SeaWorld San Diego reopens this weekend for a brand new Friday–Sunday outdoor experience. It’s called SeaWorld San Diego Zoo Days: Bayside BBQ & Brews and I’m sharing what I know from multiple inside sources about what to expect when you go.

First, what is this special event? With rides and some indoor exhibits closed, the park decided to add additional value by including a food festival element with admission. I admit that the food looks pretty good and I’ve seen this model implemented at theme park reopenings across America with success.

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You Must Have a SeaWorld San Diego Zoo Days Ticket

SeaWorld San Diego Zoo Days tickets are the only tickets that are valid for this special event. If you’re already holding a SeaWorld San Diego ticket from when the park was closed, this ticket isn’t valid for Zoo Days.

Fun Card and annual pass holders can log in to their accounts to purchase Zoo Days tickets at the special price of $30 for adults and $20 for children (ages 3-9). Kids ages 0-2 do not require a ticket.

If you need Zoo Days tickets, you’re in luck. You can buy them at a discounted price.

Reservations Are Required

When you purchase Zoo Days tickets through SeaWorld or other authorized sellers, you’ll be asked to make a reservation for the day and time that you’d like to visit. Do not show up at the park gates to try to buy a ticket. You’ll need to secure tickets and reservations online in advance.

Health and Safety Measures Are in Place

A SeaWorld San Diego employee with a mask behind plexiglass in a retail outlet.
Photo courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego.

This is one of the last SeaWorld Entertainment parks to reopen. By now, the company is well-practiced in what needs to happen to ensure safety in today’s world.

The park will temporarily operate at a reduced capacity. Masks for anyone ages 2 and older are required. All guests and employees are required to agree to temperature checks before entering the park. Indoor exhibits and rides are closed and guests are asked to maintain proper distancing.

You’ll Receive a Tasting Lanyard

Craft Beer, Fried Green Tomato, Brisket, Bratwurst Sliders that will be served at SeaWorld San Diego Zoo Days.
Craft Beer, Fried Green Tomato, Brisket, Bratwurst Sliders that will be served at SeaWorld San Diego Zoo Days.

You might think that the cost of the ticket is a bit high (albeit lower than the cost of general admission during normal times). But, it includes a lanyard with six food or beverage tastings. When you complete a tasting, you’ll receive a punch on your lanyard.

The Busch Gardens parks, now owned by SeaWorld Entertainment, were formed to enable people to sample Anheuser-Busch products. So, I wasn’t surprised to read about a chef-created BBQ tasting menu that includes beer-infused BBQ Brisket Sliders, Shrimp Tacos, Grilled Fish, Impossible Burgers, German Bratwurst, and more.

These tastings also include alcohol. You can sip from a newly curated selection of cold Southern California brews available throughout the park, wine, and cocktails. Each of these is one punch on your lanyard. You’ll receive one punch for every two non-alcoholic drinks and bottled waters, however, since these items hold a lower value. If you want to purchase additional lanyards, you can do so in the park.

I’ll be able to share more after attending. If these are the portion sizes, six tastings is pretty generous. Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival portions are about the same size.

Open-Air Exhibits Include…

A woman wearing a face mask views dolphins through a window in an outdoor exhibit at SeaWorld San Diego.
Photo courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego

If you’re wondering what the outdoor exhibits are at SeaWorld San Diego, they include orcas, sharks, stingrays, sea lions, otters, Magellanic penguins, dolphins, flamingos, and more. The Explorer’s Reef touch pools will be open during SeaWorld San Diego Zoo Days. I’m not clear whether you’ll be able to stick your hands in them.

Update: Some indoor exhibits are open, too! These include Sharks, Sea Turtles, and Penguins! I love the Penguin Encounter!

Animal Interactions that Are Available

Guests may upgrade their day to include the Dolphin Encounter for an extra $20 per person. You’ll be able to touch and feed bottlenose dolphins. You’ll also learn some of the hand signals used to communicate with them.

Meet and Greet Characters

Small children who haven’t been able to visit Sesame Place recently will love having their photos taken with favorite characters. The characters stand in ornate props (like Oscar the Grouch in his trash can) to stay properly distanced from the kids.

There Will Be Animal Presentations

You’ll be able to see the Dolphin Days, Sea Lion Show and the Orca Encounter live presentations with physically distant seating.

Hours Are Shortened

It wouldn’t make sense to start a hearty food event prior to lunch. Park hours during SeaWorld San Diego Zoo Days are 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

They’d Like You to Buy Parking in Advance

You can buy parking online in advance. It’s not cheaper online, but it will save time. It’s also the right thing to do in a time where we’re trying to minimize in-person transactions.

Why Is it Called SeaWorld San Diego Zoo Days?

Yes, it’s a theme park, but SeaWorld San Diego is also a licensed, permitted, and accredited zoo. Outdoor zoos are permitted to open their open-air exhibits.

See also: Best Hotels Near SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld San Diego Tips and Tricks.

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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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