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City Pass San Francisco – Is It Worth the Money?

September 27th, 2011 · 3 Comments · Activities

As most of us know from experience, traveling to a new city and visiting the top tourist attractions can be expensive and hard to plan on your own.

CityPass is a way for travelers to save money while touring various cities across the US.  San Francisco CityPASS offers unlimited muni and cable car rides as well as admission to five of San Francisco’s top sight seeing attractions.  City PASS provides you with an easy way to organize your trip to make sure you don’t miss the must see hot spots in San Francisco.

However, the big question is- Is the San Francisco CityPASS worth the money?
Fishermans Wharf San Francisco
The San Francisco CityPASS is priced at $69.00 for adults and $39.00 for children ages 5-12. The attractions offered in the CityPASS are good for 9 days from the first day of use, and the muni pass is only good for 7 days. You also get to skip to the front of the line on most attractions. CityPASS claims that you will be saving 48% on full fare admissions, but that statistic is only true if you use the CityPASS to its full potential. If you use the public transportation and go to all 5 of the available attractions, then the CityPASS is a great deal.   However some people simply do not have enough time to visit all of the attractions that are included with the CityPASS.  Others may have a change of plans or find something better to do on their vacation.

Many travelers don’t end up using the muni bus pass because they tend to be uncomfortable riding the muni. This is mostly because schedules can be confusing, and there tends to be a lot of “interesting” riders.   Also, the cable car is mostly used for entertainment and CityPASS is not valid for BART, the Bay Area’s subway system, so the transportation aspect of the CityPASS does not have much value for many travelers.

In addition to the unlimited cable car rides and muni pass, the available attractions for SF CityPASS are:

  1. California Academy of Sciences
  2. Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise (with optional Alcatraz Tour)
  3. Aquarium of the Bay
  4. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
  5. De Young Museum OR Exploratorium

All of the attractions offered are popular San Francisco tourist attractions that many SF travelers would typically visit. The California Academy of Sciences, the Aquarium of the Bay and the Exploratorium are all very fun and interesting places, especially great if you are traveling with kids.  However, if you are staying for a longer period of time and are adventurous, I would recommend taking a side trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium rather than the Aquarium of the Bay.

Another attraction available through City pass is the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise. It is a great way to see the San Francisco Bay and Pier 39, but bring a jacket because it is usually windy and cold on the bay even if it is a warm day in San Francisco. However, most travelers would prefer to see Alcatraz to the San Francisco Bay cruise. Many people want to see the San Francisco Bay and take a boat ride, but you get to take a boat to Alcatraz, so many people see the Alcatraz tour as a bonus deal. CityPASS does have an option to replace the Bay Cruise with an Alcatraz Island tour, however the switch is not guaranteed.  It is very hard to get Alcatraz tickets unless they are purchased weeks, if not months in advance, so this option to switch attractions is not easy.  The only way to make this switch is to call far in advance, request the exchange, and purchase the CityPASS from the Alcatraz tours.  The number to call is 415-981-7625 (ROCK). This option to replace the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise with the Alcatraz Island tour is not a sure thing by any means.

CityPASS is great for travelers who are organized and like to prepay and preplan every detail of their trip. If you like to follow schedules then CityPASS would be a great option for you. Also, you pay for the pass before you arrive in San Francisco, which is nice because then you don’t feel like you are spending money during your trip.

I know from personal experience that one of the best things about the CityPASS is that it somewhat forces you to plan your days and visit the sites, as compared to “maybe” going and then never getting to the museum, etc.  When I went to NYC with my family, we bought a CityPASS and literally “ran” from one site to the next to use up our pass.  Without it, we probably would have ended up in a sports bar watching baseball or going shopping on 5th Ave.

However what if you don’t want to go to all of the available attractions? Lets say you only have time or are only interested in a few of the attractions, and you do not end up using the muni pass. The question is – Is the CityPASS still a good deal?

If you could only choose 3 attractions in addition to riding the cable cars, which attractions do you choose?  My favorites would be:

1. The California Academy of the Sciences because it is a good balance of historical learning and entertainment. There is also the Steinhart Aquarium located in the California Academy of the Sciences, and many travelers believe that the Steinhart Aquarium is as good as, if not better than the Aquarium of the Bay.

2. The Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise – even if you’re unable to switch the Bay Cruise for the Alcatraz tour, I still recommend that you go on the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise because it is a beautiful tour, most people want to see the city of San Francisco from the water. Also, this cruise is conveniently located at Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco’s most popular destination, so since you will most likely be visiting Fisherman’s Wharf at some point on your trip, you can take the bay cruise while you are at the Wharf.

3. The SFMOMA because it is an incredible art museum, and for many people it is on the top of their list of attractions to see.

If you choose to only go to these three attractions and go on one cable car ride, will you have saved money? The California Academy of Sciences cost $29.95; the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise cost $25.00; the SFMOMA costs $18.00, and the cable car costs $6.00 for one ride. The total cost is $78.95, so yes in this case the CityPASS is worth the money, for you are saving $9.95. However, these attractions happen to be some of the more expensive available attractions, so really it all comes down to which attractions interest you and how much time you have to visit them.

In conclusion, you have to know what kind of traveler you are. Are you traveling to San Francisco to go to museums and learn the history and see the beauty of San Francisco? Or are you the spontaneous traveler who wants to explore the streets and neighborhoods of San Francisco and find the best local restaurants, shops, etc. If you enjoy pre-planned trips and want to hit all of the tourist spots then the CityPASS is a great option for you. If you can’t follow a schedule and you are not interested in some of the attractions then you probably won’t use the CityPASS to its full potential, and it would not be worth your money.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Alicia Samualson

    Myself and a colleague are in San Francisco this week and visited Alcatraz yesterday. We called a little less than a week ago to purchase our CityPASSes with the Alcatraz option. When we picked up our reserved tickets for yesterday, we asked how far in advance they are usually sold out. We were told they are usually sold out in advance from March through October. In the early summer, she said they are usually sold out about two weeks in advance, whereas towards the fall it’s about 2-3 days in advance. It’s definitely something you need to plan ahead for, but if you can make your reservations at least 3-4 weeks in advance, it sounds like you should have an excellent chance of being able to use the Alcatraz option. (And it was really worth it – what a very cool place to experience!)

    We are really enjoying our time in San Francisco. Such a beautiful city with so much going on, and what a great time of year to be here. We LOVE San Francisco!!

  • Melissa Davidson

    Thanks for the great review of the San Francisco CityPASS! You definitely know how to make the most of it and get your money’s worth.
    The Muni pass is awesome if you want to get from attraction to attraction using public transportation – it’s the only CityPASS city with a transportation ticket!
    The 9 days in which the booklet is valid should be plenty of time to see 5 attractions at your leisure but we understand some people don’t have that long of a vacation.
    We’d love it if you could submit any of your travel tips and share your expert advice in our new travel community, City Traveler, if you have time. Other travelers would truly benefit!
    Again, thanks!!

  • Donna Myers

    This site is so beneficial for travel in the Bay area. Thank you for this helpful information.

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