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12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids

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As a mom of two, former San Diego resident, and multi-year SeaWorld San Diego annual pass holder, I have been to this amusing and educational park more times than I can count. Before you go, be sure to check out my 12 tips to make the most of your visit to SeaWorld San Diego with kids.

Save on your SeaWorld visit with ticket discounts and San Diego hotel discounts now!

Dolphin Days will wow the whole family ~ 12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego
Dolphin Days will wow the whole family (Photo credit: SeaWorld San Diego)

1. Schedule your day around SeaWorld San Diego’s shows.

Grab a park map at the entrance and plan your day around the show times listed on the back. There are many different shows so decide which shows are must-sees for your family. I recommend getting to the shows a little early to nab a good seat. Doors to shows close promptly and they do sometimes fill to capacity, especially during high tourist seasons like spring break and summer weekends.

SeaWorld’s shows have evolved to focus more on education than they did in the past. View some spectacular water acrobatics and learn about dolphins and pilot whales in Dolphin Days. Sea Lions LIVE is a slapstick show for all ages, starring sea lions Clyde and Seamore, plus O.P. Otter. At night, the glitzy Circue Electrique features aerial human performers in glowing LED suits that fly in and over the waters of Mission Bay.

Orca Encounter is a documentary-style presentation about killer whales. Worry not, the Orca Encounter pool has a special floor that will raise as needed for the safety of trainers and the animals.

Kids will learn and laugh at Sea Lions LIVE at SeaWorld San Diego ~ 12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids
Kids will learn and laugh at Sea Lions LIVE at SeaWorld San Diego (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Remember where you park at SeaWorld San Diego.

I have lost my car more at SeaWorld San Diego than anywhere else. Rows are marked but the signs are widespread so take note of exactly how close you are to the row letter and number.

Healthy foods from the buffet at Dine with Orcas ~ 12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids
Healthy foods from the buffet at Dine with Orcas (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Budget meal money and calories.

You can bring small kid-sized snacks into the park, but not full meals. Yes, they will check your bags at the entrance and make you return forbidden food to the car, pack the items into a rentable locker, or dump it out. As at most amusement parks, the food is not cheap. There are plenty of deep-fried and sugary temptations, but you can also find healthier options like salads, barbecue-smoked chicken (at the Calypso Bay Smokehouse), and fresh fruits.

For a special treat, splurge on Dine with Orcas, an exclusive and entertaining dining experience. Load up your plates from the buffet and then settle in for a fascinating presentation featuring killer whales.

Dine with Orcas is a meal your family will always remember ~ 12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids
Dine with Orcas is a meal your family will always remember (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Get in line for popular rides first thing.

If you want to ride popular rides, be sure to get in line first thing when the park opens in the morning. These include the Manta roller coaster, Journey to Atlantis water coaster, Riptide Rescue spinning ride, or the very wet Shipwreck Rapids. Queues can get quite long (1 hour+) as the day goes on. These rides are located quite a distance from each other, so you’ll have to prioritize.

Mellower rides with more manageable wait times include Bayside Skyride’s gondola ride over San Diego Bay, the needle-shaped Skytower Ride in the center of the park, and the educational Wild Arctic. Young children will get a kick out of the three sweet rides in the Sesame Street Bay of Play area of the park.

Manta is a VERY thrilling and popular ride at SeaWorld San Diego ~ 12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids
Manta is a VERY thrilling and popular ride at SeaWorld San Diego (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Prepare for the weather at SeaWorld San Diego.

If ever you were going to pack sun hats and slather on the sunscreen, do it at SeaWorld San Diego. There is no shade for the shows. When sitting on the aluminum benches under the beating Southern California sun in summer, the park can feel like the hottest place on the planet.

San Diego winters are chillier, though, than you might expect. Dress in layers so you can warm up or chill out as needed. Here’s what to do if it rains during your SeaWorld visit.

SeaWorld San Diego's Skytower Ride gives 360 views of the park and San Diego Bay ~ 12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids
SeaWorld San Diego’s Skytower Ride gives 360 views of the park and San Diego Bay (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Cool down and bring swim gear.

There are plenty of watery opportunities to cool down at SeaWorld San Diego. Find the fountains at the Sesame Street Bay of Play for young children. Be sure to bring along swimsuits and towels for little ones who will get soaked at this splash area. If you forget, you can buy Elmo, Zoe, and other Sesame Street character-themed gear there.

Big kids and adults can ride the Shipwreck Rapids and Journey to Atlantis water rides. Of course, there’s always the option to sit in the splash zone at the park’s many shows. You can also walk through the chilly Penguin Encounter or Wild Arctic attraction, which features polar bears, beluga whales, and walruses.

When it's hot outside, cool down at the Penguin Encounter ~ 12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids
When it’s hot outside, cool down at the Penguin Encounter (Photo credit: SeaWorld San Diego)

7. Keep kids busy while waiting for SeaWorld San Diego shows.

Kids can get antsy waiting for shows to start, so use toys and snacks as entertainment while you wait. Pack a few little distractions in your day bag or purse like mini bubbles or toy cars. Food is allowed into shows and peddled by SeaWorld employees inside, so this is a good time to use snacks to busy the kids.

Sea Turtle Reef ~ 12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids
Sea Turtle Reef (Photo credit: SeaWorld San Diego)

8. Stay hydrated.

You will be doing a lot of walking at SeaWorld San Diego with kids, probably in the sun. Don’t get so busy that you forget to stay hydrated. There are plenty of beverage carts throughout the park. The Frozen Lemonades are deeeeelicious!

Oscar's Rockin' Eel is one of three rides for little kids at the Sesame Street Bay of Play ~ 12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids
Oscar’s Rockin’ Eel is one of three rides for little kids at the Sesame Street Bay of Play (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

9. Keep it fun by alternating activities at SeaWorld San Diego.

Especially with children, it’s important to alternate mellow activities and busy fun. After climbing the giant rope structure in Sesame Street Bay of Play and walking through the park’s numerous aquariums, rest your feet at one of the animal shows. Try to keep your visit educational, but fun too!

SeaWorld San Diego offers many educational, interactive animal attractions and experiences. You can pet sea creatures like rays and horseshoe crabs at Explorer’s Reef. Parkgoers can even touch, feed, and help train bottlenose dolphins with the Dolphin Interaction. During the Beluga Interaction Program, guests don wet suits and get into 55-degree water to play with and learn about beluga whales. Advanced registration and additional fees are required for Dolphin Encounter, Beluga Interaction Program, and other up-close guided activities.

Kids and adults get a chance to feed dolphins during a Dolphin Encounter ~ 12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids
Kids and adults get a chance to feed dolphins during a Dolphin Encounter (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

10. Tell children what to do if they get lost.

During one visit to SeaWorld, my family found a little boy all by himself with tears in his eyes. I asked him if he was lost and indeed he was. When we couldn’t find his family, we walked back with him to Guest Relations/Lost & Found and stayed with him until his aunt was located. 

Before exploring any large tourist attraction, discuss safety precautions with your kids. If traveling with older children, then choose a meeting place should you get separated and make sure their cell phone batteries are fully charged. When traveling with young children, tell them to stay where they are if they get separated so their grown-ups can find them. Or they should approach a MOM with kids and ask her for help. Additionally, parents should keep their eyes open for children who could use a little help finding their families!

SeaWorld San Diego saves hundreds of distressed animals each year ~ 12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids
SeaWorld San Diego saves hundreds of distressed animals each year (Photo credit: SeaWorld San Diego)

11. Feel good about visiting SeaWorld San Diego with kids.

Look, I know that SeaWorld has gotten some bad press recently. Do you know who typically does NOT have a problem with SeaWorld San Diego? San Diego County residents. That’s because the people who live in this community see SeaWorld on the local news rescuing sea life all the time.

In fact, SeaWorld San Diego has rescued more than 17,000 animals since it opened in 1965, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sea lions, seals, and marine birds. What’s more, 60 to 70 percent of the rescued animals are rehabilitated and returned to the wild. When kids visit SeaWorld, not only do they learn about a wide variety of animals, but also they gain an appreciation of the Earth’s ocean life and our need to conserve and protect it.

12. Save on your SeaWorld San Diego visit.

Why pay full price when you can save on your San Diego visit? Purchase discounted SeaWorld San Diego tickets and book discounted San Diego hotel stays! Use discount code TravelMamas to get $10 off any two-night or longer Southern California package (hotel and 2-ticket minimum) when you book through Get Away Today.

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Blue whale watching in Loreto, Mexico (Photo credit: Visit Baja Sur)

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Atlantis in the Bahamas is the ultimate resort for water-loving families. Explore 20 things to do at Atlantis Bahamas.

12 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids

Do you have a tip for visiting SeaWorld San Diego with kids or a SeaWorld memory to share? Tell us in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: I have received free entrance to SeaWorld San Diego a few times over the years but I have paid for my tickets more often than not. All opinions are my own.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin, MBA, is the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular travel blog, She is an expert in travel with kids and without. As the author of the book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents how to make the most of traveling with babies and children. Colleen loves sharing tips on hotels, cruises, spas, theme parks, and global lifestyle topics. When she is not traveling the world, she lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. Keri Beirdneau says

    I’m considering the Go San Diego pass, but I’m wondering if there is enough to do just at Sea World alone to keep us busy for our week long stay (with some beach days thrown in too of course).

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Hi Keri- I would say one day at SeaWorld is probably enough unless your family is gaga for ocean animals. Have a wonderful time in San Diego, no matter what you decide to do!

  2. Gillian Murr says

    We just did SeaWorld San Diego and found tickets that had food included. We got to eat every hour! A good sized meal (chicken strips, fries, watermelon, and a drink was one meal). You can eat at different places throughout the park.
    We got there when it opened, got our food wristband and ate within the first hour, and there were no lines. That way our bellies were full and we had watermelon to take with us. As the day went on the lines got longer but not terrible.
    As one parent went on a ride with our toddler, they other would go get a meal to snack on…it worked perfect.
    I totally recommend the meal deal!
    We only stayed at the park from 10-4:30 and ate three times but it was worth it!

  3. Can you still feed the dolphins at Dolphin Point without paying for an interaction or encounter?

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Hi Michelle,

      Good question! I did some research but couldn’t find a definitive answer. At SeaWorld Orlando, guests are allowed to pet the dolphins for free but cannot lure them over with a tray of fish. One of the upgraded (paid) experiences is needed for that. I imagine the same is true at SeaWorld San Diego. To be sure, though, you may want to reach out to SeaWorld directly:

  4. Joy Hwang says

    I will say Always always keep your eyes on your children.
    But also just spend $25 buy a tracker, and $50 gps watch, I had it for my 5 years old don for 2 years, perfect for playground ,park, theme park….. anywhere.
    Once my son getting too far, my phone alarm will went off, he can push his button looking for me too.
    I can also tracking him with the tracker and the phone,it will show very last seen on google map.
    I can call his gps phone, he can also record and send out emergency message for me.

    Technology helps us a lot not to lost our kids.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      So smart! What a great way to keep track of kids – and gives peace of mind, too!

  5. Anyone have thoughts on if the add-on for the unlimited dining option is worth it? Also, do the various rides/roller coasters cost extra?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Jaron – I have not personally ever used the unlimited dining option myself so I can’t give firsthand experience. My feeling on most unlimited dining plans, though, is that it’s not worth it unless you plan to eat a lot. Plus, I like the freedom of not adhering to a meal plan. Let us know if you try the meal plan and what you think!

  6. My Teen Guide says

    Thanks for the tips. We’ve been to Sea World when the kids were still young. We’d love to go back soon. I am excited to see the new additions to the park and dine with Orcas too! Awesome.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Dine with Orcas certainly is a unique experience. Enjoy your next SeaWorld visit!

  7. AnnMarie John says

    I think it’s amazing to go here and the kids always enjoy it. There’s plenty of things to do and see so it’s worth it. These are great tips for people who are planning to visit.

  8. Annemarie LeBlanc says

    This would be an awesome experience for kids and kids at heart. I would like to visit! The dining with orcas surely guarantees a memorable time. We need to save up for a trip to Sea World!

  9. Kita Bryant says

    I have no doubt my kids would LOVE to visit here. I would love to visit San Diego in general! We’ve never even been over there before!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Kita – San Diego has so many fab options for families. I hope you can plan a visit someday soon!

  10. Shannon Gurnee says

    We went to Sea World in December when they were still doing the Shamu show. I think that planning for rest and eating time is super important when traveling with kids.

  11. Mary Edwards says

    I love your tips. I think I can use most of them for the Orlando location too? I live about 40mi from the Orlando Sea World!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Definitely, Mary. The two SeaWorld parks are very similar in many ways. Of course, each has its own feel and attractions but a lot of these tips would work for either park. Enjoy SeaWorld Orlando!

  12. Travel Blogger says

    This is at the top of our family vacation list! My son would love to go to SeaWorld. There is just so much to do and see, it is incredible. I had no idea they had penguins too!. Great tips! I will keep this in mind when we finally plan our trip there.

  13. Toni | Boulder Locavore says

    My children really enjoyed our last Seaworld experience last summer! I think it’s time for our next visit! 😀

  14. Jocelyn @ Hip Mama's Place says

    It’s been a while since I last visited SeaWorld and I have to admit that I miss it. I’d love to plan a trip for the whole family someday soon! I really appreciate these tips! It’s awesome!

  15. Liz Mays says

    I think I’d have to lay out a game plan beforehand so we could see everything! This is a great guide for first-time visitors!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      It can be a little overwhelming. The best plan is to know you can’t see every show and every exhibit plus ride every ride. It’s more fun to tackle a few must-dos and enjoy the park at a relaxed pace.

  16. robin rue says

    We love the SD SeaWorld. I haven’t been there in a few years, but it’s such a fun place to visit when I am out west.

  17. I went to Sea World San Diego once, when I was an adult and it was the first time I ever saw an Orca! The Hubs and I took the kids to Sea World in Orlando a few years back and had a blast. My daughter still talks about the fun she had feeding the animals and going diving for her own oyster! Such fun family memories!

  18. Pam Wattenbarger says

    These are great tips for anyone visiting Sea World San Diego! It’s good to know that there are healthier food options at the park if you look for them.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I’m gluten sensitive so I always have to find the non-deep fried options wherever I go!

  19. This looks like an amazing place to visit. I know we have a lot of similar attractions here in Orlando.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Meagan – I’ve been to SeaWorld Orlando too and they are similar in many ways but each park has a unique feel and some different attractions. They’re both super fun and educational, though!

  20. Vera Sweeney says

    I have to bookmark this. We’ve been to Seaworld in Florida, but not to this one. I would love to take the kids the next time we’re in San Diego.

  21. We had a rough start the last time we went to Sea World (super hot day, with rain to boot, and lines for anything inside or cool were looong). It ended up great though, and I cannot wait to return.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I spent a VERY rainy day at SeaWorld Orlando and wound up having a fabulous time. I hope you have a drier experience next time you go!

  22. Melissa Chapman says

    I will definitely go to SeaWorld if we get to San Diego. I loved your tips and will refer to this it is a great guide for any family.

  23. Jody Robbins says

    I had no idea about the fountains. So glad I read this before visiting!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      It can be so hot at SeaWorld San Diego in the summer – you’ll be glad you packed a swimsuit for your kiddo!

  24. Sapana V says

    Wow. This place sounds amazing. I would love to visit the place.

  25. Great tips, Colleen!
    I’ll visit Seaworld with my 11 & 8 kids next Saturday. Now I know what to do and how to spend better our time there.????????

  26. Mandy Patin says

    We just returned from sea world and didn’t see this until now. 🙁 it would have been helpful to read this before. ..a lot has changed at sea world! !
    I have 4 children ages 1-8 and one or two of them could have easily gotten lost so I made sure to write my mobile number on thier arms with pen (if lost please call. ..). I wOuld highly recommend doing this for young children!

  27. I make sure I pre game with plenty booze to numb my self to this and all theme parks. I also suggest buying a reusable beer cup to save on keeping the buzz going all day.

  28. Great Tips, thank you! I am visiting from Australia inSeptember with my 8yr old sone, and we are going to LegoLand, Seaworld, Disneyland etc. Any other savings tips for the other parks ??

    Thank you 🙂

  29. Laurel- Capturing la Vita says

    These are great tips for visiting any amusement park! Being from Florida, this is all “must have” info for us!

  30. We recently visited Sea World in Orlando and the same rules apply. The shows are definitely the highlight for us. Lots of theme parks have big coasters, but you can only find whale shows at Sea World.

  31. wanderingeducators says

    great tips!! that lemonade sounds amazing. 😉

  32. Great post! I’ve heard that SeaWorld is one of the top attractions in San Diego, but it can definitely be difficult to navigate the large park with small kids. Thanks for the tips!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Kay – Glad you found the tips handy. Enjoy your visit to SeaWorld San Diego!

  33. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Dawn – I would imagine that shoes are required at SeaWorld, as they are at most public attractions. I think your daughters would be fine going barefoot while splashing in the fountains at the Sesame Street Bay of Play though. Here is a link to their contact form, in case you’d like to know for certain:

  34. My daughters (7 & 9) prefer not to wear shoes. How strict is the policy at Sea World? If they are walking around barefoot will anyone tell them they have to wear shoes? They have tough feet and go almost everywhere barefoot except school. I usually keep a couple of pairs of flip flops for the few places that say something.

    • After getting soaked 7 times by the whale show I decided to put my flip flops in our backpack. Walking in soaked flip flops was a bit slippery. I walked barefoot for the entire rest of the day for about 4 hours. I went to a restaurant, walked all over, went to the souvenir store and walked by numerous Sea World employees. Not one word from them. No one told me to put shoes on. Very barefoot friendly!

  35. Pet’s Rule is an awesome show…don’t miss that one!

  36. Sea World has definitely changed into an amusement park rather than just an elaborate aquarium (as I remember it from many years ago). This makes for many more hours of fun I’m sure.

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