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In this San Francisco CityPASS review, we explore how it works, what’s included, and whether it’s a good fit for you.
Heading to San Francisco? From the Golden Gate Bridge to the historic cable cars, San Fran always provides a charming visit. Whether you’re going for three days or two weeks, you won’t run out of things to do. If you’re not careful, though, you could run out of money!
True, there are plenty of things to do for free in San Francisco. Walking the bridge, exploring Chinatown, visiting the park, and strolling along Pier 39 are all great examples. But if you want to ride the cable cars, cruise the bay, or visit the iconic museums, you’ll have to spend some coin. As any traveler knows, those costs can add up.
Luckily, you can slash your sightseeing costs by up to 44% with the San Francisco CityPASS. Interested in learning how?
In this San Francisco CityPASS review, I’ll explain how the pass works, what’s included, and who should consider it. Stick with me, and I’ll help you decide if it’s worth it for you.
San Francisco CityPASS: How It Works
The San Francisco CityPASS provides free entry to four of the city’s top attractions for one low price. Each pass includes two standard attractions and a choice for the third and fourth.
The pass comes as individual tickets to all the attractions. Like the Chicago CityPASS and the Seattle CityPASS, the pass is available to buy online. After making your purchase, your tickets are sent via email. You can either print your tickets or keep a digital copy on your smartphone.
Once you have your pass in hand, using it is simple. Just present your digital or paper ticket at any of the attractions and head on in. You can visit the sites in any order you like, and your pass is activated when you use it for the first time. After activation, the pass is valid for nine consecutive days, including the first day. That gives you plenty of time to hit all four attractions.
Top Attractions on the San Francisco CityPASS
The San Francisco CityPASS includes cash-free access to four of San Francisco’s major attractions. Two are included by default, and you get a choice between four options for the third and fourth slots. Here’s the lineup along with the regular adult admission prices:
- California Academy of Sciences ($43)
- Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise ($34)
Plus two of the following:
- Aquarium of the Bay ($29.25)
- The Walt Disney Family Museum ($25)
- Exploratorium ($29.95)
- San Francisco Zoo & Gardens ($25)
(Editor’s Note: Prices are current as of May 26, 2021. Some attractions may require reservations, be unavailable, have limited hours, or be operating at limited capacity. Contact each attraction for the most current information.)
Here’s something interesting: There’s an option to swap out the Blue and Gold Fleet San Francisco Bay Cruise for the Escape from the Rock Cruise which circles Alcatraz Island (regular price: $42). Simply upgrade for $5 when you book your cruise.
San Francisco CityPASS Pricing
Now that you know what’s on the menu, how much does the San Francisco CityPASS cost? Considering that San Fran isn’t exactly a cheap vacation spot, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
|Adult (ages 12+)||Child (ages 5-11)|
|*Prices current as of May 26, 2021|
For just $76, teens and adults get entry to four top San Francisco attractions. That works out to be $19 a pop. If you look at the regular admission prices, it’s immediately clear that adults are getting a great deal, since each attraction costs between $25 and $43 on its own.
The San Francisco CityPASS advertises savings to the tune of 44% compared to paying regular prices at the gate. I always verify such claims, and in this case, it’s easy.
If you add the regular adult admission price of the four attractions (assuming you choose the Aquarium and Exploratorium, since they are the more expensive options) you get a total of $136.20. The adult pass costs just $76, so the total cost of attractions ($136.20) minus the cost of pass ($76) is $60.20 in savings, which works out to 44% off.
(Editor’s Note: These calculations are based on paying $43 for admission to the California Academy of Sciences. Pricing fluctuates between $36 to $43 based on the date you visit.)
Assuming the same attraction lineup, kids save slightly less at 42% off the attractions.
For teenagers, the value isn’t as good. That’s because they have to pay the adult price for the pass, but many of the attractions offer reduced admission for teens.
For example, a 16-year-old who visits the same four attractions would pay $76 for the pass, but her admission would only cost $116.20, giving her 35% in savings. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but adults and children under 12 definitely get better value from the pass.
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San Francisco CityPASS Attractions Guide
Before you decide if the San Francisco CityPASS is a good deal for you, you’ll want to know more about the attractions.
California Academy of Sciences
How does an interactive aquarium, a living rain forest, a stunning planetarium, and a natural history museum sound? To me, they sound like four separate, very cool things. But at the California Academy of Sciences, you can experience them all in one place.
The San Francisco CityPASS gets you general admission to all exhibits. You’ll also find a 15% coupon you can use at the Academy Store, if you’re so inclined.
Blue and Gold Fleet San Francisco Bay Cruise
The one-hour narrated San Francisco Bay Cruise is the only tour included on the San Francisco CityPASS, but it manages to hit a lot of the major landmarks. You’ll sail under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, along San Fran’s waterfront, and circle historic Alcatraz Island. The audio tour is available in nine languages, and you have your pick of indoor or outdoor seating.
Hot Tip: Temperatures can be cool while cruising the bay, so be sure to bring a jacket. With that said, morning and late afternoon cruises tend to be the least crowded.
Aquarium of the Bay
Sure, the California Academy of Sciences has an aquarium, but this is next level! I’m talking 300 feet of tunnels and more than 20,000 marine animals of the San Francisco Bay in a massive and immersive exhibit. You’ll see sharks, moon jellies, colorful rockfish, river otters, a giant Pacific octopus, and more.
The Touch the Bay exhibit will be a favorite among kids. They can get hands-on with bat rays, leopard sharks, and sea stars, to name a few. Naturalists are always on deck to answer questions and do demonstrations such as shark feedings.
Walt Disney Family Museum
Major Disney fans will not want to skip the Walt Disney Family Museum. It’s less of a Disney Bonanza for kids and more of an in-depth look at how it all began.
Interactive exhibits narrated in Walt’s voice feature early drawings, movies, and yes, screens — more than 200 of them. Check out the multiplane camera responsible for creating 3D effects and get nostalgic with daily screenings of classic Disney films.
The Exploratorium is an interactive museum featuring experiences in science, art, and human perception.
Adults and kids alike will love building their own creations in the Tinkering Studio. Visualists will be mesmerized by the Colored Shadows and Soap Film Painting Exhibits. Science buffs will get lost exploring the Living Systems gallery. There’s truly something for everyone.
If all that wonky fun stuff doesn’t appeal to you, at least there’s a stunning view of the city from the Bay Observatory. (But seriously, check out the exhibits.)
San Francisco Zoo and Gardens
Animal lovers big and small will flock to the diverse exhibits of the San Francisco Zoo and Gardens.
The sprawling 100-acre area is home to more than 2,000 animals. Spy giraffes, zebras, and kudus in the African Savanna exhibit. Meet the resident grizzly bears, Kachina and Kiona. Marvel at playful Magellanic penguins in action. The kiddos can even get hands-on with farm animals at the Children’s Zoo.
Escape from the Rock Cruise
This one isn’t part of the pass’ core lineup, but as I mentioned before, you have the option of subbing it in to replace the Blue and Gold Fleet San Francisco Bay Cruise. This 1.5 hour cruise circles the island and explores the stories of those who worked there, those who were imprisoned there, and the even the rare few who escaped.
Other Benefits of the San Francisco CityPASS
- Save 44% — The San Francisco CityPASS can save you up to 44% on admission fees to four of the city’s main attractions. While it’s not the absolute best value I’ve ever seen in a sightseeing pass (New York Pass, I’m looking at you), it’s still impressive.
- Streamlined Entry — The San Francisco CityPASS includes tickets to each attraction, and in several cases, those are your actual admission tickets. For the other attractions, you will have to present your ticket or booklet at the ticketing window and make an exchange.
- Valid for Nine Days — Unlike some sightseeing passes, the San Francisco CityPASS is valid for nine days. Having nine days to visit four attractions means you have plenty of time to relax and do other things. There’s no need to worry about fitting everything in — breathe, you have time.
- Mobile Pass — The San Francisco CityPASS is available as a convenient mobile pass you can download to your smartphone. No need for paper, unless you want it.
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Where the Pass Falls Short
The San Francisco CityPASS can save you some serious cash, but it isn’t perfect.
First, although you can upgrade your pass to include the Alcatraz Island cruise, there is no physical tour of the building itself. That is a bit of a bummer if visiting Alcatraz is on your to-do list.
Additionally, the advertised savings for the pass isn’t accurate for teenagers. This is because several of the attractions offer discounted admission to teenagers. It is important to consider these discounts when deciding if the pass is a good deal for you.
Instead of being able to save 42% the way you can for younger children, the most you can save is 35% when you purchase a pass for a teen. Now saving 35% is still a great deal, but you’ll need to visit all four attractions to hit that savings amount.
Who Should Consider the San Francisco CityPASS?
- First Timers — If it’s your first time in San Fran, the included attractions will likely be on your to-do list. Why not do them for less with the San Francisco CityPASS?
- Travelers Who Like a Relaxed Pace — If you prefer to spread out your sightseeing and enjoy a flexible schedule, you’ll appreciate that the San Francisco CityPASS is good for nine days. That’s plenty of time to explore each attraction at your leisure and take a day off in between, if that’s your thing.
- Families With Kids Under 12 — Admission costs can add up quickly when you’re traveling as a group. The San Francisco CityPASS can slash those costs by up to 44% for adults and 42% for kids under 12 (see tips section for advice for using the pass for teens). Plus, the pass is pretty family-friendly.
Who Should Skip the Pass?
- Power Sightseers — If you love a jam-packed itinerary and you buzz with excitement at the idea of getting to see as much of San Fran as humanly possible, you’re a power sightseer. You’d do best with an unlimited pass like the Go San Francisco Pass.
- Anyone Not Interested in the Included Attractions — The San Francisco CityPASS only includes six attractions (you get to choose two out of the last four), and they may not be for everybody. If most of them don’t appeal to you, you’re better off skipping the pass altogether.
- Extreme-Budget Travelers — Everyone loves saving money, and the San Francisco CityPASS can definitely help you do that. But if your sightseeing budget is pretty much nil, you’re gonna want to stick to the free sights.
Tips for Using the San Francisco CityPASS
Visit All the Attractions — This is obvious, but the San Francisco CityPASS is only a good deal if you use it enough to save money. Visiting all four attractions gives you maximum savings, but you’ll still enjoy a discount if you visit three. Skipping two attractions really reduces the value of the pass.
Choose the Aquarium and Exploratorium — If you want to maximize your savings, it’s best to choose the Aquarium and the Exploratorium over the Disney Museum and the Zoo. That’s because those two attractions have higher regular admission costs, so you save more by using your pass to cover them. This is especially important if you might pay out of pocket to see one of the attractions you didn’t pick.
Disclaimer: This tip assumes you’re equally interested in the attractions. Value is about more than money, so if you’re a die-hard Disney fan and not all that interested in sea life, don’t pick the Aquarium just to save a few bucks.
Check Regular Admission Prices Based on Age — The San Francisco CityPASS defines adults as everyone 12 and up, but that’s not necessarily how the attractions do their pricing. Five of them offer discounted admission to teenagers.
It’s important to consider these discounts when deciding if the pass is a good deal for you. If you’re traveling with a teen, she’ll have to use the adult pass. So if you don’t plan to visit all four attractions, crunch the numbers to see if the pass is a good buy or if it’s better to buy tickets at the gate.
How to Buy the San Francisco CityPASS
The easiest way to get your pass is to buy the San Francisco CityPASS online.
After completing your purchase, simply download your tickets to your smartphone or print hard copies. Present your tickets at your first attraction, and your pass is activated!
Is the San Francisco CityPASS Worth it?
So after all that, the moment of truth: Is the San Francisco CityPASS worth it?
If you’re going to visit all four attractions, the answer is a clear yes. Adult pass holders who choose the Aquarium and Exploratorium will save 44% on admission costs, and that’s pretty fantastic. Kids save a bit less, and teenagers less again.
If you’re not committed to visiting at least three attractions, the San Francisco CityPASS may not be worth it for you. And if there’s a ton more you want to see and are happy to do it in a short time, then an all-inclusive pass might be a better fit.
Whatever you choose, I hope this review was helpful. Thanks for reading and have a great trip to San Francisco!
Save up to 45% in San Francisco – Visit iconic sites in San Francisco and save money while you do it! Get yours here.
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San Francisco CityPASS Review
If you’re going to visit all four attractions, the San Francisco CityPASS is definitely worth it.
Adult pass holders can save up to 44% compared to regular admission costs, and that’s pretty fantastic. Kids save a bit less, and teenagers less again, but the savings are still substantial. So if sightseeing is on your San Francisco agenda, this pass is definitely worth purchasing.