sea Dragon Drop.
Gentle ride options abound at SeaWorld San Diego, 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. Preschoolers will love the rides along the Sesame Street Bay of Play, like Elmo’s Flying Fish, the teacup-style Abby’s Sea Star Spin, and the not-too-rocking Oscar’s Rockin’ Eel.
Big kids, meanwhile, will love Manta. 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 giant aquarium and check out the grotto, where you can touch the harmless California bat rays as they glide by.
Insider tip: Lines tend to dip during the most popular shows. For speediest entry, get a Quick Queue Premier all-day pass for express entrance to rides.
Come watch acrobats of the ocean jump, flip, spin, and exude their natural charm in both SeaWorld’s classic shows and its all-natural marine life experiences.
Go to the lively yet intimate Dolphin Days show to see Bottlenose dolphins and short-finned pilot whales take to the waters—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.
Sea Lions LIVE, meanwhile, offers up SeaWorld’s take on a sketch comedy show, starring the park’s beloved pinnipeds Clyde and Seamore, and their fun-loving O.P. Otter; the trio are pretty pop-culture savvy, with their marine-life-based spoofs on TV shows (as evidenced in “Dancing with the Pinnipeds” and “SLSI: Sea Lion Scene Investigation”). For furry-animal entertainment, go to Pets Rule! and watch a talented cast of dogs, cats, birds, and pot-bellied pigs (most adopted from shelters) entertaining stunts with their trainers—and watch for cameos by emus and kangaroos.
During summer 2017, SeaWorld San Diego debuted an experience with the park’s majestic resident killer whales: Orca Encounter features a Pacific-Northwest-themed backdrop and a three-story-high video screen that shows a documentary-style presentation about how these mammals move, hunt, and communicate in the wild. And taking center stage, you can watch the resident orcas splash, breach, and otherwise act naturally in the waters.
Even from your first few steps into the park, SeaWorld San Diego aims to transport you to the edges of the ocean and beyond. Start by entering Explorer’s Reef, near 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.
Go a little deeper into the park for a wide range of aquariums and marine-life encounters, including the up-close Dolphin Point and Sea Lion Point. The 280,000-gallon Shark Encounter takes you underwater—safely through a 57-foot acrylic tube—to get up close to a shark habitat that includes sand tiger, bonnethead, blacktip, and whitetip reef sharks. Nearby Turtle Reef is home to dozens of threatened loggerhead, hawksbill, and green sea turtles, as well as thousands of tropical fish (play the touch-screen game, Turtlelink, to learn about sea turtle tracking and SeaWorld’s turtle rescue efforts).
One of the biggest cute zones is Otter Outlook, which features a display of California sea otters, and is part of a partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium; check the schedule for daily presentations about this threatened species. And don’t miss the Penguin Encounter, with nearly 300 tuxedoed critters, representing six Antarctic and sub-Antarctic species (including the Gentoo, Macaroni, and Emperor).
For the quirkiest creatures, go to the Ocean Explorer area—which debuted in 2017—and check out the quick-camouflaging giant Pacific octopus, eerie moray, and the massive Japanese spider crabs (the biggest of their kind in the sea). Be sure to stop by The Rescue Plaza, near Orca Encounter, to learn about the SeaWorld Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program, which has rescued more than 17,000 animals over the years—mostly sea lions, seals, and marine birds—with the goal of nursing them back to health and then returning them to the wild. If you’re a fan of Sea Rescue, ABC’s Emmy-winning series about those efforts—many of which are based in San Diego—you can watch episodes on the big screen at the park’s Mission Bay Theater.
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 exclusive 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.
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 the 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 your family still hasn’t gotten its fill of wildlife, take them on the 45-minute Killer Whales Up-Close Tour, which offers an insider’s look at how these awe-inspiring mammals are cared for.
Depending on what time of year you visit, there are fun seasonal offerings at SeaWorld San Diego. During summer, the park has a new take on an evening light show: Electric Ocean takes its inspiration from the ocean phenomenon bioluminescence, where the ocean glows in the moonlight. The nighttime show, which runs through Labor Day, also features dance music, a DJ, and costumed sea creatures taking to the dance floor.
Come fall, SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular (weekends from late September through October) invites kids to dress in costume, mingle with strolling characters, and go trick-or-treating in the park. Don’t miss the Halloween-themed sea lion and otter show, Clyde & Seamore’s Big Halloween Bash.
When the holiday season gets into full swing, the park takes on an ocean-meets-Santa’s Workshop ambience. SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration (typically running from mid-November to around New Year’s) includes a Santa’s Christmas Village, Rudolph’s Christmastown, and holiday-themed shows, such as Dolphin Island Christmas and Clyde & Seamore's Christmas Special, starring the popular sea lion and otter.
During the holiday season, the O Wondrous Night show tells the Christmas story using 30 carols and a variety of live animals. Stay through sundown to catch the nightly lighting of the 40-foot animated tree and to see how the park’s main landmark, the 320-foot Skytower, looks with with its holiday lights.