Sea World San Diego

Sea World San Diego Visitor Guide

Watching a Show at Sea World
©2010 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Sea World San Diego, California is a medium-sized park, easy to walk across, with rides, animal exhibits, and shows. There are few thrills, and the animal acts are somewhat predictable, but it's still fun.

Sea World San Diego Basics

Sea World San Diego is one of a chain of theme parks of the same name, focused on the ocean and its creatures.

Sea World San Diego seems to appeal to almost everyone, especially families. However, if you're looking for thrill rides, this isn't the place to find them. It seems obvious, but we'll say it anyway. If you object to animals in captivity, Sea World San Diego isn't the place for you.

Sea World San Diego is open year round, with longer hours and nightly fireworks shows in the summer. During October, they have special Halloween shows, and at year's end, there's a Christmas celebration.

Sea World San Diego Review

We rate Sea World San Diego 4 stars out of 5. I always go thinking it's just the same old animal shows, but by the time I leave, I've always had a good time.

Good and Bad at Sea World San Diego

This is a summary of its good and bad characteristics, based on our visits and reading lots of online reviews.


  • One of the cleanest and best-maintained California theme parks
  • Lots of fun shows and ways to interact with the animals
  • Except for a few rides, lines are seldom extremely long


  • Can be hot-hot-hot in mid-summer, with little shade
  • Unnecessary, extra charge for Skytower and Skyride
  • If you are sensitive to seeing animals in captivity, this is not the place for you

More Opinions About Sea World

  • Tripadvisor reviewers give it an average of 4 out of 5. A few quotes: "SeaWorld is probably the best time we had on our vacation." "The park was so clean, well organized and park staff so nice and helpful."
  • Yelp reviewers rate it lower at 3.5 out of 5. Those who rate it lower complain about small animal enclosures say some of the rides are mediocre or think it's too commercial.
  • Tripsavvy's  Theme Parks Guide says: "It used to be that the most thrilling thing that guests could expect at the park was getting doused by Shamu in the show stadium's splash zone. Coasters such as Manta and Journey to Atlantis, however, now offer considerable thrills." 

    What's New at Sea World San Diego in 2019

    After opening a 3-acre area called Ocean Explorer in 2018, new things at Sea World slow down. In May, look for the new Tidal Twister, a  dueling roller coaster which Sea World says is first of its kind in the world.

    Accelerating to 30 mph, riders will twist and bank as if they are riding the tide along a tight figure-8 track that includes dynamic Zero-G roll at the center section.

    Two trains, holding 16 passengers each, load at opposite ends of the figure-8 and cross in the center with guests facing both forward and backward on the trains. A lower-height requirement (48") makes this a perfect ride for younger guests and families.

    Ocean Explorer, 2018

    Ocean Explorer included multiple aquariums, five new rides, and digital technologies. The signature attraction is Submarine Quest, with visitors traveling in mini-submarines to see and study undersea animals. Other attractions include swing ride where guests fly through thousands of real bubbles in chairs suspended from the tentacles of a giant jellyfish and a new roller coaster called The Electric Eel will be the tallest, and fastest roller coaster in the California park’s history.

    Sea World San Diego A Skeptic's Review

    Dolphin Interaction at Sea World San Diego

    This review is from Monica Bourne, my travel companion, and writing partner. She didn't want to go to Sea World, but I sent her there anyway, so you can get her perspective on the experience. Here's what she had to say:

    You watch one documentary, and you think you know it all, but like anything else you're only getting one side of the story.

    I'm a passionate animal lover, and sensitive to animals in captivity - and I had seen a documentary about killer whales. I went into Sea World biased and thought I knew everything.

    By the time I left, I had changed my mind. If you're a skeptic like me, the things I learned from my San Diego SeaWorld experience may help you decide whether this is the place for you - or not.

    What I Learned Sea World

    I was lucky to get a chance to interact one on one with dolphins and a beluga whale during my visit. It was clear that the animal trainers love what they do. These people are passionate about the care and comfort of all the animals and would never work in a place that mistreated or didn't care properly for their animals. Every single trainer I came in contact with had a huge smile on their face, loved the animals as their own and were willing to answer all my questions.

    The dolphins at Sea World were born in captivity or rescued. They wouldn't be able to manage life in the open ocean, but they thrive at SeaWorld with care, comfort and spacious living spaces.

    Sea World also works with foundations like Make A Wish. On the day I went, a little girl's wish was to kiss a dolphin and swim with them. SeaWorld provided that opportunity for her and her family. Where else would this sweet girl have been able to make her dream come true?

    San Diego SeaWorld has an Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program. Since the late 1960's, they have rescued/rehabilitated over 15,000 animals. Last year alone, SeaWorld’s Rescue Team cared for 257 ill, injured and stranded marine mammals including California sea lions, elephant seals, harbor seals, dolphins and blue whales. 

    SeaWorld is part of the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which works directly with National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The NMFS uses guidelines to determine whether rescued animals can return to the wild. If a release isn't possible, NMFS decides whether the animal remains at SeaWorld or would be better off at another facility.

    They've launched The Blue World Project. This project includes the expansion of the killer whale habitats, nearly doubling the size of the current killer whale environment. It also includes the commitment for killer whale research and focusing on ocean health.

    More Thoughts About Sea World

    San Diego SeaWorld is very environmentally friendly. They've eliminated all polystyrene tableware and flatware in restaurants and employee cafeterias. They use a compostable material for all of their meal and drink items, even down to the straws. Which is something I haven't seen at any other theme park.

    If you enjoy being educated about the animals and want to try a show, but still feel unsure about it, sit towards the back rows so that you can exit discreetly.

    All in all, I'm glad I gave SeaWorld the chance to change my mind and teach me things I wouldn't have known.

    Sea World San Diego Tickets

    Buying Sea World San Diego Tickets
    ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    Sea World tickets are available at the gate. All you have to do is go there, walk up to the ticket booth, buy tickets and go in. There's nothing wrong with that. It's easy, and the lines usually aren't too long. Of course, you'll pay full price for the convenience.

    If you take a little time to plan ahead - and especially if you're planning on visiting other San Diego attractions - you can save some money.

    All ticket options, passes, discounts and coupons are in the Sea World San Diego tickets guide.

    Be a Smart Sea World San Diego Visitor

    Selling Hats and Sunscreen to Unprepared Visitors
    ©2010 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Know Before You Go to Sea World

    • Don't carry too much. You have to drag every ounce around all day. Leave the library card, car wash coupons and other things you don't need at home. It will lighten the load, and in the unlikely event that you lose your wallet, you won't have to replace them all.
    • Wear comfortable shoes and quick-drying clothing. The sunniest days are no time to be showing off those thighs: wear light-colored trousers that end below the knee to keep them from cooking while you're waiting to see the shows.
    • If you want to sit in the "splash zones" at the shows, zippered plastic bags can keep salt water out of your electronic goodies.
    • Bring hats, sunglasses and WATERPROOF sunscreen, any time of year. If you're wearing sandals, apply sunscreen to the tops of your feet or risk getting a strap-shaped tan line. Don't forget something for your lips, too.
    • Bring warmer clothing for the evening, even in summer.
    • If you're traveling with kids, they're likely to get wet. A change of clothing, down to the socks and shoes can be welcome, and swimsuits are a good idea for kids' water play at Bay of Play.
    • Allow six hours or more if you plan to do a lot of things.
    • Spring or fall are the best times to go. The park is busiest in summer, and when it can be so hot that you'll want to jump in with Shamu to cool off.

    For Your Day at Sea World

    • Shows fill up most any time. Get there a little early to get the best seats. Lower rows at most shows get wet. Color-coded seats claim to be the "splash zone," but you can tell from the water on the ground where the danger lies.
    • On hot days, sitting in the sun waiting for the shows can cook your skin until it's more well done than your lunch. Save indoor attractions for the hottest part of the day.
    • Bring something to amuse the kids (and adults, too) while standing in line or waiting for a show.
    • Set the kids' expectations. If they're less than 48 inches tall, there are restrictions. Young'uns 42 to 48 inches tall need an adult with them. If they're shorter than 42 inches, they're limited to just a few rides and need an adult along - and they must be 58 inches or taller to ride the SkyTower and Skyride alone.
    • Food inside the park is less expensive than at some theme parks, and Cafe 64 offers the healthiest choices. You can't bring food in, but you can bring snacks or have a tailgate picnic outside.
    • You can rent strollers or bring your own, but they can't go inside most exhibits and attractions.

    Special Needs at Sea World San Diego

    • Sea World San Diego operates a kennel for a small fee. Bring your own food and water dishes and get there early: it's strictly first to come, first-served.
    • Assistive-listening devices and disabled access are available. Assistance animals are welcome. ASL interpretation is provided once a month.

    Things to Do at Sea World San Diego: Rides, Shows and Other Attractions

    Getting Wet During a Sea World Show
    ©2010 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Pick up a map at the information center inside the Sea World San Diego gate. It not only shows what's where, but it also lists showtimes on the back. Use it to plan your other activities around the shows. On a busy day, get to the shows 30 minutes early to get a good seat.

    Rides at Sea World San Diego

    • Manta: This roller coaster ride takes you through the sky - and underwater.
    • Shipwreck Rapids: White-water adventure ride
    • Wild Arctic: Simulated jet helicopter trip to the Arctic. Non-moving seats available
    • Journey to Atlantis: Roller coaster/water ride, guaranteed to get you wet
    • Riptide Rescue: An airboat ride with a sea turtle rescue story line
    • Skytower: Nice views from a 265-foot tower

    Other rides in Sesame Street Bay of Play are designed for younger children. They include Abby's Sea Star Spin, Oscar's Rocking Eel, and Elmo's Flying Fish, named (you guessed it) for Sesame Street characters.

    Shows at Sea World San Diego

    • The Orca Encounter: Intended to be both entertaining and educational, this seasonal show gives a behind-the-scenes look into training sessions, the story of Shamu and killer whales in general.
    • Chinese Acrobats of Hebei: With colorful costumes and acrobatics, it's a little like the circus meets the sea.
    • Dolphin Days: High-flying dolphins, pilot whales, and acrobats.
    • Pets Rule!: The world from pets' point of view.
    • Sea Lions Live: TV and music spoof performed by the sea lion comedy team, Clyde, and Seamore. The trio also does an evening show called Sea Lions Tonight.
    • Sea Rescues: This film tells the stories of marine animal rescue, rehabilitation and returns to the wild by the dedicated SeaWorld Rescue Team.
    • Fireworks: Nightly in summer

    Other Sea World San Diego Attractions

    • Animal Presentations: Learn about the critters from their trainers
    • Animal Interaction: Pet a bat ray, feed dolphins, seals, and sea lions or touch tide pool creatures. Check the map for times
    • Animal Viewing: At the aquariums, Wonders of the River, Shark Encounter, Penguin Encounter and Forbidden Reef
    • Sesame Street Bay of Play: An over-the-top playground that makes me wish I was still little enough to romp in it

    Extra-Cost Experiences at Sea World San Diego

    These special experiences include behind-the-scenes tours, one-on-one animal interactions and they require reservations and extra fees. You can find more info at the Sea World website. They also offer resident adventure camps, day camps, and family sleepovers.

    Interactive Animal Experiences

    Beluga Encounter at Sea World San Diego

    Did you ever want to kiss a Beluga Whale or dance with a Dolphin? Here's how you can do that at Sea World San Diego. They offer several encounters and interactions with their most beloved animals.

    I was fortunate enough to participate in a few, and I love how much I learned from the trainers. And my friends were all envious of the great photos I posted afterward.

    Advance purchase is required for these experiences. They aren't included in the basic ticket price, reservations are limited and fill up quickly. For all animal encounters and interactions, you need to arrive early and be ready for some fun.

    Take a DIP: The Dolphin Interaction Program allows you to get in the water one on one with dolphins. You will meet, touch, feed and take a ride with dolphins. The trainers teach you to communicate using hand signals, play and educate you on these amazing creatures. 

    Be ready for the camera!  A professional Sea World Photographer photographs the whole interaction, and you can buy the photos at the end of your experience. That doesn't mean Grandma can't take pictures of you, too, but the quality, clarity, and closeness of the SeaWorld photographer is stunning - and worth the money to capture that special moment you had in the water with your new dolphin friend. Time spent about 1 1/2- 2 hours

    Dolphin Encounter: If you want to get close to the dolphins, but not get in the water, the Dolphin Encounter is for you. You will still be able to feed, touch and communicate with the dolphins. Photographs will be taken by a Sea World Photographer. Time spent about 15 mins. 

    Beluga Encounter: The up close and personal Beluga encounter, allows you to feed, play and communicate with these fascinating but funny-looking white whales. Trainers teach the history, conservation, and training of these beautiful creatures.

    This is a great personal experience that you can enjoy without getting into a wetsuit and standing in freezing water.

    Be prepared to get wet, though, and to smell like fish after you hug, kiss and dance with a Beluga. After this experience you may feel like I did, I wanted to have a Beluga whale in my pool at home so I could hug him every day. Photographs are taken by a SeaWorld Photographer. Time spent 30 min

    Beluga Interaction Program: If you have ever wanted to swim side by side with a whale, this is the place to do it. The Beluga Interaction Program offers the experience of getting in the water to feed, play and communicate with these warm-hearted creatures of the cold Arctic. Wetsuits and towels are provided. SeaWorld Photographer will take amazing photos of your rare one of a kind experience. Time spent 1 1/2-2 hours.

    Tips For Interactions and Encounters

    • Arrive 15 mins before your scheduled time. This allows you to check in and fill out paperwork, and not delay the rest of your group.
    •  Wetsuits are provided for in-water interactions, but bathing suits are not. If you arrive dressed in your bathing suit, it will save you time - and discomfort if you're uncomfortable changing in an open locker room.
    • Wear sunscreen. Even though your body may be covered in a wetsuit, your face isn't, and you'll be in the direct sun with lots of reflections from the water. 
    • For interactions in the water, be honest when asked about your height and weight. They aren't just nosey. The information helps them choose your wetsuit size properly and ensured the safety of all participants
    • Check the details before you go. Most of the encounters and Interactions have height and age requirements. On the day I attended, a little girl was unable to participate because she was too young and short. 
    • Be patient. You may be really excited for your turn to get a kiss from that cute dolphin, but you must also listen to the trainers. What they are telling you will help you have the best experience.
    • Bring a change of clothes. No one wants to run around the park all day with wet bathing suit bottoms or soggy socks. Lockers and changing areas are provided for interactions.

    Sea World Hotels

    Sea World is on the south end of Mission Bay near the intersection of Interstate Highway 8 and Interstate Highway 5 north of downtown San Diego. It takes about 15 minutes to get there from downtown San Diego and 20 minutes from La Jolla, so you could choose a hotel almost anywhere in San Diego and get to Sea World easily. If you're looking for the very closest Sea World hotels, try these

    Hotels Close to Sea World

    • Mission Bay: These Sea World hotels are just north of Sea World, less than 5 minutes away. A good choice if you're looking for a nice resort or want to stay near the water.
    • Hotel Circle: East of Sea World just off of I-8, less than 10 minutes' drive. Some of the lowest-priced hotels are here, and all are very close to the freeway and restaurants.
    • Old Town: Southeast of Sea World, less than 10 minutes' drive. Moderate-priced hotels within walking distance of restaurants and near the Old Town Transit Center, where you can catch a Metropolitan Transit bus to Sea World.
    • Pacific Beach: North of Mission Bay parallel to the beach, you'll find some hotels along Mission Boulevard north of Mission Bay. Several of them are on our list of best San Diego beach hotels.


    As is common in the travel industry, the writers were provided with complimentary tickets for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. 

    Details About Sea world

    Sea World San Diego Location, Address, Directions

    Sea World San Diego
    500 Sea World Drive
    San Diego, CA 92109
    Sea World San Diego Website


    Sea World San Diego is near the intersection of Interstate Highway 5 and Interstate Highway 8, north of downtown. Exits from both freeways are well marked. Follow the signs, but be aware of a weird gotcha: Sea World Drive IS NOT the exit you need to take to get to the park. Trust the signs, and they'll get you there.

    If you can't drive or don't want to, you can use public transport. Metropolitan Transit runs daily bus service from the Old Town Transit Center. You can get from downtown to Old Town on the San Diego Trolley.

    For the impatient, a taxi from downtown is partly offset by what you save on parking. Call Yellow Cab at 619-234-6161 Orange Cab at 619-223-5555.

    Grayline Anaheim offers transport to Sea World San Diego from the Disneyland area.

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