Planning a trip to San Diego?
SeaWorld San Diego has been one of San Diego's top attractions for families for 50 years. Recent controversy has caused some families to re-think plans to visit the park. However, if you support zoos and aquariums, and you enjoy theme parks, don't be too quick to write off SeaWorld.
I have visited SeaWorld San Diego with my family a few times in recent years, including a behind-the-scenes tour. My last visit was a couple of months ago. Here are my favorite attractions, along with all my tips for making the most of your day at SeaWorld San Diego.
Ways to Save
There are always deals available for SeaWorld. Here are several ways that you can find discount SeaWorld tickets.
- Visit SeaWorld's official website to see current offers.
- Bundle your hotel and San Diego theme park admissions for the best possible price through Get Away Today Vacations. Get my exclusive coupon code at the end of this post.
- Save 29% at SeaWorld, Disneyland and LEGOLAND with Southern California CityPASS. Learn more about CityPASS HERE.
- Active duty military get in free with their families.
You haven't really visited SeaWorld until you've seen at least a couple of the shows. Pick up a show schedule as soon as you arrive – or find it online in advance – and plan your day around the shows you want to see most.
The dolphin, sea lion and pet shows are light and fun, with lots of energy and humor. They change seasonally. Clyde and Seamore's sea lion show is my favorite, but just by a nose. The Dolphin show is high-flying, fast paced fun.
Pets Rule is the best kept secret at SeaWorld. In this show, rescued dogs, cats and other pets perform all kinds of fun stunts that my cat would never even consider.
The traditional killer whale show at SeaWorld San Diego is gone. The park has overhauled its orca presentations and habitat, and everything is new since 2017. Look for a new, more natural opportunities to see SeaWorld's famous whales in action and up close.
The first time my family visited SeaWorld San Diego, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and abundance of its aquarium exhibits. SeaWorld is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), so it's an aquarium and theme park in one.
SeaWorld's main aquarium exhibits include Shark Encounter, Penguin Encounter and Turtle Reef. Shark Encounter has a tunnel where you can go inside the shark aquarium and admire the sharks and other fish from every angle. Turtle Encounter is nearly as immersive, with floor-to-ceiling views of sea turtles and other colorful marine life.
Wild Arctic is a ride and exhibit in one, though you can skip the thrill ride if you prefer. The ride is a simulated helicopter adventure – similar to Star Tours at Disneyland. Afterward, explore the underwater viewing for beluga whales, walrus and polar bears. This was possibly my family's favorite SeaWorld exhibit overall.
The first exhibit visitors will see at San Diego is Explorer's Reef – a series of touch ponds where families can get truly hands-on with small bamboo sharks and cleaner fish. Hold your hand still for a few moments in the cleaner fish pool and you'll soon have a swarm of the tiny fish nibbling on your fingers. It tickles! This exhibit is just as fun for me as for my kids, though I think my teen daughter had the most fun.
Rides and Playgrounds
SeaWorld San Diego doesn't have as many rides as most theme parks, but its coasters are the most thrilling in San Diego. SeaWorld San Diego has five thrill rides, including coasters and water rides. Height requirements are 42-48 inches, depending on the ride.
This was the year that both my kids (ages 9 and 12) were old enough to want to ride the coasters. We hit the Manta first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. We walked right on to the ride and were pleasantly surprised to find that we didn't wait more than 15 minutes for any ride, all day. It was fantastic!
The Manta is a stomach-churning masterpiece of a coaster. Definitely my family's favorite thrill ride. Journey to Atlantis is a thrilling coaster/log flume hybrid. Skytower and Bayside Skyride are calmer rides that both offer outstanding views of San Diego.
For younger children, check out the Sesame Street Bay of Play. There is a big play zone here with a splash pad and rides for younger children. Look for photo ops with your favorite Sesame Street characters.
Behind the scenes
Did you know that SeaWorld San Diego rescues hundreds of wild animals from local coastlines each year? The sea lion in the photo below was one of several I saw on a behind-the-scenes tour at SeaWorld that were recovering from life-threatening injuries often caused by debris lost by humans in the ocean.
When an injured animal is found, SeaWorld Rescue is alerted and sends a truck to help. If necessary, the animal is transported back to SeaWorld where it will be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. The SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund has donated more than $11 million to conservation efforts worldwide.
What about Blackfish?
The allegations made by the documentary Blackfish about the condition of killer whales at SeaWorld are alarming. However, documentaries like this one always leave me wondering if there is more to the story.
I talked to trainers, animal rescuers, veterinarians, scientists and others. They all said the same thing: “This is my dream job. I have worked with these animals for years. I love them and care about their welfare.” Link to SeaWorld's official side of the story here.
I believe that there are legitimate arguments on both sides of this problem, and no simple solution. I like the changes that SeaWorld is making. As always, you need to make the decision that is right for your family.
Good to Know
Where: 500 Sea World Drive, San Diego, California
When: San Diego's year-round sunshine makes SeaWorld a great year-round destination. Hours vary depending on season. Check SeaWorld's website to see the park hours and show schedule during your visit. Arrive early to beat the crowds.
How Much: Regular price for a single-day ticket is currently about $90, but SeaWorld frequently offers deep discounts on its official website and trusted partners. Check the Ways to Save section above for more ways to save money on SeaWorld tickets.
How Long: One full day was enough for us, but it's not enough time to do everything.
Amenities: dining, gift shops, restrooms, charging station, wheelchair and stroller-friendly.
Disclosure: My family received complimentary admission to SeaWorld San Diego on our most recent visit for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own.
Planning a trip to San Diego?
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.