Spotlight: SeaWorld San Diego VCW_D_SDcity_T3SeaWorld_ExplorersReef_1280x642
Courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego

Southern California

Spotlight: SeaWorld San Diego

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 under-sea 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 have been injured or orphaned on Southern Californian 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 Californian 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 containing interesting facts about the majestic mammals. Or, take one of the park’s exclusive tours and you can have up-close encounters with the resident dolphins, sea lions, penguins or gentle beluga whales, which are 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 rollercoaster that has you twisting and diving like a ray. Stay late during the summer (until September) for the Electric Ocean, a light show that transforms the rides, shows and attractions into vibrantly coloured displays inspired by the phenomenon of ocean bioluminescence.

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Courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego

Rides at SeaWorld San Diego

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Rides at SeaWorld San Diego
Ride rollercoasters, get splashed and explore the Arctic

The aquatic animals are not the only ones who get wet at SeaWorld San Diego. Climb aboard water rides such as Journey to Atlantis to sploosh through flumes and kersplash at the bottom of an 18-metre plunge. On Shipwreck Rapids, board a fancified inner tube to follow a winding watercourse through a peaceful island setting, then hold on for the finish—over waterfalls and into watery cave (this version of a shipwreck happily includes a café at the end). The 45-metre 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 make sure you take the lift up the Skytower, with its panoramic view of Mission Bay, the Pacific Ocean, central 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 a realistic Arctic research station with the chance to take an up-close look at beluga whales, seals and walruses. For an immersive 'underwater' experience with killer whales, check out the virtual reality DeepSeeVR Orca 360, a mesmerising 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 ones. On Riptide Rescue, kids climb into seats styled to look like yellow life rafts before setting off on a simulated sea turtle rescue mission. Little ones will love the rides along the Sesame Street Bay of Play, including 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 roller coaster uses advanced technology and computerised 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 the giant aquarium and check out the grotto, where you can touch the harmless California bat rays as they glide by.

Insider tip: queues tend to be shorter during the most popular shows. For speediest entry, get a Quick Queue Premier all-day pass for express entrance to rides.

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Courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego

Live shows and presentations

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Live shows and presentations
See dolphins, seals and pot-bellied pigs do amazing stunts

Come watch the 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) doing entertaining stunts with their trainers—and watch out 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-storey-high video screen that shows a documentary-style presentation about how these mammals move, hunt and communicate in the wild. And taking centre stage, you can watch the resident orcas splash, breach and otherwise act naturally in the waters.

 

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Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld® San Diego

Explorer's Reef & Marine Life at SeaWorld

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Explorer's Reef & Marine Life at SeaWorld
Immerse yourself in an ocean oasis at these marine-life encounters and exhibits

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), as well as 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 further into the park for a wide range of aquariums and marine-life encounters, including the up-close Dolphin Point and Sea Lion Point. The 1-million-litre Shark Encounter takes you underwater—safely through a 17-metre acrylic tunnel—to get up close to a shark habitat that includes sand tiger, bonnet-head, black-tip and white-tip reef sharks. The 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 cutest zones is Otter Outlook, which features a display of Californian 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, which has nearly 300 smartly dressed birds, representing six Antarctic and sub-Antarctic species (including the Gentoo, Macaroni and Emperor).

For the quirkiest creatures, visit the Ocean Explorer area—which opened in 2017—and see the quick-camouflaging giant Pacific octopus, eerie moray eel and the massive Japanese spider crabs (the biggest of their kind in the sea). Make sure you call in at 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-Award-winning series about these efforts—many of which are based in San Diego—you can watch episodes on the big screen at the park’s Mission Bay Theater.

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Courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego

Special Animal Interactions at SeaWorld

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Special Animal Interactions at SeaWorld
Get into the water with beluga whales and find out what dolphins feel like

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 involve you climbing into a SeaWorld San Diego wetsuit to get into the pool with the 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 into the pool with the creatures and play with them. Go behind-the-scenes again with the Penguin Up-Close Tour to discover everything there is to know about these little black-and-white seabirds, including what they eat and how to help protect them in the wild. If your family still hasn’t had 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.

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Christie Kreider on Getting Up Close
SeaWorld San Diego's Senior Trainer inspires guests every day to care for our natural world by sharing her own passion for animals.
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Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego

More Rides

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More Rides
Zoom, twirl, and get soaked all over the park

The aquatic animals are not the only ones who get wet at SeaWorld San Diego. Climb aboard water rides like Journey to Atlantis to splash through flumes and at the bottom of a 60-foot 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 a watery cave. Climb aboard a simulated jet helicopter to zoom above icy landscapes on the Wild Arctic ride. 

Tamer options abound, 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. Classic rides get a watery twist, with names like Elmo’s Flying Fish, Abby’s Sea Star Spin and Oscar’s Rocking Eel. Tip: Lines tend to dip during the most popular shows. For speediest entry, get a Quick Queue Unlimited all-day pass for express entrance to rides.

Paddleboarding in Mission Bay, San Diego
Dave Lauridsen

Mission & San Diego Bays

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Mission & San Diego Bays
Visit waterfront parks for boating, biking and roller coasters

Mission Bay and San Diego Bay trim the edge of the city like sparkling gems. Dozens of outfitters can get you out amidst the blue via every imaginable conveyance; kayak, stand-up paddleboard, motorized watercraft, sail boat or kite board. For a more novel approach, board the Bahia Belle, a Mississippi riverboat, snuggle aboard a romantic Venetian gondola, or try jet-packing to skim across the water like James Bond.

Cruise in style too. Hornblower and Flagship Cruises let you get a millionaire’s view of the bay on scenic tours, as well as dinner and brunch cruises.

You can have fun on land here, too. Mission Beach, the narrow strip of land between Mission Bay and the Pacific, is a chock-o-block assemblage of surf shops, t-shirt joints and funky beach bars, and there’s a 3-mile/4.8-km oceanfront boardwalk that rivals Venice Beach for people watching. At Belmont Park, classic amusement rides include the Big Dipper wooden roller coaster. Mission Bay also has 27 miles/43 kilometres of water’s-edge pathways, perfect for strolling and biking.

Seasonal Events at SeaWorld
Courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego

Seasonal Events at SeaWorld

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Seasonal Events at SeaWorld
SeaWorld San Diego’s calendar features evening light shows, trick-or-treating and Santa sightings

Depending on the time of year you visit, there are fun seasonal offerings at SeaWorld San Diego too. During the summer, the park has a new take on an evening light show: Electric Ocean takes its inspiration from the ocean phenomenon of bioluminescence, where the ocean glows in the moonlight. The night-time show, which runs until Labor Day (first Monday in September), also features dance music, a DJ and costumed sea creatures taking to the dance floor.

Come autumn, SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular (weekends from late September until end of October) invites children to dress in fancy dress, mingle with the characters strolling around 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 Christmas 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) includes Santa’s Christmas Village, Rudolph’s Christmastown and seasonal 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 until sunset to catch the nightly lighting of the 12-metre-tall animated tree and to see how the park’s main landmark, the 98-metre Skytower, looks with its Christmas lights atwinkling.