San Francisco CityPASS

A Skeptic's Look at the San Francisco Discount Attraction Card

San Francisco city in front of San Francisco bay
© Santiago Urquijo / Getty Images

San Francisco CityPASS makes a claim that seems too good to believe: The say: "Save 45%" on the top San Francisco attractions.

Does it really deliver? To find out, you would have to click on all the pages and check all the attractions. Then you would have to look at the competitors, get out a calculator, add it up, and read all the fine print.

But you don't have to do that because it's all in this article.

What Is the San Francisco CityPASS?

CityPASS is a so-called multi-attraction discount card. It's one of several you can buy for San Francisco attractions.

CityPASS negotiates discounts from the attractions based on selling a lot of tickets. They package them into one pass. After taking their cut, they pass the discounts on to you.

The analysis below will help you figure out whether it will help you save on your trip or not.

How the San Francisco CityPASS Works

You buy a CityPASS for a fixed price and use it just like a ticket at each attraction. After you use it for the first time, you have up to nine consecutive days to enjoy then rest of the included attractions before it expires.

Inside Look at the Included Attractions

The list of attractions the San Francisco CityPASS includes is short. You can find their current offerings on their home page. Start by deciding how many of those things you actually want to see or do. If you don't like museums, you may find that a couple of things to do.

You can find out more about the attractions in the guide to some of the best things to do in San Francisco.

But if you don't like museums or aquariums, you'll find only a couple of things left, a cable car and bus pass and a bay cruise. Paying full price for those will cost you about the same as buying the pass. But — if like many other visitors you only plan to ride a cable car once and aren't going to use the San Francisco MUNI system to get around, the CityPASS will actually cost more.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many of San Francisco's best activities are free. You can walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, explore Chinatown, watch the sea lions at Pier 38 and not pay a penny. You can find more no-cost options in the guide to things to do for free in San Francisco.

Using CityPASS for Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island is a national park. Unfortunately, that makes it more difficult for visitors to get and use passes that include it. If you want to include it in your pass, it will replace the regular bay cruise. To use that option, follow the instructions on the CityPASS website.

Will the San Francisco CityPASS Save You Money?

The short answer: At the risk of sounding evasive or flippant: It depends. If you want to do everything single thing it covers, it will. If you're not interested in museums and aquariums, you'll pay less if you buy the rest separately.

The only way to know for sure: Add up the full-price costs of each attraction or activity you want to do and compare that to the CityPASS cost. See the other pass options listed below to find out whether one of them might better fit what you want to do.

If the standard CityPASS doesn't work for you, try their C3 Pass. It will get you into three attractions from a list of half dozen or more, and you don't have to choose which ones in advance.

How to Get a San Francisco CityPASS

If you want to buy a CityPASS after reading this evaluation, buy your pass online to save time standing in line.

You can also buy the CityPASS at the box office of any included attraction.

Other San Francisco Attraction Passes

You'll find more kinds of multi-attraction passes for sale in San Francisco than you will cable car lines. Before you buy the San Francisco CityPASS, you may also want to check out the Go San Francisco Card, the Pier 39 Pass, and the Fisherman's Wharf Pass.

You'll find more ideas for saving money in the guide to San Francisco on a budget, which includes planning ahead to save on accommodations and travel costs. Taking a vacation to San Francisco during the slower spring and fall months is also a great way to score discount tickets on airfare and hotels, and an excellent time to use the CityPASS since area attractions will be less crowded.

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