With the park open now on select days, you’ll want to read my best SeaWorld San Diego tips and tricks. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, it’s the theme park that I’m asked about the most. The reason is that there are rides and play areas for toddlers, roller coasters for teens, and lots to do for ages in between.

I’ve been visiting since I was a kid and can actually see the entire park from my backyard. Therefore, information is based on multiple visits, not a one-time experience.

Park operations are temporarily modified. I’ll give you tips here as if things were running normally so that you can plan future visits.

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1. Understand New Health and Safety Measures

With the reopening comes some enhanced health and safety measures guests need to agree to prior to entering the park. These include masks for everyone over the age of 2, mandatory temperature screenings, and proper distancing while in the park. You’ll also need to make an online reservation in advance of arriving at the park.

2. Buy Tickets in Advance

Right now, the only way to purchase tickets is online and in advance. I have advice for buying discount SeaWorld San Diego tickets that I’ll summarize here.

Tip: Right now, the only way to enjoy the park is by attending SeaWorld San Diego Zoo Days. You’ll need to buy a Zoo Days ticket in advance for a specific date.

Even in normal times, there isn’t a need to pay gate prices. If you use just one of these SeaWorld San Diego tips, make it this one — do what it takes to secure admission in advance. Even if you buy directly through SeaWorld, their online promotions will cost less what you’d pay at the gate.

Compare pricing offered by SeaWorld to authorized tickets sellers like aRes Travel which is often lower. Both also offer combo tickets with other San Diego theme parks for deeper savings.

The other alternative when the park is up and running normally is to purchase a Go San Diego sightseeing pass if you are going to visit multiple attractions and take some tours.

3. Buy Parking in Advance

A little known secret is that you can buy parking in advance. Not only is this appropriate in a world that needs to minimize contact, but it also saves time.

You’ll have the choice of General Parking, Up-Close Parking (first six rows), and VIP Parking (closest section to the entrance). They do have space to park RVs or campers, but you’ll need to purchase these parking passes at the park.

No kids that I’ve taken to the park have complained about the walk from General Parking, so that’s what we choose.


The SeaWorld San Diego app will mark where you parked to make it easy to find your car.

4. Arrive Before the Park Opens

Plan to arrive so that you’re at the gate when the park opens for the day. Not only will you secure a parking space that is closer to the gate, but you’ll also be able to go straight to your favorite rides. Rides can have minimal wait times first thing in the morning.

You’ll need to plan for about 15-20 minutes to enter the parking lot, park your car, exit the car, and walk to the gate from General Parking.

It’s also a long-standing tradition for the park to open while the National Anthem plays in the background.

5. Save the Touch Pools at the Entrance for Later

Guests touch white-spotted bamboo sharks in an Explorer's Reef pool.
White-spotted bamboo sharks (Photo credit:  Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego)

Just after entering the park, you’ll see the Explorer’s Reef touch pools that are supervised by Animal Ambassadors. Here, kids love gently touching reef sharks, rays, and other tide pool animals. Cleaner fish also “clean” your fingers. Not to worry, there are washing stations nearby.

I’m not certain that these touch pools will initially reopen with the park. If they are open, visit them later in the day. The reason to delay this activity is that it’s always available, so why not head to the exhibits, rides, and attractions that get crowded first?

6. Go to Sesame Street Bay of Play First

If you’re wondering what to do at SeaWorld San Diego first, the answer is Sesame Street Bay of Play when you are visiting with small children. The rides here do not participate in Quick Queue, the ticket upgrade that allows you to enter an expedited line. So, you’ll want to ride them while the lines are short. Plus, what do small kids NOT like to do? Wait in line.

My daughter’s favorite ride during the toddler years was Elmo’s Flying Fish. But, you can also choose the teacup-style Abby’s Sea Star Spin and Oscar’s Rockin’ Eel. (Send older kids over to the roller coasters.) Note: Rides are closed at reopening.

7. Save Water Rides for the Hottest Part of the Day

A group in a Shipwreck Rapids raft at SeaWorld San Diego.
Shipwreck Rapids (Photo credit:  Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego)

You won’t be the only one with this idea, but it’s a good one. SeaWorld San Diego’s coastal location keeps the weather at the park relatively temperate. However, you won’t find a lot of shade covering its walkways. It can still get very hot during the summer season.

So, what better way to cool down than by boarding Shipwreck Rapids or Journey to Atlantis? You are likely to get wet on these fun water rides, which brings me to the next of my SeaWorld San Diego tips and tricks.

8. Head to the Penguin Encounter During the Hottest Part of the Day

Some of the 400 penguins stand on ice at SeaWorld San Diego.
Penguin Encounter (Photo credit:  Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego)

One of the not-to-be missed exhibits, in my opinion, is Penguin Encounter. It’s chilly inside, because over 400 cold-weather penguins live there. You’ll see emperor, gentoo, chinstrap, Adélie, macaroni and king penguins waddle about and swim in their 148,000-gallon pool.

9. Be Prepared to Get Wet

There are a variety of ways one might get wet at SeaWorld San Diego: water rides, show splash zones at Shamu Stadium, splash pads, touch pools, and near water rides (like the overflow splash onto the walkway from Journey to Atlantis).

You’ll find that most riders are okay with getting wet on the water rides. Our year-round temperature of 70˚ F means that you’re likely to dry off quickly.

The exceptions are soaking wet socks and shoes that take much longer to dry out than your T-shirt. And, for some people, the feeling of sloshing around the park in wet shoes isn’t great. So, it’s not unheard of for people to pack a pair of flip flops to wear on the water rides.

I’d recommend packing a change of clothes for small kids, just in case. Kids can also get a little wet at the touch pools and there’s a splash pad play area inside Sesame Street Bay of Play. They may want to wear bathing suits to enjoy the latter during the summer months.

If anyone in your group isn’t keen on getting clothes wet during shows (in splash zones only) and rides, you can bring a theme park poncho.

10. Check Show Times and the Calendar in Advance

Clyde is one of the hilarious sea lions in Sea Lions Live (Photo credit: Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego)

If you want to see a show like Sea Lions Live or Orca Encounters, check the show schedule in advance on the app. You’ll need to play your day around shows. The rides will always be running but shows happen only at certain times of the day.

You’ll also want to see if any must-ride rides are closed for annual maintenance. This happens during off-peak season, usually between winter break and the start of summer.

Plus, the park offers quite a few seasonal events such as Halloween Spooktacular and SeaWorld San Diego’s Christmas Celebration.

11. Bring Quarters and Cash for Sea Lion and Flamingo Food

Feed sea lions at SeaWorld San Diego
We go through a few trays of fish per visit.

This is another SeaWorld activity that I’m not sure will be open, but for a few dollars you can purchase a tray of fish and feed sea lions. I can’t remember the exact cost, maybe around $3-5.

You can also purchase flamingo food using a machine that takes quarters. It’s helpful to have a few with you. The other point of mentioning this as a SeaWorld San Diego tip is to be prepared for your kids to ask for a few little upgrades here and there.

12. Skip Some Lines with Quick Queue

SeaWorld San Diego Manta roller coaster
The Manta roller coaster.

Quick Queue is the ticket upgrade that provides unlimited access to shorter queues for a handful of rides. Participating SeaWorld San Diego rides include:

  • Electric Eel
  • Manta
  • Shipwreck Rapids
  • Journey to Atlantis

The cost per person depends on the date. I’ve seen it as low as $9.99 and as high as $24.99. You can also combine Quick Queue with Reserved Seating (the latter can also be purchased separately). Reserved seating means that your seats at the following shows and presentations are in the reserved section:

  • Orca Encounter
  • Dolphin Amphitheater
  • Sea Lion & Otter Amphitheater

I recommend both of these upgrades during winter and spring break (the week of Easter primarily) in addition to during the summer season. It might be worth it also on weekends with good weather during any time of the year. During off-peak weekdays while school is in session, there is less of a need for these upgrades (though the price for them will be low).

13. Arrive Early to Shows

When the park is back to running at full capacity, you’ll want to arrive early to shows (15-30 minutes) to snag the best seats and to avoid disappointment. During peak season, it’s not uncommon for seating to completely fill leaving some guests disappointed.

If you happen to know a show is ending, avoid the area in front of Shamu Stadium so you don’t get stuck trying to weave through the crowds.

14. Book Upgraded Experiences and Animal Encounters

Guests come face-to-face with a dolphin at SeaWorld San Diego
Dolphin Encounter (Photo credit:  Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego)

There’s a lot to be learned at SeaWorld San Diego, especially if you go behind the scenes. The best way to do this is via a VIP Private Tour tailored to your group’s interests for 2, 4, or 6 hours. It’s also the most expensive. However, rest assured that other worthwhile upgraded experiences take much less time and money.

I like that you can get closer to the animals without taking a big chunk of time out of your day. You can take 20 minutes to learn about and take a selfie with a sloth or visit with sea otters and their caretakers. This would be easy to do if your visit to SeaWorld San Diego can only be for a half-day.

Or, you can put on a wetsuit and get in the water with a beluga whale or dolphins (the entire experience takes an hour from start to finish).

15. Save with a Game Pass

If you have kids who insist on playing carnival-style midway games of skill to win prizes, a good SeaWorld San Diego tip that not many people know is that you can buy Game Passes in advance. The cost per game can add up. And, when you’re so close to exchanging that smaller stuffed animal for a bigger one, you’ll likely fork over another $5 or more for the chance.

The way Game Passes work is that you buy a certain dollar amount for less. This includes paying $20 for $25, $50 for $70, and $100 for $150. These midway games cost about $5 each.

16. Purchase All-Day Dining

Another question that I receive is whether the All-Day Dining upgrade is worthwhile. The answer is it depends. If you plan to eat two full meals and rely on purchased snacks and drinks in between, it probably is.

You’re entitled to three items once per hour at Shipwreck Reef Café®, Calypso Bay Smokehouse, Mama Stella’s® Pizza Kitchen, Pineapple Pete’s Island Eats and Flatbreads & Fry Cones. That’s a lot of food and drinks. Only children ages 3 and under may share meals and snacks with the All-Day Dining ticket holder. You’ll need to wear a wristband and some other restrictions apply.

17. Trade Pins with Ambassadors

Pin trading is a big deal at SeaWorld San Diego. You can find an Ambassador with a pin-filled lanyard to see if he or she has pins that you’re willing to trade one of your pins for (up to three times per day). You can also trade with other willing guests.

SeaWorld releases pins throughout the year that can be purchased at The SeaWorld Store. Annual passholders receive access to special pin promotions.

18. You May Need a Locker

If you’re planning to ride, be prepared to keep loose items in the stroller or with a nonrider Electric Eel, Journey To Atlantis, Manta and Shipwreck Rapids

19. Use Child Swap

Here’s a great SeaWorld San Diego tip for parents of small children. While there isn’t an official Child Swap or Rider Switch program, like Disneyland or Universal Studios has, you can speak to a staff member about switching off. What does this mean?

You’d use this service if you have a child or group member that is too small or doesn’t want to ride a certain ride. If you’re a family of four, for example, you’d wait in line together for a particular ride. When it comes time to board, one adult waits on/near the platform with the non-riding child while the other adult rides with the other child. When the ride is finished the adults switch places so both adults get to ride (and a lucky child gets to ride two times in a row).

20. Rent Your Stroller

If you’re traveling and need a stroller for your visit to SeaWorld San Diego, you can rent one for $22. You can decide at the park but I recommend booking online.

21. Bring Your Own Water

The cost of bottled water inside of the park is pricey. You can save money and be eco-friendly by bringing your own water bottle. I’d recommend an insulated bottle like a Hydro Flask, especially if you have kids who don’t like drinking warm water.

Speaking of drinks, water, breast milk, and liquids for dietary needs are the only beverages permitted to be brought inside the park. Refer to their food policy for more details.

22. Leave a Cooler with Food in the Car

Outside food, aside from food needed for specific dietary requirements, isn’t permitted inside of the park. But, if you’d like to save money, you can leave a cooler with food in your car to eat at a designated picnic area just outside of the gate.

Be sure to have your hand stamped for re-entry before exiting the park. Make sure to put food in a cooler so that it doesn’t bake in Southern California sunshine.

23. Bring Sun Protection Even on Cloudy Days

Rest assured that you can still get sunburned in San Diego on a cloudy day in December. Wear sunscreen. Bring a hat and sunglasses.

24. Pack an External Battery to Keep Your Phone Charged

If you’re using the SeaWorld San Diego app and taking photos, you’ll likely suffer from battery drainage on your smartphone. Bring your own external battery or Fuel Rod.

Fuel Rod is a reusable battery system that you can use to charge devices. When the Fule Rod in your possession is out of juice, you can head to a Fuel Rod kiosk to swap it for a new one. Several kiosks are located throughout SeaWorld San Diego. (In my experience, one Fuel Rod is worth one full phone charge and no more.)

25. Ride Bayside Skyride or Skytower at Sunset

Both rides cost an extra $6 for ages 3 and up, but they give you bird’s eye views of San Diego from high in the sky.

Bayside Skyride is a cable car ride from the park to over Mission Bay and back. Skytower is an observation tower that takes guests about 320 feet into the sky for views of over 100 miles in every direction.

What are your favorite SeaWorld San Diego tips and tricks?

See also: Best Hotels Near SeaWorld San Diego and Guide to Belmont Park San Diego

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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