How to Plan a Trip to Sesame Place in San Diego
I walk down Sesame Street, where I see the famous stoop leading to the two-story brownstone building whose address is “123.” All the details I know and love from my favorite childhood show are there – the green lamppost, the shady trees, the colorful fabric curtains hanging out of Elmo’s bedroom window.
It’s only now that Oscar the Grouch is telling my 3-year-old son, Max, to “manage it!” as he giggles and pushes his ratty metal trash can. Nearby, my 9-year-old daughter, Maggie, takes a selfie inside Big Bird’s nest. The young children and their parents ring Bert and Ernie’s doorbell, shop at Hooper’s Store and give high-fives to an oversized Grover.
It’s Sesame Place San Diego, a 17-acre theme park that opens Saturday in Chula Vista. It’s the second Sesame Place – the first opened in Philadelphia in 1980 – and Orlando-based SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment’s first theme park in nine years.
“It’s amazing to see the park come to life,” said Ed Wells, executive vice president of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind the popular TV show that successfully brought it to life. stay relevant — revolutionary, even — for more than 50 years. On a media preview day, Wells tells me he sees the new park as an “extension of the show, a live embodiment of the Sesame Street program.”
It’s certainly a bold undertaking, as theme parks have been hit hard by the pandemic. Are the good days coming for the new project? Here’s what it’s like to be there.
The rides are a mix of slides and soft coasters
One thing to know about Sesame Place is that there are water slides and traditional rides, and they’re all mixed together – no separate ticket needed. On a warm day, you’ll likely find kids strolling through the park in swimsuits and water shoes, going from the lazy river to the parade to rides that dive, bounce, and spin.
Water attractions have varying levels of “scariness” – toddlers can splash around in a gentle area called Elmo’s Silly Sand Slides, while older, thrill-seeking guests can get their squealing fix on slides like Cookie’s Monster Mixer, a six-story raft. ride that spins you around in a blue tube before dropping you through a side funnel for the stomach-blowing finale.
The dry land rides, however, definitely lean towards the under 8s. There’s Rub-A-Dub Sub, which rides Ernie’s toy submarine (the SS Duckie), a hot air balloon ride called Sesame Street Soar & Spin, and Super Grover’s Box Car Derby, a mini rollercoaster for those looking for a bit more action. Maggie’s favorite was Abby’s Fairy Flight, a carnival-style swing that would be the perfect way to dry off after splashing around in the wave pool.
With 18 rides in all, it’s an intimate and manageable space surrounded by the green hills of Chula Vista. For me, it’s pretty cool. I would have no qualms letting my 9 year old go for a walk with a friend while parking on a sun lounger by the pool.
Food is meh, but there are vegetarian options
It’s your standard amusement park fare — I had a $15.99 chicken sandwich and waffle fries at Grover’s Grill. There’s an Impossible Burger combo that’s $16.99 and a cheese pizza for $13.99. Other options around the park include PB&J salads, wraps and sandwiches for the kids.
The big show is an absolute delight
There’s only one show, “Welcome to Our Street,” an energetic outside production featuring Elmo, Abby, Grover, Rosita, Cookie Monster, and their human pal DJ Dani. I never knew I needed to see furry characters do a kick line to “C’s for Cookie,” but I guess I did. It was awesome. When Cookie Monster asked the audience “What other words start with ‘C’?” my 3 year old yelled “Cookie!” which was pretty good too.
There is also only one parade: the Sesame Street Party Parade. It’s bright and lively, with colorful floats and plenty of characters to greet.
The Autism Center is a world first
Sesame Place is the first theme park in the world to be designated as a Certified Center for Autism. For children who might be overstimulated or just need some downtime, there are “quiet rooms” and low sensory zones. (Sitting in a low sensory area on the parade route means the characters will never greet you with direct interaction, such as with a hug or a high-five.) Crew members receive special training to meet the needs children with special needs, and an information board at each ride includes a sensory guide so parents can decide if it’s right for their child.
Sesame Place is for kids, not nostalgic adults
As someone who grew up with the show, it would have been wonderful to see nods to the roots of Sesame Street, the way Disneyland shows vintage Mickey movies and Legoland Florida opens a passing attraction on the origin story of Lego. I could imagine something similar here appealing to all adults, who in this tumultuous world wouldn’t mind being taken back to when the biggest question of our lives was whether Grover was close Where far.
But this place is mainly for kids. And that’s okay. I was thrilled to see my kids hanging out with Elmo, Big Bird, Grover, Oscar and the whole gang. (I looked up Ji-Young, Sesame Street’s first Asian American Muppetbut couldn’t find her, unfortunately.) They had a great time.
At a time when my kids have a dizzying array of shows and streaming channels to choose from, I don’t know if the characters will stick with them as they grow up the same way they stuck with me. (At one point, Max asked, “Is Elmo the red one?”) But as the brand continues to find ways to reach new audiences, with the show and now with the park, we seem always knowing how to get to Sesame Street when we need it most.