Tips for Visiting SeaWorld San Diego

Erin De Santiago
SeaWorld San Diego's One Ocean® show
One Ocean® at SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego was the first of the now world-renowned SeaWorld parks. In its first year of operation, this park welcomed over 400,000 visitors, whereas today, the park sees over four million visitors a year. With continued expansion, including new thrill rides and attractions, a visit to SeaWorld might seem a bit overwhelming. However, some helpful insider tips can make a huge difference in planning a successful trip to this vacation destination.

11 Must-Have Tips for SeaWorld San Diego

1. Ride Big Attractions First

It used to be that the biggest thrill at SeaWorld was getting splashed by Shamu. Today, SeaWorld San Diego has several big-thrill attractions that can lead to some hefty hour-plus lines as the day goes on. TravelMamas.com recommends you get in line for the popular rides when you first arrive.

Since these attractions are not necessarily right next to each other, prioritize and hit your top pick as soon as the park opens. Rides that can have hour-plus waits include:

  • Journey to Atlantis: This unique, five-minute water coaster takes riders on a mystical journey through heavily-themed areas with multiple special effects. The ride culminates in a dramatic drop and resounding splash. The best times to ride are early morning and around the One Ocean and Blue Horizons show times.
  • Shipwreck Rapids: This white water rafting ride incorporates a unique underground cavern and a range of waterfalls to cool off riders.
  • Manta: Dive, soar, and twist like a ray on SeaWorld San Diego's first multi-media, double-launch coaster. You can also stay on the ground and check out the rays in the interactive grotto.
  • Wild Arctic: Guests become researchers on this simulated helicopter flight to the Arctic, where they come face to face with polar bears, beluga whales, foxes, and other Arctic species.
  • SeaWorld Skytower: For great views, the Skytower rises 265 feet above the park. On a clear day, guests can see the entire San Diego area up to 100 miles away. Lines on the Skytower can be significantly shorter than the other attractions, but the best time to ride is around noon.

If you want to know which SeaWorld San Diego attractions and rides are the most popular, readers of Theme Park Insider rank exhibits, attractions, and rides.

2. Purchase Quick Queue Tickets

If you want to ride several of the most popular rides, it may be worth spending some extra money to skip the long lines. This is possible with the park's Quick Queue and Quick Queue Premier tickets, which can be purchased as an add-on to regular admission.

  • Starting around $30, you can purchase Quick Queue tickets that allow you unlimited, single-day access to the express entrance at Journey to Atlantis, Shipwreck Rapids, Wild Arctic, Manta, and Bayside Sky Ride.
  • Available in very limited quantities, Quick Queue Premier tickets start around $40 and include access to all the attractions and reserved seating at many of the popular shows.

3. Schedule Your Day

Aside from riding the star thrill rides, it's crucial to schedule your day so you don't miss the best shows, such as the One Ocean show starring Shamu and friends.

  • If your kids want to feed the animals, verify feeding times in the morning so you can plan your route through the park accordingly.
  • If there are certain shows you absolutely don't want to miss, check the show schedule before you go. Create a game plan so you aren't scrambling at the last minute only to realize you missed a chunk of your 'must do' list.

4. Consider Behind-the-Scenes Tours

SeaWorld San Diego offers options for behind-the-scenes tours and premium experiences. These tours vary in length based on which tour you choose, and they come at an additional cost. Premium and VIP experiences include:

  • Animal Spotlight Tour - Priced around $50, consider this tour if you want to learn more about the residents at SeaWorld San Diego. At the Animal Care Center, you will interact with bottlenose dolphins and their trainers, as well as feed moray eels and sea turtles, all while learning conservation techniques.
  • Penguin Up-Close Tour - At a cost of about $60, this tour gives visitors an up-close and personal look at Penguin Encounter. Learn how SeaWorld cares for the penguins and how they adapt to their Arctic climate. At the end, you get to meet a penguin face to face.
  • Beluga Interaction Program - Priced around $215 and one of the most expensive tours, guests get to touch and feed beautiful beluga whales. This is a very limited tour that is only open to a few guests each day. Expect chilly water temperatures and, although there is no swimming, you should be sure you're comfortable in chest-deep water. You'll need a swimsuit, but SeaWorld will provide the rest of the equipment. Photographers will also be on hand.

These VIP and premier experiences represent the best in behind-the-scenes opportunities. They are pricey add-on options, but if you have a strong desire to learn more about the animal care facilities and how SeaWorld cares for its residents, they are definitely worth the money.

5. Have a Meal With Shamu

Enjoy one of the unique dining options that let you get up close to SeaWorld's star, Shamu.

Breakfast With Shamu

Breakfast with Shamu is available on weekends and certain weekdays. There is only one seating per day around 10:30 a.m., so it's vital to make advance reservations if this is a top priority.

You can purchase reservations online starting around $26, or you can make reservations at ticket booths or at the Dine with Shamu facility on the day of your visit.

Dine With Shamu

Dine with Shamu is a real VIP experience that is typically available every day. There are several seating times per day for the hour-long experience. Enjoy sustainable seafood and the ability to get up close and personal with Shamu, along with talking to trainers about SeaWorld and Shamu.

Dine with Shamu runs about $40, but you can save $5 by booking in advance on SeaWorld's website. When you go to book, the site will offer you time choices based on availability and park operating hours.

6. Make the Most of Your Food Budget

Pack a Picnic

SeaWorld does not allow guests to bring food into the park. However, if you are driving and have somewhere to store a cooler, pack a lunch and head out for a tailgate picnic, or use one of the picnic tables just near the park's entrance.

All-Day Dining Pass

If you aren't going to bring a picnic, consider purchasing all-day dining. For just under $35, you get all-day access to restaurants like Shipwreck Reef Cafe, Calypso Bay Smokehouse, Mama Stella's Pizza Kitchen, and Café 64. This can add up to significant savings if you plan to eat all your meals in the park each day, and you can save an additional $5 if you book directly on SeaWorld's website. Note that the All-Day Dining option is not valid for premium experiences like Dine with Shamu or Breakfast with Shamu.

Healthy Dining Choices

Unlike some theme parks, there are options for healthier cuisine at SeaWorld San Diego. Restaurants like Shipwreck Reef Cafe have a lot of options and can cater to special culinary needs with their low-fat, low-carb, and meatless menus. Additionally, spots like Cafe 64 let you build your own burger, and they also offer turkey and vegetarian options.

7. Choose the Best Time to Visit

San Diego is blessed with decent weather year round, but here's definitely an increase in SeaWorld visitors during summer, so that is when the park is most crowded. According to USA Today's Travel Tips Section, the best time of year to visit is anytime but summer.

There are typically fewer visitors during the spring and fall seasons, and you'll likely encounter the smallest crowds during winter. However, winter is also the time of year that hours and staff are likely to be scaled back.

8. Get the Best Ticket Deals

Buy Advance Tickets Online

Save time by purchasing SeaWorld tickets prior to your visit, thereby eliminating the need to stand in line. Look for discount tickets on SeaWorld's website, including special weekday discount tickets.

Consider Season Passports

If you plan to visit SeaWorld more than one day, compare pricing for single day tickets versus season passports, which come with a variety of discounts and benefits.

Multi-Park Combination Tickets

SeaWorld San Diego sells Southern California combination tickets, which are also a good value. These allow guests to take advantage of savings at other area attractions as well, including the San Diego Zoo, Universal Studios Hollywood, Disneyland, and Disney's California Adventure.

For example, a 2014 Southern California CityPASS typically costs around $330 for adults and $290 for children. It's valid for 14 days and gives you access to:

  • One day at SeaWorld and a second day free
  • A 3-day park hopper for Disneyland Resort
  • One day at Universal Studios Hollywood
  • Additional perks like Magic Morning entry at Disneyland

Free Admission for Military Personnel

If you are active military or in the National Guard (member or reserve), the Waves of Honor program gives you one day free admission for you and up to three dependents.

AAA Discounts

AAA members can save up to 15% off tickets purchased online, $5 off multi-park tickets and passes at the ticket booth, and up to 10% on up close dining, which requires you to visit the Guest Relations booth.

9. Plan for the Heat

Despite its temperate Southern California location, don't underestimate the heat. SeaWorld San Diego definitely experiences some hot temperatures, especially during the summer.

  • Bring hats, sunglasses, cool clothing, and waterproof sunblock.
  • If you're wearing sandals, don't forget to put sunblock on your feet. They are one of the most commonly missed areas that can result in a painful sunburn.
  • As the temperature rises in the afternoon, consider scheduling indoor and cool weather exhibits like Wild Arctic or Penguin Encounter.

10. Stay Near the Park

Start your day off right by choosing a hotel near SeaWorld that is within walking distance or offers a shuttle to the park. This will allow you to avoid the traffic often encountered when trying to park your car at SeaWorld, as well as the approximately $16 parking fee. If you plan to park at SeaWorld, you can save a little money if you book your parking in advance on the SeaWorld website.

11. Protect Your Electronic Gear

SeaWorld San Diego can be devastating to electronic equipment. With the risk of cameras and smartphones getting soaked during shows, it is important to either purchase a disposable waterproof camera or bring waterproof cases for your existing equipment. If you plan to use your camera phone, use a rugged waterproof case so you can protect your phone from the moisture, as well as damage if it slips out of your hand and hits the ground.

Make the Most of Your Visit

Following these helpful tips can ensure that you have the best possible experience when you visit SeaWorld San Diego. With a little forethought and planning, everyone in your group is sure to have a wonderful experience.

Tips for Visiting SeaWorld San Diego