San Diego is home to the world's very first SeaWorld. The park was founded in 1964 as a marine zoological park along Mission Bay. Today, the park is as much a theme park as it is a marine park, with fantastic shows, animal exhibits, aquariums and, yes, a growing list of hang-onto-your-hat thrill rides. Plus the Sesame Street Bay of Play keeps the tadpoles hoppin’. There is plenty to see and do in a day at SeaWorld, and we definitely recommend you plan in advance so that you don't miss out on anything. Here are our favorite SeaWorld San Diego shows and attractions.
You'll want to check the showtimes for your visit online or in the SeaWorld San Diego app and plan your day around the show schedule. Keep in mind that you may even get to experience additional seasonal shows, depending on when you visit. Our post on SeaWorld San Diego events will fill you in on special entertainment that may be hoppening when you visit.
10 Best SeaWorld San Diego Shows and Attractions
1. Sesame Street Bay of Play
Your tadpoles will have some splish-splashin' fun with the water play area, air bounce, toddler mat and rides that are just their speed. Plus you can meet all of your favorite Sesame Street pals and enjoy age-appropriate entertainment. Sadly, the climbing area is closed temporarily due to COVID-19. The water play area is a bit smaller than usual so dance parties can take place around the ship.
2. Sea Lions Live
Those crazy, clever sea lions, Clyde and Seamore, are up to their usual hijinks. Joined by their buddy, OP, an Asian small-clawed otter, they perform live-action TV and music spoofs in this 20-minute show.
3. Journey to Atlantis
While it shares the same name as the SeaWorld Orlando water flume ride, the San Diego version is more of a coaster than a water ride — although you will get wet! If you ride early in the day when it's cooler, you may need your poncho. The tadpoles love standing in the splash zone and watching the boats come down on a hot day. They don't even have to ride to get wet!
4. Turtle Reef
Head below to watch the turtles swim above you while you stay dry. Come face to face with peaceful green sea turtles, loggerheads or hawksbill turtles (along with tropical fish). As you exit, you'll be in the perfect spot to hop in line to visit the sharks at Shark Encounter.
5. Shark Encounter
You’ll start out this exhibit by looking at the sharks from above, but then you’ll enter a glass tunnel that allows you to view them from below. The tunnel sends you through the middle of the prehistoric creatures’ water (keeping you dry, but surrounding you with sharks). Enjoy every heart-pounding minute of watching white shark bellies gliding over your head and being able to get up close and personal with hundreds of pointy teeth that are safely on the other side of the glass.
Like Journey to Atlantis, Manta also shares its name with a coaster at SeaWorld Orlando. Again, the two are very different. SeaWorld Orlando's Manta is the smoothest coaster I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing, but its thrills scare off plenty of would-be riders. The San Diego version is a fun family coaster (for those 48 inches and up) and a must-do, but it's nowhere near the scare level of its Orlando counterpart. It has a thrilling and surprising launch. Say "Cheese!" as you scream during takeoff because that moment will be captured by a camera.
Do you love thrill rides? Us, too! Another fun coaster for younger froglets 48 inches and up who want to ride the tide is the dueling Tidal Twister. But before boarding, note the Zero-G roll!
For those taller (54 inches) family members who really crave thrills, also add Electric Eel to your must-ride list. It’s the tallest and fastest roller coaster at SeaWorld. Did we forget to mention the twists and rolls, and that you’ll be moving forward AND backward? It’s shocking!
7. Beluga Whales and Walruses
Explore a frozen exhibit where you can come face-to-face with walruses, beluga whales and harbor seals. Run your hands along a frozen ice wall and let the tadpoles crawl through a frozen den. We love to take our time in this exhibit and spend time looking at the animals.
While you are in the area, hop next door to visit nearly 400 penguins! SeaWorld San Diego is the only place in North America to see an Emperor Penguin. And soon you'll be able to dive like one, too, on the new Emperor dive coaster (opening March 12, 2022)! This looping coaster is California's first floorless dive coaster. With top speeds over 60 mph and a dive plunge over 150 feet (and over 90 degrees), this is the tallest and fastest dive coaster in California.
8. Dolphin Days
Watch bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales leap high out of the water and interact with their trainers. If you are a dolphin lover — and who doesn’t love dolphins? — then spend some time at Dolphin Point after the show. They like to watch you almost as much as you like watching them! The dolphins love to keep their audience guessing, so hop by for a second show if you have the time. You just might get to see some different tricks.
If you cannot get enough of dolphins, your family will flip for exclusive face-to-face Dolphin Encounter and Dolphin Interaction experiences. These interactions do cost extra, but the memories are priceless.
9. Orca Encounter
The majesty of the orcas and their amazing size and strength are the focal points of this show. Learn about how orcas hunt, communicate and play. You can witness their behaviors, learn about the role of family and find out what people can learn from these orcas to help whales survive in the wild.
Even if you do not catch a show, hop by to visit the beautiful orcas. There is an underwater viewing area to help you get a better look. If you bring props, such as a small ball or toy, you just might capture — and keep— their attention!
10. Explorer's Reef
As soon as you enter the park, you can immediately immerse your hands in the water and your mind in the world of various sea animals at Explorer’s Reef. While this experience isn't a show or a ride, it’s still exciting to start your visit by touching a reef shark and getting educated about the animals from the people who work with them. At Explorer's Reef, guests can go under the wave sculpture and get up close to a number of underwater sea creatures. If your little ones are anything like Tad and Lily, putting their hands in the water and touching the animals will be the highlight of their trip!
We hope our look at our favorite SeaWorld San Diego shows and attractions has you ready for your visit! If you're looking for more help in planning your San Diego vacation, look no further than our San Diego Planning Guide.