We recently visited San Diego, California for the first time and one our favorite things to do was watch the seals and sea lions. So today I'm going to share with you our tips on the best places and ways to view them while you are in San Diego, including tips for the San Diego SEAL Tour.
My name is Bryanna and my husband and our 4 kids and 2 dogs sold our house in May 2014 and have been living, working, and traveling full time in our RV around North America ever since. We call it our Crazy Family Adventure. I am super excited to be here and look forward to sharing our adventures and tips for the places we visit and RVing/camping tips!
Here are our top tips for spotting seals and sea lions in San Diego.
Seal vs. Sea Lion
You can't come to San Diego and NOT see the seals. Or are they sea lions? We had no idea what the difference was until we visited San Diego and kept hearing people use both names. So which ones are they?!
Here is the easiest explanation: If they have large flippers, bark loudly, you can see their ear flaps and they are brown, they are sea lions. If they have small flippers, you can't see their ear flaps, and they wriggle on their bellies when on land, it is a seal.
So BIG ears, flippers, and voice means sea lion (the word is bigger so use that to remember). Small means small flippers, small or no ear flaps, small to the ground since they wriggle on their belly equals seal – which is the smaller word.
Now when you go to San Diego to see the Seals or Sea Lions you will know which is which and will be able to impress your fellow visitors!
There are a couple of options for seeing the seals and sea lions in the San Diego area. The first decision you want to make is whether to see them on land or on the ocean? Or both?
Related: Best Beaches in San Diego for Families
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is the best place to see seals and sea Lions from land. I recommend the Children's Pool section. Yes, that is really what it is called. They originally built the sea wall with the intention of it being a Children's Pool, but things don't always go as planned and the wildlife has taken over!
You are able to walk out on the sea wall at the Children's Pool and I highly recommend that you do that. Be careful with young kids since the railings have large openings.
You will be able to get up close and personal with the seals without disturbing them from the sea wall. I think they are pretty used to people staring at them all day and they didn't seem to mind at all.
I guarantee you will stand there for longer then you think just watching them lay there, then quickly wiggle out of the way as the water comes closer, or fight over an open spot. It was also really cool to watch the seals swim up out of the ocean and on to land to find a spot. We even got to see some adorable pups!
After the Children's Pool, walk around the beautiful La Jolla coastline to see seals and sea lions on random rocks or swimming out in the ocean. I understand that it is basically impossible not to see at least one seal or sea lion when you visit La Jolla, plus the views are pretty amazing too!
Related: Tips for Visiting La Jolla Cove with Kids
San Diego SEAL Tours
If you are looking for an opportunity to get out on the water when you are in San Diego the Historic Tours of America SEAL Tour is a great route to go. On the SEAL Tour you get on to a boat that has wheels and is on land. Yup, you read that right.
The SEAL Tour is done on a boat that can drive on land and right into the water. How cool is that! Everyone will enjoy the excitement of driving around downtown San Diego and then right into the ocean.
The tour guide teaches you all about the area and throws in some family friendly humor s you drive around downtown San Diego. You most likely won't see any seals or sea lions during this time.
Once you get to the ocean the boat safely drives down an incline and straight into the water and off you go. The boat captain knows of a great place to take you where there are almost always seals and sea lions.
It does take time to get there. While you wait, the tour guide talks about all of the buildings and the history of the area. It was really fascinating and cool to hear. Everyone is also on the lookout for dolphins. Unfortunately, we didn't see any dolphins on our trip.
Once you reach the area where seals and sea lions normally hang out, the boat will drive super close to the platform where they are all sun bathe. If you aren't on that side of the boat, never fear, because the boat will turn around so both sides get an awesome shot of the seals just hanging out.
It was a cool experience getting to see them while we were on a boat in the water and we got super close to them! Plus we learned a lot about San Diego. Riding in a boat on land made it a memorable trip and one I definitely recommend.
There you have it! By land or water you can see these amazing creatures living their life in their own habitat. I recommend both Children's Pool and the San Diego SEAL Tour, if you have the time. As crazy as it sounds, you really won't get bored watching these beautiful animals lounge around all day long!
Related: Tips for Visiting the San Diego Zoo
Good To Know
- Children's Pool Beach: 850 Coast Blvd La Jolla, California
- San Diego SEAL Tours begin in two locations: Seaport Village (470 Kettner Boulevard) and Embarcadero (1004 North Harbor Drive).
When: Seals and sea lions live in San Diego year round, so any time is good! Temperatures are cooler in the winter, especially on the water, so dress accordingly.
- There is no charge to visit La Jolla Cove and Children's Pool Beach
- SEAL Tours are $42 for adults. You can save a few dollars if you buy online in advance. Check the official website for current pricing for adults and children.
- 1+ hours at La Jolla Cove and Children's Pool
- The San Diego SEAL Tour is 90 minutes.
- Restrooms and showers are available at Children's Pool. There is no parking lot, but you can park in downtown La Jolla and walk if you cannot find a metered space.
- There are no bathrooms on the SEAL Tours. You may bring food and drinks on the boat. SEAL Tours begin and end in busy tourist areas, filled with all the services you are likely to need before or after your tour.
Disclosure: We received a complimentary trip from Historic Tours of America SEAL Tour for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own.
How else can we help?
We recommend booking your San Diego trip with Get Away Today. Find a cheaper vacation package? They’ll beat the price by $10. Learn more about our partnership with Get Away Today here.
ANYTIME! Save $25 on any San Diego vacation package of 2 nights or more that includes 2 tickets (San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, etc) when you use the coupon code SDFamily.
Need a place to stay? Allison has stayed at Catamaran Resort and Hyatt Regency Mission Bay, which are both family friendly and located near popular San Diego attractions. Check rates and read reviews at TripAdvisor.com .
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