Is the San Francisco CityPASS a Good Deal?

I lived in San Francisco for 15 years and it is still one of my favorite cities. This is the first visit that we had a San Francisco CityPASS, and I enjoyed it. While I think most people get it for the museum entries, we loved the unlimited transportation on the cable car or the city bus. We took the cable car whenever we could. From our hotel on Union Square it got us to Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 and for our Irish coffee at Buena Vista.

San Francisco Cable Car. (included in the San Francisco City Pass)

Our best tip for the cable car: you can board at any stop. Only the ends of the line will have huge queues. Walk a block or so and get right on.

The San Francisco CityPASS provides entry to the California Academy of Science, Exploratorium (or de Young Museum), Aquarium of the Bay (or Monterey Bay Aquarium),  and a cruise out on the bay. It cuts the queue in most cases, and offers upgrade options in others.

California Academy of Sciences

Where else can you find an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and four-story rainforest all in one destination?

Practical information:

  • Located inside Golden Gate Park at 55 Music Concourse Dr.
  • Open Mon-Sat 10am to 5pm and Sun from 11am to 5pm.
  • Head to the planetarium first to get a timed ticket for the show.
  • There is an exhibit with live penguins in the back of the African Hall.
California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA.

Look who greets you at the entrance.

Sea horse in Steinhart Aquarium inside the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA.

Seahorse at the Steinhart Aquarium inside the California Academy of Sciences.

The four story living rainforest in the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA.

The living rainforest walk is worthwhile, but note that it is one direction from bottom to top.

Pendulum at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA.

This pendulum measures real time and is reset everyday.


A hands on experimental museum with more than 600 interactive exhibits.  Although our girls were a bit too young for it when we lived in San Francisco, it was one of their favorite spots. This visit was with friends and their toddler. They confirmed that waiting until school age is a better option.  Of course, with late night Thursdays offering cocktails, you know there is plenty to keep adults interested too.

**The San Francisco CityPASS offers the de Young Museum as an alternative. It is an art museum with an international collection in a new facility that incorporates the art with nature and architecture.

Practical information for the Exploratorium:

  • Located at Pier 15.
  • Open from 10am to 5pm, although closed most Monday’s. Check their website for details.
  • Be sure to visit the camera obscura on the upper level.
Toothpick exhibit in the Exploratorium in San Francisco Califronia

Over 100,000 toothpicks in this kinetic artwork that took over 40 years to build.

Tornado exhibit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco Califronia

Children are always fascinated by this tornado.

Giant mirror at the Exploratorium

For some reason we were all mesmorized by this image inverting giant mirror.

Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure

This narrated cruise goes out on the bay, around Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge. With a bit of advance planning cruise tickets can be swapped for a 2.5 hour Alcatraz Island day tour. Details are on the Alcatraz Island tour page of the San Francisco CityPASS website.

Practical information:

  • Located at Pier 39.
  • The boats sail everyday (except Christmas) beginning at 10am.
  • Bring a jacket, as it can get cold out on the bay, and in summer the fog will roll in during the afternoon.
Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise

As we opted not to take a cruise on this visit my only photo is of passengers boarding for their cruise.

Aquarium of the Bay:

With 300 feet of tunnels we get a diver’s view of over 20,000 marine animals. While we have seen similar in Seattle, Dubai, and Auckland, each is unique as they feature local marine life.

**The alternative is to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Monterey is a 1.5 hour drive south of San Francisco, but the aquarium is worth the visit if you have transport.

Practical information for the Aquarium of the Bay:

  • Located at Pier 39 it is an ideal destination to visit either before or after a bay cruise.
  • Opening hours vary by day and season, so check their website before you go.
  • Don’t forget to walk to the end of Pier 39 to see the sea lions that have chosen to take up seasonal residency on the docks.

Tunnels at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco California

Popping up in one of the tanks at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco California

My friend popping up in one of the tanks.

Touch pool at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco California

Touch pool

Is the San Francisco CityPASS a good deal?

Like all cities, there are far more than seven highlights. However, the San Francisco CityPASS covers most of the top paid highlights, and the included transit takes you to many of the city’s free highlights (Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, Union Square).

**NOTE: The San Francisco CityPASS is valid for nine days from activation, but the transport portion is only valid for seven days, so be sure to plan those activities requiring transport before the last few days.

In general I think it is a great value. Here is their official website.

Will you get a San Francisco CityPASS on your next visit? Have you used CityPASS anywhere else in the world? Do you think they are a good value?
San Francisco CityPASS

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This post also linked at Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 8.30.17 pm The Weekly Postcard, Weekend Wanderlust, Travel Photo Thursday, and Photo Friday.

Disclaimer: We were provided the San Francisco CityPASS, as well as complementary entry or other benefits to many places above. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own.

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  1. says

    We didn’t use the City Pass on our last visit to San Francisco, because we only had a couple of days. But the next time we’re there for a little longer, we plan to use it. The museums are great, but the transit is huge – like you, we take the buses and trolleys all over town, and think it’s a good value just for that.

  2. says

    I’ve always recommended the City Pass for many cities. It’s great to know it covers a lot of the attractions in San Francisco too. We’ve visited SF often enough that I don’t even think of using it but this gives me second thought. Great value!

  3. says

    I got the CityPass the first time I visited the city and I think it is worth the price. The Academy of Sciences, Alcatraz and the Cable Cars are a must. Save some money to have great food!

  4. says

    If I could live anywhere in the US (if money was no object) I’d live in San Francisco. Great weather and great people! (Though the occasional earthquake would freak me out.) I love, love, love the toothpick sculpture! It’s so intricate and artistic! Not sure about the touching pool. It’s hard to believe the starfish enjoy being poked by hundreds of people every day. Thanks so much for all the the great pics!

    • says

      I think that is why I chose it so long ago. I lived there for 15 years and still have so many friends there. It’s still one of my favourite cities. Good point about the starfish.

  5. says

    I’ve generally prescribed the City Pass for some urban areas. It’s extraordinary to know it covers a considerable measure of the attractions in San Francisco too.The Academy of Sciences, Alcatraz and the Cable Cars are an absolute necessity.

  6. says

    Wow the places where you can go using this card are awesome! That toothpick structure! I want to see that in real life!

    I think its so worth getting the card!

    I dont know how to get the badge of your linky so I just linked up using the hashtag. Hope that is okay =)

    #photofriday #wkendtravelinspiration

  7. says

    Aquariums where you can walk through a tube are so cool. I’d definitely get the city pass and visit all of those places.
    And the person who build that toothpick scene has way more patience than I…

    • says

      I am pretty sure those walk through tubes were first invented in New Zealand. They are always cool when we see them. Steinhart aquarium (In the California Academy of Sciences) has one too, only it is wider and much shorter. With so many photos to choose from, I opted not to put both on the same page.

  8. says

    I was a child when we passed through San Fran and we didn’t get to stop and explore. I would love to now. The City Pass sounds like a great way to get around. And no problem to walk a block to avoid the crowds.

  9. says

    I recall we used this pass (years ago) and were quite happy with the value for money we received. And it’s simply fun to hop on and off the cable car where ever you like. It saves climbing some of San Francisco’s steep hills.

  10. says

    Hi Rhonda – well you made the most of the pass … they all entice me – I’ve never been to San Fran or LA – except the airport …

    Great tips as usual … cheers Hilary

  11. says

    Love the toothpick art and the tornado and the seahorses. Those kids must be fascinated. Such creative angles and shots, your friend popping up, lol.

  12. says

    Most City Passes on public transport are good value, particularly for first time visitors. I agree that San Francisco is one of the top cities in the world. I visited here in 2012 and loved every bit of it.

  13. says

    We are headed to the Bay area in the fall but I don’t think we’ll get the city pass. We used it on our previous visit – and like you we enjoyed the transportation aspect of it alongside the museum entrances. But this time we aren’t doing so much of the city but more of the surrounding area except when we are visiting some friends. So this time it’s not for us – but I will be using it this year when we visit New York.

  14. says

    I loved San Francisco – my favourite destination on the west coast. I loved walking around the city, catching the trams and taking a cruise out to Alcatraz. But I didn’t go to the museums, there was so much to see and explore outside. So if the pass covers the costs of trams, buses and a cruise on the bay – yes definitely worth it.

  15. says

    I’m itching to get out to San Francisco with my daughter because we have never done the museums and so many are great for kids. I like the CityPass because once you have it you want to make the most of it so it gives you an extra incentive to go out and really see a lot. We’ll use it when we go.

  16. says

    If I’m planning on doing several of the main attractions in a city I’ll consider a city pass. For me it comes down to the math. I like that they include regular public transportation in the Sf pass. Some passes just include the hop on hop off which is usually useless as a method of transportation. The exploratory has always been my favorite place in San Francisco.

    • says

      Some of the toothpicks come from different countries for specific features in the art. I always find it interesting to have a shark passing overhead in aquariums.

  17. says

    City passes are good if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing. I always check what museums/attractions they cover and calculate how much I’d pay if I were to buy tickets. Sometimes I come up better with the individual tickets. But I think the San Francisco pass is really good. We used it many, many years before.

  18. says

    Oh San Francisco, love teh Academy of Sciences! I can’t believe it has been almost a year since I lived in the area now…I have used the SF City Pass before when I had visitors. I like that the Pass has options for some of the visits. For those visiting for the first time, I would personally recommend the Alcatraz visit over the Bay cruise and the Monterey Aquarium (one of my faves anywhere) over the San Francisco one (although the tunnel is cool!) if you have the time to head to Monterey. ~ Jessica

  19. says

    Enjoyed reading your post, Rhonda. The city pass seems to be of great value and includes some interesting activities. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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