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10 Tips for SeaWorld San Diego with Kids

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As a California resident, former SeaWorld San Diego annual pass holder, and parent of two—I have been to this watery amusement/education park more times than I can count. Here's a list of 10 tips to make the most of visiting  SeaWorld with kids.

Blue Horizons SeaWorld

Blue Horizons Show at SeaWorld San Diego (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

1. Schedule your day around SeaWorld's shows.

Grab a park map at the entrance and plan your day around the show times listed on the back. There are nine different shows to choose from (three of which only take place at night), ranging from 5 minutes in length (the Into the Blue Fireworks show) to 20-25 minutes. Get 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. My family's favorites are the Blue Horizons show (with leaping, spinning dolphins and humans dressed up like birds performing Cirque de Soleil-like acrobatics in and out of the water) and Pet's Rule! (a humorous show filled with land animals like dogs, cats, ducks, and pigs performing tricks galore).

2. Remember where you park.

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.

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.

SeaWorld Elmo's Flying Fish

Elmo's Flying Fish ride in the Sesame Street Bay of Play

4. Get in line for popular rides first thing.

If you want to ride Journey to Atlantis (a roller coaster with two big splashy dips), Shipwreck Rapids (a very wet water ride), or Riptide Rescue (a spinning thrill ride) — get in line first thing when the park opens in the morning. Lines can get quite long (an hour+) as the day goes on. These rides are located quite a distance from each other, so you have to prioritize. Journey to Atlantis is probably the most popular, so hit that one first. The Bayside Skyride (a gondola ride over San Diego Bay) and the Skytower Ride (the tall needle-shaped ride in the center of the park that provides 360 degree views of the park) are more mellow and wait times are typically more manageable. There are also three fun rides for young children in the Sesame Street Bay of Play area of the park.

5. Prepare for A LOT of time in the sun.

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

6. Cool down & bring swim gear.

There are plenty of watery opportunities to cool down at SeaWorld: fountains at the Sesame Street Bay of Play for young children, Shipwreck Rapids and Journey to Atlantis water rides for big kids and adults, and sitting in the splash zone at the park's many shows. Bring along swimsuits and towels for little ones who will get soaked in the Sesame Street splash area. If you forget, you can buy Elmo, Zoe, and other Sesame Street character-themed gear there. You can walk through the chilly Wild Arctic attraction (with polar bears, beluga whales, and walruses on display) or the Penguin Encounter.

SeaWorld Journey to Atlantis

Journey to Atlantis (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Keep kids busy while waiting for SeaWorld 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, toy cars, or Sillybandz. Food is allowed into shows (and peddled by SeaWorld employees inside), so this is a good time to break out the snacks to busy the kids.

8. Stay hydrated.

You will be doing a lot of walking, 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!

9. Keep it fun by alternating activities.

Especially with children, it's important to alternate mellow activities (like watching shows or walking through the park's numerous aquariums) with busy fun (like climbing the giant rope structure in Sesame Street Bay of Play or feeding sea lions at Pacific Point).

SeaWorld Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay Aquarium (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. 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, remind children what to do should they become separated: Stay where you are until your grown-ups return, or approach a MOM with children of her own and tell her you are lost. (And, parents should keep eyes open for children who could use a little help finding their families!)

For more information, check out the SeaWorld San Diego website. Additional SeaWorld locations are in San Antonio, Texas and Orlando, Florida.

Do you have a SeaWorld tip or favorite attraction to share? Tell us in the comments!

A Note from The Travel Mama: My family and I recently received complimentary media tickets to SeaWorld San Diego. All opinions are my own.

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About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.


  1. 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.

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

  3. 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!

  4. 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: http://seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-sandiego/Contact

  5. 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!

  6. great tips!! that lemonade sounds amazing. 😉

  7. 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.

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

  9. 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 🙂

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.👍🏻

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