San Francisco is a fantastic city to visit with so much to see and do. Things can quickly get out of hand and the cost of attractions really adds up. One way to keep costs under control is with an Attraction Pass. On top of this Passes claim to Save you time, and help you see far more than you would without one, So we test these claims and see if the San Francisco Go card is really any good.
Smart Destinations are a big player in the Attraction Pass world, and their offering for San Francisco is quite a beast of an offering. But Is the Go San Francisco Card Worth It? It’s not a simple question as there are multiple types of Pass from Smart Destinations, Meaning there surely is a Pass to suit everyone. Our Go San Francisco Card Reviews post is intended to help you navigate the myriad of options and choose a PASS that’s right for you.
**This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links
- Product: San Francisco Go Card / Explorer Pass
- Price: $79 – $189
- Price Child: $69 – $149 (Child 3-12yrs)
- Where to Buy: www.smartdestinations.com
- Number Of Attractions: 26+ Top Attractions
- Time Limit: 30 consecutive days or 1-5 days unlimited
- Rating: 4.5/5
Attractions Included – 26 +
- California Academy of Sciences
- Selection of Bay Cruise’s
- Hop on Hop off Big Bus Tour
- Six Flags Discovery Kingdom!
- Aquarium of the Bay
- De Young Museum
- and Many more…
Understanding the Passes
There are 4 options for the passes. It’s worth noting that not all attractions are available on all passes so check the Attractions you REALLY want are available on the Pass you choose.
The all-inclusive is the Simplest card to understand. You simply choose how many days you want the card to be valid for, 1,2,3 or 5 Days, you can then visit as many attractions as you like from a specified list of 26+ Attractions during that period.
This is the most expensive option but can be exceptional value if you visit many attractions during your stay. Having a limited amount of time might mean a few hectic days as you rush to cram in as much as possible to get the max value, but as San Francisco is such a compact City, we find you really can cram a lot into a short space of time.
- 1 Day – $74 Adult $54 Child
- 2 Days – $109 Adult $89 Child
- 3 Days – $139 Adult $124 Child
- 5 Days – $169 Adult $144 Child
The Explorer Pass works differently here you choose the number of attractions. 3, 4 or 5 attractions. However, you do not need to choose your attractions up front. This is fantastic as it allows you to still be very flexible on your trip, also families are not required to go to the same attractions. So maybe Mum and little sister can go check out Madame Tussauds, while Dad and big Brother Brave the San Francisco Dungeon, then the whole family visit the California Academy of Sciences and go on a Bay Cruise together…or any other number of thousands of possible configurations.
It’s a great pass targeted at a leisurely paced trip where you can take your time to visit the attractions at a pace that suits you, anytime within 30 days of activating the Pass.
- 3 Attractions – $71 Adult $57 Child
- 4 Attractions – $93 Adult $71 Child
- 5 Attractions – $109 Adult $81 Child
The Build Your Own Pass is a fantastic Idea for those that know exactly what the want to see. You build your pass up by choosing the attractions you want and adding them to the Pass. The list of potential attractions is also the most comprehensive, a choice of 34 attractions! Sounds perfect, however, the issue here is the limited potential savings.
You need to add a minimum of 2 attractions at which point you save 20% off the total value. That’s a pretty modest saving and A LOT more can be saved using the other pass options if you choose wisely. More on that later. However there are some attractions that are only available with this option and if these are the attractions that REALLY matter to you, there is little option. But our little Hack could be the answer…read on.
Prices: 20% off the combined Gate Price of the Attractions chosen.
The Packages option is a bit of a DUD at present. In other Cities this can be a nice option, however, it has not really been implemented in San Francisco and there is only one option, so really this can be ignored.
Which Pass to Choose?
Now we understand the Passes we need to decide which is the best option for you. This will largely depend on the trip you are planning, and which attractions interest you.
First, we will deal with the Build your own Ala Carte option. While this is Ideal for most people the savings just don’t stack up in practice. for example, say you wanted to visit the following:
- California Academy of Sciences
- Hop on Hop off Big Bus Tour
- Golden Gate Bay Cruise
With the “Build Your Own” this would cost $125.52 (Gate Price $156.90)
You could easily do these in 2 days and a 2-day Go Card costs only $119, and we are sure you could make use of some of the other attractions on the unlimited card. If not then the 4 Attraction Explorer Pass is only $93.
Really the only time to consider this option is if there is an attraction offered on this format that just isn’t on the others. However for maximum savings, if you find two attractions you want to do, you could just buy the build your own with the two loaded on at 20% off, then buy one of the other options to cover the other attractions. Yes, that way could get expensive but you will be seeing an awful lot for the best possible price!
So More often than not the Go Card or the explorer pass work out the best value.
Go Card – unlimited or Explorer Pass?
With that out of the way its down to these two. In our opinion, both of these are very good options. They provide exceptional savings and have a very broad list of mainly top quality attractions. We are more than happy recommending either. The decision should be based on the type of trip you plan to have. If it’s a short whirlwind trip where you plan to cram as much into your time as possible the Go Card – Unlimited is a fantastic option. However, a longer more sedate trip where you plan to take your time and immerse yourself in the city, maybe taking in a lot of the food and drink culture, then having a card with a few top attractions loaded on ready to use whenever you want could be the best option.
To get the best out of the Go Card – All inclusive you really need to cram plenty in, whereas the Explorer pass gives you 30 days to use up your allotted attractions. While not many people will be in San Francisco that long it still means even on shorter trips you won’t feel the need to chase the Pass, and can enjoy the attractions at your leisure.
Are the attractions any good?
In short, yes. The Pass in one guise or another covers most of the cities top attractions. The different attractions cover a wide array of appeals with everything from museums, to speed boat rides. It’s quite a potential line up. Some Passes from other cities have a habit of loading the lineups with dud attractions to get the numbers up. Here most of the attractions are the Cities Top Choices. Let’s look at a few of the Standouts.
California Academy of Sciences $39.95 One of San Francisco’s Must-see attractions. It’s so much more than just a Museum. It features an aquarium, a planetarium, natural history museum even a living rainforest. It really is a world-class science attraction and we advise anyone visiting San Francisco to add it to their list.
Golden Gate Bay Cruise $32.00. A cruise around the Bay is a fabulous way to spend an hour. This cruise from Red and White Fleet sets out from Pier 39. As the Ferry pulls away fabulous views of the city can be enjoyed from the deck. you will then sail round under the Golden Gate Bridge for fabulous views of this iconic landmark. before siling back via Alcatraz for some great close up views. It’s a trip to remember. There are other cruises available on the passes but the Golden Gate Cruise Is a nice quick ride that still ticks off the landmarks. The others are great if you want to spend even longer on the water!
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom $55.99 We have, to be honest, that we have not been to this theme park. We tend to spend time in San Francisco enjoying what the city has to offer and trekking out of the city for a theme park isn’t what WE want to do. But it’s a world-class theme park run by one of the US’s top theme park operators, Six Flags. It has some incredible rides and is animal themed so lots of wildlife and aquatic attractions to boot. It’s great value for it to be included in the pass, and if theme parks are your thing and you want a fantastic day out this could be a great choice.
However, we are struggling to accept the listed gate price of $72.71 as tickets are available from the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Website for only $55.99 so you would be better booking direct rather than adding to a Build your own. Also not available on the Explorer pass. But If you have the Go Card All Inclusive it’s an excellent choice.
The San Francisco Dungeon $27.00 A family favorite and a great way to spend a few hours and see first hand what San Francisco was like when it wasn’t such an inviting place to visit!
Aquarium of the Bay $26.95 This neat little aquarium is devoted to only life that exists within the Bay area. While not exactly a world-class aquarium we really enjoy it. It’s definitely worth a trip if you have the Go Card All Inclusive!
All Day Bike Rental with Blazing Saddles $32.00 Bikes are a fantastic way to see the City, and they are a handy way to get about between locations. A bike trip Across the Golden Gate Bridge is something you will never forget and a lot quicker than Hiking the 2k+ Each way! Plan your routes carefully through the World Famous San Francisco hills are really, REALLY Steep!
That little lot of attractions would set you back a whopping $230 PER ADULT if you paid at the gate! If you could cram those into a 3-day pass, which should be no issue at all it would set you back only $149.00 PER ADULT! It’s a significant saving, nearly 40% over $80. Money well spent on something else.
Also, we have been quite modest about the number of attractions you could squeeze into a 3-day period. If you planned better and really went for it, you could do a lot more, that itinerary is quite light! And also we haven’t intentionally chosen the most expensive Attractions but the ones we really like. There are far greater savings to be had than our modest Itinerary.
San Francisco Go Card in Practice
The San Francisco Go Card is a really easy to use system. No Booklets or voucher swapping. Despite its name, it’s not even a card anymore. The Pass uses a Smartphone based System and you simply download the App to your Smartphone and scan it at the attractions. The app has a built-in Guide to help you plan and find the attractions. If that is all a bit high tech you can Print the pass out beforehand and use that. It’s just a Simple QR card that can be scanned at the attractions.
Remember the All Inclusive Pass uses consecutive calendar days which are activated from when you use the pass at the first attraction. It, therefore, pays to activate it early in the morning so you get a full days use of the pass, activating it, later on, will mean you lose most of a full day.
TIP – We always use the Mobile option as it’s so simple. But we do carry a print out of our codes… just in case we have tech issues.
Planning – Having an element of planning on any trip is the key to a successful trip. You don’t need to be too rigid in your itinerary but knowing what you want to see is essential. Having a pass provides a fantastic Backbone to any Itinerary. You can easily plan out your days around the attractions while fitting in different sights and attractions that are free. Such as Checking out Fishermans wharf before a cruise or renting bikes to ride over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Inspiration – It is often the case when visiting a New city that you don’t always know exactly what is or isn’t available. It’s no surprise that some of the most common Google searches are for “things to do in xxx”. The San Francisco Go card offers a whole bunch of activities to inspire you on your trip. We often hear people did not know about something before they saw it included on a pass.
Flexibility – While It is essential to have a basic itinerary we find it needs to be flexible. Weather and mood can mean you simply don’t want to do what you had planned for that day. Having a pass means nothing is set in stone and you can juggle your plan around to fit the circumstance. If its giving rain for the day of you Bay Cruise simply head to the museums and do the cruise another day with better weather.
Budgeting – City Breaks can really cost a lot of cash. With costs piling up on each other. One of the big advantages of the Go card is you know exactly what you are going to spend ahead of the trip. So no Nasty surprises awaiting you on your return and no missing out on something because you have run out of cash!
Simplicity – The Digital implementation of the pass is fantastic it really couldn’t be easier,
Chasing the Pass – There is always the temptation with City Passes to try and cram too much in. Charging around trying to do everything and not really enjoying it properly and maybe even missing out on free attractions as you try and do everything on the pass. It is important to plan realistically and not try and cram everything in. San Francisco is a pretty small city and getting about is quite quick but you still have to be honest with yourself about how much you can cram in.
No Alcatraz – We would be doing you a disservice if we didn’t mention this GLARING omission. Not having the Alcatraz tour on the Card is a major disappointment. We recommend just booking this separately if it is important to you and using the pass for everything else. It is sort of available on the San Francisco CityPASS But even then it’s a faff to access it. We wish the Pass companies would get their act together on this and include one of San Francisco’s must-see attractions.
Cable Cars – A muni pass to ride the cable cars is only available on the Explorer pass which means with the go card you will miss out or need to buy separately. We find this disappointing the Muni cards are a fantastic way to get about the City and enjoy the Cable cars and a 3 day Muni pass is included on the San Francisco City Pass. If they could fix these two let downs the Go card would be a killer pass.
There are a number of other passes available in San Francisco and we are currently putting together a compilation page for all these. For now, you can check out our San Francisco CityPASS Review which is another choice of Pass for San Francisco, it may suit you better?
Have Your say?
Let us know if you have tried the San Francisco Go Card or the Explorer Pass. What attractions did you visit and Which did you rate the best? Just drop us a comment. And please comment if you have ANY other questions we are happy to help!