One of our boys really loves sea animals, and has Sea World as one of his favorite parks. Most people are familiar with the (infamous) killer whale and dolphin shows, but Sea World is so much more than this. When we lived in Northern California, we would occasionally take road trips down from the San Francisco Bay Area to San Diego, partly to visit this amazing park.
(Note: yes, we are aware of some controversy about the park (“Blackfish”). We understand why some folks might not want to visit the park for these reasons, but at the same time, as concerns have been raised, we do hope that those involved are operating the park with the well-being of the animals as a top priority).
Sea World is located on the north side of San Diego, about 120 miles south of Los Angeles. If you are considering a Southern California road trip, consider adding this marine delight to your itinerary!
Tickets can be a little pricey, and seem to be structured in such a way that a full price day ticket is almost the same price as an annual fun card (though this card has a few blocked out dates). We actually did the “fun card” in 2016, given the pricing, and did an extra road trip down later in the year to see it again. Alternatively, if you’re going to several parks in Southern California, see if any of the multi-park passes might make sense.
Most people go to Sea World for the shows. I remember being awed by Shamu as a kid. Of course, we later learned that there were some severe problems in how the orcas (killer whales) were treated back in those days, but Sea World has made some changes to improve the situation. Even so, there is still no getting around the fact that the space the orcas are given is no where close to as big as the ocean, that they are “encouraged” to perform tricks, and that the animals cannot thrive in captivity as much as they can in the wild. Consider how much this issue matters to you before you purchase tickets.
The orca shows today are much less exciting than in the past, but it is better for the animals. The trainers are no longer allowed to swim with the killer whales during the shows, but as the trainers talk about the life of the orca, the whales will do plenty of tricks to delight the audience.
Even though trainers are not allowed in the water with the orcas, and are not allowed to stand on the dolphins, they are allowed to swim with the dolphins.
Dolphins are naturally playful creatures, and while they are happier in the wild, they are much more suited for captivity than whales. The boys were quite delighted with their antics!
The Clyde and Seamore Show
The boys’ all-time favorite show is the Clyde and Seamore Show. Two sea lions and an otter put on a hilarious skit that will leave the whole family laughing.
Beyond the big three shows, there are usually a few other shows that meet a variety of interests. They tend to change over time, but have themes of how they care for and rescue animals, as well as shows that are intended to delight and cause laughter. The boys are a little sad that they ended their Pets Rule show, but it has been replaced with Rescue Tails.
Beyond just shows, there are plenty of aquarium type exhibits.
Our favorite aquarium is the one dedicated to sharks. There is a really cool tunnel where you can get up close and personal with the sharks. It tends to remind me a bit of “Jaws,” but fortunately the sharks are a bit smaller and less hungry.
And there are plenty of other cool exhibits. One of our favorite experiences was when we bee-lined for this exhibit just after opening and one of our boys had a great conversation with one of the workers. When he asked, “Do the sharks like being here?” we were curious about how the woman would answer. She left it at, “They don’t know any different,” which seemed like an appropriate response that was both truthful, but didn’t disillusion an excited child.
Sea World used to have a polar bear exhibit, but unfortunately, the last one died and they are unlikely to get a replacement.
In addition to the animals above, there are sea turtles, bat rays, eels, penguins, walruses, and more!
Some of the exhibits allow you to touch or feed the animals. Our boys like feeding the fish to the sea lions at Sea Lion Point.
While this isn’t a traditional amusement park, Sea World does have a few rides and rollercoasters. Note that the lines are often quite long, so to avoid kid disappointment we usually tell our boys before we enter that we are here to see the animals, not the rides. That said, the Bayside Sky Ride over Mission Bay is always a nice ride in the afternoon.