People often ask me for help planning San Diego family vacations that center exclusively around SeaWorld San Diego. It’s often the only theme park on vacation or staycation itineraries. These travelers tend to stay nearby and look for things to do near SeaWorld San Diego.
The park’s coastal location on Mission Bay opens up a myriad of possibilities. The question is whether you’ll have enough time to tackle it all.
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1. Stay in a Nearby Hotel
I’m starting off with hotels near SeaWorld San Diego because people who come to San Diego with this theme park top of mind tend to stay in the Mission Bay resorts. It makes sense — they want to minimize drive time to the theme park. (I would say walking time, but there really aren’t any resorts that are within walking distance shorter than 20 minutes.)
The hotels people who work with me tend to pick the most are:
Why? They are moderately-priced resorts with recently-renovated rooms and nice pools (Hyatt has three water slides). I have benefits at both.
The lower price point helps offset the cost of SeaWorld San Diego tickets. And, these resorts provide easier access to things to do near SeaWorld San Diego on this list because they’re close to these activities, too.
2. Play at Belmont Park
Drive time from SeaWorld San Diego: 6 minutes
Travelers interested in SeaWorld usually enjoy a visit to Belmont Park San Diego as well. You can even end a long day here because it’s free to enter (you’ll pay to play games and ride rides) and you don’t need to commit a lot of time to the experience.
Belmont Park is a seaside amusement park adjacent to Mission Beach. You’d go here to ride the Giant Dipper historic roller coaster; ride some other carnival-style rides; play carnival games, arcade games, mini-golf and laser tag; and much more.
You can also grab a bite to eat at one of the casual eateries or Cannonball restaurant, which has one of the largest outdoor ocean view decks in San Diego and pretty good Pacific Rim fare. Browse the shops for beachwear you forgot to pack and grab a Dole Whip float or giant ice cream cone before you go.
3. Spend a Beach Day at Mission Beach
Drive time from SeaWorld San Diego: 6 minutes
If you’re seeking a quintessential Southern California beach day, you’ll find it at Mission Beach which is one of the most popular beaches in San Diego. It’s a big sandy beach patrolled by lifeguards.
Here, you can sunbathe, play beach games, go swimming, or head out to surf (in designated areas). If you don’t have gear, don’t worry. You can rent chairs, umbrellas, boogie boards, and surf boards at Mission Beach Surf Rentals. Or, opt for a pro set up at Belmont Park’s Club Aqua.
4. Cruise the Boardwalk
Drive time from SeaWorld San Diego: 6 minutes (to the boardwalk in front of Belmont Park)
As you can see above, a beach boardwalk called Ocean Front Walk spans approximately three miles between South Mission Beach and Pacific Beach neighborhoods.
It’s a lovely place for a walk or jog, but you can rent beach cruisers, kids’ bikes (helmets, too), inline skates, and skateboards to ride on it also from Mission Beach Surf Rentals.
Sometimes there are buskers blowing bubbles or dancing for entertainment. You can also walk to the end of Crystal Pier for epic sunset views if in the neighborhood in the early evening.
5. Take Surfing Lessons
Drive time from SeaWorld San Diego: 6 minutes (to Mission Beach)
Our fantastic San Diego surfing schools can get you up riding waves within a single lesson, thanks to professional instructors, foam boards, and (usually) fantastic waves. Our weather means that surfing is one of our top experiences that you can enjoy no matter when you visit.
6. Bike Ride Around the Bay
Spend some time cruising around the easy and flat Mission Bay Bike Loop around most of the bay.
Some Mission Bay hotels and resorts have activity centers on-site where you can rent bikes. And, as mentioned earlier, you can rent them at Belmont Park.
If you rent at Belmont Park, cross the streets to be on the north side of West Mission Bay Drive. This is the same side of the street as the Starbucks and Subway sandwich shop. You’ll enter the bike path just past Subway.
The Mission Bay hotels like Catamaran Resort Hotel and San Diego Mission Bay Resort are on the bike path, so all you need to do is grab a bike from their Action Sports Rentals outlets and start pedaling.
Along the way, you’ll pass some grassy areas that are perfect for picnics and even a few playgrounds for kids. Most of the loop avoids city streets and is safe for kids to ride on.
7. Enjoy Water Sports
Drive time from SeaWorld: 5-10 minutes depending on which activity center you use
Mission Bay is a humanmade aquatic water park that residents and visitors use for exercise and recreation. Popular water sports include stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, aquacycles, sailing, water skiing, boating, and windsurfing.
You can rent these things on your own at activity centers on the adjacent hotels and resorts. Options include:
- Action Sports Rental at Dana Landing (closest to SeaWorld — kayaks and SUPs only)
- Action Sports Rentals at San Diego Mission Bay Resort
- Mission Bay Sports Center at Santa Clara Place or Hyatt Regency Mission Bay
Another option is to take lessons or participate in youth programs offered by Mission Bay Aquatic Center that are very popular especially during warm weather months.
8. Plan a Picnic and Playtime
Drive time from SeaWorld: 8-10 minutes
One benefit to staying in or exploring the Mission Bay area is that you have access to two different beach types: bay and ocean. These beaches and the Mission Bay Parks offer plenty of opportunities to spread out a blanket for a picnic under our famous sunshine.
Consider these two Mission Bay picnic spots with easy access to the freeway and SeaWorld.
The first is Tecolote Shores Park on East Mission Bay Drive, just south of San Diego Mission Bay Resort. Here you’ll find a playground for the kids, a large grassy area, an area with picnic tables and barbecue grills, and fire pits. You can even fly kites here.
On the north side of San Diego Mission Bay Resort, you’ll see Playa Pacifica Park and Leisure Lagoon. The park also has a large grassy area, picnic facilities, basketball courts, a playground, a parking lot, and public restrooms. The lagoon provides a sheltered place for kids to play in the sand and in the waveless bay water.
Reach both easily by taking SeaWorld Drive east and then a left on East Mission Bay Drive. You’ll pass Tecolote Shores first, then San Diego Mission Bay Resort. The next park you’ll see is Playa Pacifica Park and Leisure Lagoon.
9. Visit Old Town San Diego
Drive time from SeaWorld San Diego: 10 minutes
The museums, restaurants, and shops of Old Town San Diego aren’t too far from SeaWorld. You may want to consider ending your day of sightseeing here with some hearty Mexican food and a margarita.
The main reason to visit, though, is that Old Town San Diego is considered the birthplace of California. It’s where Father Junipero Serra founded the first of our 21 missions in 1769. You can walk into some free (and paid in the case of the haunted Whaley House) museums, El Campo Santo cemetery, and other displays that showcase what life was like in that era.
Lining the main touristy area you’ll find a few open-air marketplaces for everything from vintage candy to blown glass. These are known as Fiesta de Reyes, Bazaar del Mundo, and Old Town Market.
10. Check Out the La Jolla Seals and Sea Lions
Drive time from SeaWorld San Diego: 18 minutes
Those who are interested in sea life and are looking for things to do near SeaWorld San Diego should see the La Jolla seals and sea lions.
Harbor seals are almost always lounging on the sand at the Children’s Pool, one of the state’s only urban seal rookeries. The beach here is roped off between December and April for pupping season, one of the best times to visit. When beachgoers can use the beach during the summer, the seals tend to vacate between morning and dusk.
Their neighbors, the La Jolla sea lions, are nearly always around on the rocks and bluffs just a bit north at La Jolla Cove. You can very easily walk between the two spots in about 10 minutes.
Plus, it’s an animal encounter in San Diego that is absolutely free to enjoy.