This hybrid amusement park offers up-close views at ocean life with educational shows and experiences. In addition there are thrill rides, play areas, and family-friendly entertainment. These SeaWorld San Diego tips offer everything you need to enjoy a day at the theme park.
This article originally published on September 29th, 2014 and has been updated and republished with a new date.
Best SeaWorld San Diego Tips
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.
Guests can hold a sea star and get up-close and personal with sea turtles. Watch an orca whale leap from the water, see penguins dive into icy water and observe beluga whales below water. Visitors can meet dolphins, and probably get splashed!
Sea World San Diego has always been a unique experience. It’s safe, clean and well-kept with offerings of education alongside the fun. The SeaWorld San Diego tips shared in this complete guide will help you properly plan your day.
Where is SeaWorld San Diego?
SeaWorld is located in San Diego, California. The nearest airport to SeaWorld the San Diego International Airport, 4.5 miles away.
Other Southern California theme parks include the San Diego Zoo (7.5 miles) and LEGOLAND California (30 miles away). Driving north, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm are over 90 miles away.
Planning a Trip to SeaWorld San Diego
Check the park schedule – Hours at SeaWorld San Diego vary throughout the year, so always check the calendar before your visit.
Visit on weekdays – Weekends are busier than weekdays. Aim to visit on school days for lower crowds.
Create an itinerary – The park is very easy to navigate. Start your planning by looking at the park map online and plot out your day so you aren’t wasting time running around.
Can you do everything at SeaWorld in one day?
It is quite possible to see all of the SeaWorld San Diego exhibits in one day if you aren’t lingering too long in any one place. You should arrive at opening and plan to stay until closing time if you want to experience the most of what SeaWorld has to offer.
It might be a challenge to see all of the shows in a single day. Show times often overlap, so you’ll need to choose your must-dos.
Discounted SeaWorld San Diego Theme Park Tickets
I recommend pre-purchasing tickets ahead of time to save money of the gate price. Online SeaWorld San Diego ticket options include regular general admission, dining package, and special event tickets.
For discounted SoCal packages, purchase through Get Away Today. If you plan on visiting other San Diego attractions, you’ll receive a bundle discount on your tickets and hotel!
Southern California Discount Travel
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SeaWorld San Diego Tips Q&A
What’s the best age for SeaWorld San Diego?
SeaWorld is an all-ages theme park that is also part educational aquarium. There are different sections throughout that appeal more to certain age categories.
The Rescue Jr. play area is best for toddlers, preschoolers, and younger kids. Thrill rides are geared towards older children, teens, and adults. Live shows are appropriate for everyone in the family.
Does SeaWorld San Diego have an app?
Yes. Download the SeaWorld app to your device ahead of your visit. The San Diego specific app will offer show and presentation locations and times, ride wait times, and mobile ordering. An interactive map can help guests find restrooms, shopping, and animal experiences.
Are Reservations Required for SeaWorld San Diego?
Reservations are no longer required for SeaWorld San Diego. A SeaWorld ticket purchased online is good for any day of the year. Simply print at home and present the ticket at the turnstile for entry.
Planning for a Day at SeaWorld San Diego
Sea World San Diego Parking
General parking is $30 per car. If you arrive before or at park opening, the general parking will suffice.
Is outside food allowed at SeaWorld?
The official website says that only water is allowed. However, we have brought in small snacks for our kids without issue.
Are there security checks at SeaWorld?
All packages, backpacks and purses are inspected before park entry. Expect to walk through a metal detector.
How can I charge cell phones at SeaWorld San Diego?
SeaWorld offers Fuel Rod, interchangeable phone charging stations to swap out portable cell chargers. I recommend purchasing a Fuel Rod ahead of time. Taking the Fuel Rod with you to swap in amusement parks as needed.
What to Pack for SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld is located along the bay and it can be chilly and windy. Check the weather forecast ahead of your trip. Bring a lightweight jacket or sweatshirt during cool weather.
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 any shade.
Strollers and wagons are permitted in SeaWorld San Diego and can be a convenient place for storage. Bring plenty of bottled water and small snacks.
If your family enjoys getting wet or plans to sit in the “splash zone”, bring waterproof footwear and a change of clothing.
Sealife Interactions & Touch Pools
There are several places around the park where guests can interact with sea life. At the various touch pools and interaction areas, SeaWorld animal ambassadors speak over microphones to discuss educational talking points.
- Explorer’s Reef – Located just inside the front entrance. With four touch-pools, it’s an incredible interactive experience, including cleaner fish and reef sharks.
- Bat Ray Shallows – Friendly bat rays will swim right up along the edge of the pool for gentle petting.
- Tidepools – Touch a sea star at one of these shallow pools.
For guests that want more intense education or want to get into the water, there are special tours for animal encounters available for purchase.
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 shows are 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.
Sea Lion & Otter Spotlight is fast paced, funny and very popular so make sure you get there early for a good seat!
Dolphin Adventure features the swift and playful dolphins and pilot whales.
SeaWorld San Diego Tips for Watching Shows
- The “Soak Zone” is the area closest to the tanks. Guests seated in the soak zone will get very wet. If you plan sit in the soak zone protect your belongings from water exposure.
- Show times often overlap so I definitely recommend choosing your must-do shows ahead of time.
- Make sure you get to show stadiums early. At least 20 minutes early is ideal, if you want the best seat. 30 minutes before show time is even better on busy days.
- 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.
SeaWorld San Diego Rides
Sea World has always been the place for unique interactions with marine life. With the addition of several new rides, Sea World San Diego is a place for mild and wild thrills as well!
SeaWorld offers low thrill kid’s rides, high thrill roller coasters, and water rides. Keep reading for SeaWorld San Diego tips about all the rides and attractions at the park.
Thrill Rides at SeaWorld San Diego
Shipwreck Rapids (Must be 42″ tall; 48″ minimum height to ride alone) – This mild thrill takes guests on a white water rapid ride. This is a super soaker attraction and you will get wet!
Journey to Atlantis (Must be 42″ tall; 48″ minimum height to ride alone) – This flume ride offers a daring 60-foot drop.
Arctic Rescue (48″ minimum height) – A fast straddle coaster ride that looks like a snowmobile. This smooth roller coaster takes guests on a high speed ride up to 40 miles per hour.
Emperor (52″ minimum height) – This floorless dive coaster plunges 90 degrees after dangling guests precipitously. High speeds up to 60 miles per hour make this ride only for the most daring!
Manta (48″ minimum height) – This exciting roller coaster takes guests over the manta ray and flamingo exhibits.
Electric Eel (54″ minimum height) – Multiple inversions and loops make this high speed ride the most intense attraction at SeaWorld San Diego. Even my very brave junior high kid said it was wildly intense!
Best Rides for Kids at SeaWorld San Diego
In addition to the high thrill rides there are some really fun attractions for younger kids, too. The descriptions outline height requirements, locations, and details about each attraction.
Explorer’s Garden area
Octarock (Must be 31″ tall; 36″ minimum height to ride alone) – A swinging bench rocks gently forward and back.
Aqua Scout (No minimum height; Must be 40″ tall) – Mini submarines bounce up and down in this toddler-friendly attraction.
Tentacle Twirl (Must be 40″ tall; 48″ minimum height to ride alone) – Jellyfish themed swings that rise and dip.
Seadragon Drop (No minimum height; 42″ minimum height to ride alone) – Mini rise and drop tower attraction.
Rescue Jr. area
Rescue Rafter (No minimum height; 42″ minimum height to ride alone) – Guests sit in a boat that rocks and turns in a circle.
Tide Pool Twist (No minimum height; 42″ minimum height to ride alone) – Individual vehicles spin independently on a spinning platform.
Rescue Riders (No minimum height; 48″ minimum height to ride alone) – Classic spinning ride with knob to control up and down motion.
Shark Encounter area
Riptide Rescue (45″ minimum height to ride alone) – Spinning ride that’s swift moving and fun for older kids.
SeaWorld attractions with an additional charge
Sky Tower (No minimum height; 48″ minimum height to ride alone) – Riders get an overview of all San Diego, from the downtown skyline to the Pacific ocean. There is an additional charge for guests aged 3+.
Bayside Skyride (No minimum height; 56″ minimum height to ride alone) – These smooth gondolas offer a stunning view of Mission Bay as they glide over the water. There is an additional entrance fee for this attraction, for guests aged 3+.
SeaWorld San Diego Tips for Rides
Measure your kid’s height
SeaWorld rides have height restrictions to be aware of before your trip. Some attractions require young children to reach a certain height and also be accompanied by a chaperone. Ride signage will explain the details at the height requirement markers, located next to each attraction.
Arrive early for shorter ride wait times
If you have younger children who enjoy rides, head for the kid’s attractions first thing after opening. Rides in the Explorer’s Garden and Rescue Jr. areas will have shorter queues in the morning.
How to Skip the Lines at SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld offers a front-of-the-line access pass called Quick Queue. This priority boarding access is available for select rides around the park.
Simply purchase the upgrade to a regular SeaWorld ticket online, through the app or in the park.
SeaWorld San Diego Tips for Toddlers and Preschoolers
The following sections will discuss height restrictions for young children, best rides and other important things to know before you go.
SeaWorld San Diego with Kids – Height Requirements
My advice is to measure the height of kids before you leave home. Compare your child’s height to the SeaWorld San Diego height requirements, then plan your itinerary from there.
View the height restriction section for details on attractions.
What Can Babies Do at SeaWorld San Diego?
Many of the attractions in the Rescue Jr. and Explorer’s Garden sections are appropriate for babies. Handheld infants are not permitted to ride. View the height requirement section to see which rides do not have minimum heights.
There is a soft play area in SeaWorld Rescue Jr. that’s reserved only for babies and toddlers.
Baby Care Centers
There are several semi-private, indoor nursing stations in the theme park.
Restrooms and Potty Training
Family bathrooms are available throughout SeaWorld San Diego. Look for changing tables in all restrooms.
Rent a stroller for the day at Guest Services inside the park. Guests may also bring their own stroller or wagon into SeaWorld San Diego.
Rescue Jr. Kids Play Area at SeaWorld San Diego
Even if you never go on a single ride at SeaWorld San Diego, there’s enough to keep kids entertained throughout the day.
Sesame Street Bay of Play has been rethemed and renamed. This all-new play area is now called SeaWorld Rescue Jr.. This is the place to let little ones burn off some energy.
Here’s what you’ll find within Rescue Jr.:
- Several family rides aimed at the younger set.
- Climbing ropes and overhead walkways.
- Soft-play area for babies and toddlers.
- Splash pad.
- Cash-play carnival games and an arcade.
Free SeaWorld San Diego Admission for Kids in October
If you plan on a fall trip, this one of the BEST money saving tips for SeaWorld San Diego. Each October in San Diego, many area theme parks and restaurants offer FREE admission and entertainment for kids!
SeaWorld is a participant in this special offer every year for complimentary kids admission with adult purchase of SeaWorld San Diego tickets. Find out how you can redeem your kid’s free offer on this article, Kids FREE in San Diego for October.
Aquariums at SeaWorld San Diego
The indoor aquariums at SeaWorld are a great break from the thrill rides and presentations. Another bonus is that these spaces are air conditioned, so these aquariums are a nice location in hot weather.
Enter Turtle Reef and see these gentle giants floating inside a floor-to-ceiling tank.
One of the most amazing attractions at SeaWorld San Diego is Shark Encounter.
After viewing the sharks from above, guests journey through a tunnel that transports them right into the shark tank! As sharks float above and around, you’ll be thrilled and terrified all at the same time!
Get close to real arctic animals like walrus, harbor seals, and beluga whales. This is a favorite area of SeaWorld park to view the graceful belugas both above and below the water.
A can’t miss feature inside Wild Arctic is the ice wall. Guests can run their hands across the smooth ice for a real feel of arctic life!
A visit to the Penguin Encounter is a must (it’s also my most favorite place inside SeaWorld!). A long moving sidewalk takes you through the exhibit where you can view nearly 400 penguins in action.
Guests love watching the penguins swim quickly underwater, then propel themselves straight out to land on the rocks! There’s a stationary platform in an upper section of the exhibit to continue viewing this mix of penguins.
Where to Get Wet at SeaWorld San Diego
In a themed marine park, water naturally becomes a highlight! There are plenty of rides and experiences here in which guests can cool down or get completely soaked in the summer months. These are the SeaWorld San Diego tips about getting wet.
SeaWorld Water Rides
- Journey to Atlantis – Classic water flume ride with a steep drop and splash of a finale.
- Shipwreck Rapids – This is a super soaker attraction. From the white water rapids ride, waterfalls, and overhead spray, you will get wet!
- Explorer’s Reef
- Bat Ray Shallows
Splash Zones at SeaWorld San Diego Shows
Each of the stadium shows have a designated “splash zone”. Guests sitting close to the tanks at the presentations have an excellent chance of getting extremely wet.
Be aware of the splash zone seats and only sit here if you’re okay with a head-to-toe soaking!
SeaWorld Splash Pad
The Rescue Jr. area has a basic splash pad for kids to play in the fountains. Bring a spare outfit and a towel. Have children wear water-resistant shoes with good traction to prevent slipping.
Things to Know About Getting Wet at SeaWorld
It’s most ideal to pack your own extra clothing when you know you might get wet at SeaWorld. Crocs or flip-flops are shoes that dry quickly.
For guests that don’t have a change of clothes, many of the gift shops sell t-shirts, sweatshirts, and pants for adults and children.
For guests that get soaked, there are convenient drying stations. Purchase a warm air, full-body drying for a nominal fee.
If you know you’ll be getting wet, bring protective coverings for electronic devices. A waterproof phone pouch is an excellent investment for keeping electronics dry.
Additionally, there are locker rentals near many of the attractions. Place phones and other valuables in a rented locker for the day.
All touch pool areas have handwashing stations nearby. It’s encouraged to soap, rinse, and heat dry hands after touching the sea life.
Dining at SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld has many choices for dining, including smokehouse ribs, tacos, pizza, and burgers. All meals are quick-service, offering fast food type meals. Dine with Orcas is the exception, as reservations are required to this special dining experience.
SeaWorld offers a reasonably priced All-Day Dining Deal for guests. This includes dining at six of their popular restaurants for the entire day you spend at the park. Read more about this dining add-on further in this article.
Is Alcohol Available at SeaWorld San Diego?
Alcoholic beverages are served at most dining locations throughout the theme park. In addition, there are walk-up bars offering craft beers, cocktails, and wine.
Best Places to Eat at SeaWorld
Hibisco Tacos – While the tacos served here are more of the small, street taco variety, the carne asada burrito is large and share-worthy. Don’t miss the salsa bar, with all varieties of sauces to top your tacos.
Calypso Bay Smokehouse – A favorite dining spot that’s hard to resist when you smell the barbeque ribs and chicken! Ideal for families looking to maximize their All-Day Dining Plan.
Shipwreck Reef Cafe – A more extensive menu that includes grilled salmon and BBQ ribs. The outdoor dining area is enjoyable.
Explorer’s Cafe – Traditional theme park fare of burgers and chicken tenders with fries. An extensive topping bar makes this a great stop for guests to personalize their dishes.
Is the SeaWorld All-Day Dining Deal Worth the Cost?
SeaWorld encourages families to purchase their All-Day Dining Deal. This special can be pre-purchased online or through the app, or at the register. If you’re looking to save on the cost of food during vacation, this is a viable option and one of the best SeaWorld San Diego tips.
These are a few ways to maximize the All-Day Dining Deal at SeaWorld:
Order food every 90 minutes – The all-day dining plan permits guests to order an one entrée, their choice of either one side dish OR dessert, plus one non-alcoholic beverage.
To maximize the cost, keep track of the time. Take note of the time on the printed receipt, then create a calendar reminder on your phone for 90 minutes later. Every 90 minutes, pick up a meal at the nearest participating restaurant.
Share Meals – Guests are not required to purchase a dining plan for each person in your group. Buy one and share food as you wish. Most of the meals are easy to share, including burritos and chicken tenders with fries.
What is Dine With Orcas at SeaWorld?
A unique dining option at SeaWorld San Diego is Dine with Orcas. Guests eat alongside the orca tank while SeaWorld’s animal behavioralists discuss the whales. This experience is no a part of the All-Day Dining Plan and requires advance dining reservations (made online before your trip).
The food is a buffet-type meal with a variety of delicious dishes on the menu. My family enjoyed our meal here immensely! Read more Sea World San Diego tips in this article, SeaWorld San Diego Dine with Orcas
Tips for SeaWorld San Diego Souvenir Shopping
The many shops at SeaWorld offer a number of themed souvenirs of your San Diego vacation. The prices for items are high, so be sure to budget if you plan to visit the gift shops.
Popular SeaWorld souvenir items are t-shirts and hoodies, water bottles, marine-life inspired plush, and bubble wands.
Items to purchase before your trip
- Water-resistant Sunscreen
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Refillable Water bottle, like this CamelBak Eddy+ Kids Water Bottle in a shark design
- Jacket or hoodie
Hotels Near SeaWorld San Diego
There aren’t any hotels within walking distance of SeaWorld San Diego. The Hotel Circle area in Mission Valley, Mission Bay, Mission Beach, and downtown San Diego are nearby locations.
Bahia Resort Hotel – This Mission Bay location is upscale with an awesome pool area. Some rooms have a complete kitchenette for preparing budget-friendly meals. (2 miles from SeaWorld San Diego).
Catamaran Resort – Located just across the street from Mission Beach, this gem offers spacious rooms for families. (3.5 miles from SeaWorld).
Holiday Inn Express San Diego Mission Valley – Near many of the San Diego attractions, this hotel offers guests a free hot breakfast. (5 miles from SeaWorld).
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.
SeaWorld San Diego Tips for Visiting Nearby Destinations
SeaWorld San Diego is located in Mission Valley, within San Diego county. There are a variety of other nearby attractions to add on when visiting the area. These are a few additional tips:
Rent a Car – If you’re planning on visiting multiple SoCal destinations, it’s highly recommended to rent a car. A personal vehicle is the easiest way to navigate the San Diego area.
Use Public Transportation – The trolley is great for public transportation in and around downtown San Diego, but doesn’t go near SeaWorld. If staying downtown, take the trolley to Mission Valley, then use ride share like Uber or Lyft to get to SeaWorld.
Map Out Attractions – View locations on a map before adding them into your vacation itinerary. Freeway traffic can be a major issue in the Southern California, adding hours to your commute.
Drive During Off-Times – Aim to drive after 9:00 am and before 2:00 pm for most ideal freeway conditions. Even so, use an app to receive traffic updates of the best driving routes to avoid issues on the road.
Click the links below for additional tips on visiting each location:
- San Diego Zoo in downtown San Diego – 7.5 miles from SeaWorld San Diego
- Sesame Place in Chula Vista – 24 miles from SeaWorld San Diego
- LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad – 30 miles from SeaWorld San Diego
- Disneyland Resort in Anaheim- 90 miles from SeaWorld San Diego
Bundle Amusement Park Tickets to Save!
Purchase theme park tickets in a single transaction and save money. The helpful agents at Get Away Today can assist with getting the best pricing on a Southern California vacation. When tickets are purchased together, they will automatically discount the bundle.
Want to save even more? Use code REWRITTEN on any SoCal vacation hotel and ticket package of two or more days. Mention over the phone or use on the Get Away Today website for an additional savings!
SeaWorld San Diego Special Events
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.
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.