Which San Francisco Attractions Pass Is Best? – Our 2019 Guide to Choosing a San Francisco City Pass

San Francisco is a fantastic City Visit. It’s Iconic street’s and landmarks and cool, chilled out Vibe make it one of our favorite Cities in the USA to Visit. There is also a whole host of really worthwhile paid attractions to visit while in the City. Of course, the cost of these attractions can really add up and with the cost of food and lodging already pretty steep it can mean you miss out. One way to reduce the cost and see more is to purchase and Attraction Pass. These nifty little cards mean you see more of what you want and pay less. But with a few options available which San Francisco Pass is best? and do you need one At all?

Our San Francisco Attraction Pass Comparison Review takes a look at all the options and shows you which pass would suit your trip best and takes a look at the advantages and drawback of having a pass to see if a Pass is the best Option for you.

**This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

which San Francisco attraction Pass Is BestGolden Gate Bridge from a Cruise Boat!

Is a Pass Right for You?

There are as many different destinations as there are travellers, we all experience the joy of travel in different ways and an Attraction Pass is not suited to all kinds of Trip. San Francisco is a thriving city with a thousand things to do without spending a penny. San Francisco’s relaxed hippyesque vibe and many iconic sights and landmarks, along with many open spaces and beautiful vista’s really do encourage a trip where just enjoying the City is the main draw. For these types of trips a Pass probably doesn’t suit. However if you are looking at doing some of the many great paid attractions while in the City it makes sense to see if you could save some money while doing so!

Attraction Passes in San Francisco are pretty reasonable and offer some great things to do on top of the substantial savings they offer. For example, the CityPASS Offers 5 Top Attractions for only $89. That will give you a great taste of the city and won’t break the bank. There are several other reasons an Attraction pass makes sense too!

Inspiration

Often visitors are unaware of what is actually on offer in a City and we hear all the time how people didn’t know certain attractions were available. We too often find one of the best ways to get to know whats available in a City

Budgeting

One of the most asked questions on any Travel Message board it “how much money do I need to Take?” While a Pass will not answer that question, what with food, drink, shopping, transport etc… costs mounting up. It does give one simply flat Fee that is easy to work your budget around. Buying beforehand also means it won’t come out of your Travel dollars so you won’t run out of cash and won’t come home to any nasty shock on the credit card bill. It means you will be able to funds any attractions you won’t so you will never be a victim of the “I wish we had” syndrome.

Planning

Having a good plan is essential to get the most out of any trip. Just rocking up and seeing how it goes tends to lead to a trip filled with doing very little. Having a Pass is a perfect way to pull together an itinerary. While we never like to be too rigid in out planning A basic idea of what you will be doing is essential.

Flexibility

As we said above a plan is essential but it needs to be flexible. Things change, weather interferes and sometimes you just don’t feel like doing something. Having pass dosn’t tie you to anything so you can alter your plan or move days around to make the most of your time. and have the best trip you can.

Downsides and Pitfalls

Not everything is perfect in the attractions Pass Garden though and Passes can have certain drawbacks and pitfalls.

Chasing the Pass

This is the term we give to the urge people have to charge around San Francisco trying to cram in as much as possible in order to get maximum value from the Pass. It leads you to do too much, not giving attractions the proper attention they deserve, Seeing too much of what doesn’t interest you and failing to take in the other sights and sounds of the City. A pass should be used to ensure you get to see everything you want to see not so you can charge around and see everything even if you don’t want to!

Planning too much

Like Chasing the Pass you need to be realistic in how much you can do in a day. San Francisco is pretty small but attractions are often value for money and as such can take a while to visit. The California Acadamy of Science takes at least a half day for example. We only advise planning on 2-3 attractions a day MAX. And even then you may end up very Drained at that sort of PACE!

Alcatraz

We address this fully below, but it is pretty disappointing none of the San Francisco Passes include Alcatraz Tours!

Overall We think if you are planning on seeing the attractions anyway it makes perfect sense to use a pass. The advantages just about out weight the negatives even if you ignore the cost saving. But the 40-50% that can be saved really can’t be sniffed at! That could easily pay for an amazing Dinner in China town one evening!

Lets now take a look at the Passes on offer:

San Francisco CityPASS

Attractions Included:

  • 3-Day Cable Car and Muni Bus Passport
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • Exploratorium or  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The San Francisco CityPASS is a booklet based pass that allows you to visit a number of San Francisco’s best attractions for one flat fee. The initial outlay is reasonable for the number and quality of attractions available, they are mainly top tier headline attractions.

The Pass includes a 3-day Muni Pass which enables unlimited rides on the MUNI transport system and cable cars. This not only saves a good amount of money but the cable cars are possibly one of San Francisco’s biggest attraction and a real Must see!

As the itinerary of the CityPASS is very limited you need to make sure the attractions included are definitely ones you want to visit. There is very little wiggle room so if the attractions on offer don’t tie up with what you have planned you probably need to avoid this Pass. 3-day Muni passes can be purchased £32 so if that is a big draw you can always buy separately.

The CityPASS attractions are mainly first rate though so there is a good chance these will be the attractions you are interested in. We go into a lot more detail in out Full Review. The Museums on offer are world class and not your usual types of Museum! There is Nothing Stuffy and Boring here. A Bay Cruise is a brilliant way to see the City from a different Perspective and get up close and personal on the Bridge. We really like the Aquarium of the bay to learn about the actual sea life that lives in the bay. And the Cable Cars and Muni Pass is as useful as it is fun!

There is a lot to like about the City PASS and it’s really low purchase price helps make it a serious competitor in the San Francisco Pass Market!

Smart Destinations

Product: San Francisco Go Card / Explorer Pass

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
  • Exploratorium
  • De Young Museum
  • and Many more….

Smart Destinations offer a number of different pass options, let’s take a closer look below, or check out our in-depth Review here. It’s important to remember that the list of attractions available on the different options is not always the same so double check before choosing that the attritions you want are available on the option you choose!

California Academy of Sciences San FranciscoCalifornia Academy of Science!

San Francisco Go Card – All Inclusive

The San Francisco Go Card – All Inclusive allows you to visit any number of attractions for a set fee for a number of days. You simply buy the pass for a number of days and you can use it to visit as many attractions as you like from the list of available attractions.

This is a great option for people who want to see and do everything. There isn’t much to do in San Francisco that isn’t included on this pass. The downsides are the fairly high cost, although it does represent good value. And the risk of Chasing the pass, basically trying to just fit everything in to attempt to extract maximum value at the expense of actually enjoying your trip, trying to cram in attractions you don’t really want to do. However, you just need to be strong and just use the pass to see what you want to see.

This option really is quite Pricey but it covers some expensive options such as Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Californias Great America. So if a Trip away from town to a Theme park is on the list this Pass offers great value. Otherwise, you need to cram quite a bit in to get value from the card. If you are looking for a hectic action packed trip this is the best option.

  • 1 Day – $79 Adult $69 Child
  • 2 Days – $119 Adult $99  Child
  • 3 Days – $149 Adult $119Child
  • 5 Days – $189 Adult $149 Child

San Francisco Explorer Pass

The San Francisco Explorer Pass takes the opposite approach to the All Inclusive. With this card, you choose the Number of attractions you would like to visit. and you then have 30 consecutive days to visit these attractions. You do not need to choose the attractions until you actually visit them. Simply visit any of the attractions on the list and the number available will decrease by one.

This option suits a traveller who is more inclined to take their time and visit the paid attractions when it suits them and enjoy the city as a whole. not having to rush attractions gives you time to soak up the city a bit more. If you choose the right attractions its also great value.

  • 3 Attractions – $69 Adult $55 Child
  • 4 Attractions – $89 Adult $69  Child
  • 5 Attractions – $105 Adult $79 Child

It is more expensive than the CityPASS But the Pass cover more expensive options Like Six Flags. If your intended attractions are similar to the CityPASS It may be worth choosing that. the 4 Attraction Pass is the same prices as a CityPASS’s 5 attractions and includes the brilliant Cable Car Pass. But if those particular set of attractions doesn’t float your boat the San Francisco Explorer Pass is sure to have something to tickle your fancy.

San Francisco Go Card – Build Your Own

The Build your own Go Card, allows you to choose from a list of attractions and pick which ones you wish to visit, once you have chosen 2 or more a 20% discount is then applied. We don’t really feel this offers the best value, by choosing one of the other options you would normally save more.

The “Build your own” option does have the most extensive list of attractions so if something you really want to visit is available on this card then it may be the only way to get a discount. But you can still use this option in conjunction with the other options to get the maximum discount!

San Francisco SightSeeing Pass

  • Product: San Francisco Sightseeing Pass
  • Price: $49-$111 Flex – $69-$139 Day (13+)
  • Price Child: $35-$95 Flex – $49-$119 Day (3-12)
  • Where to Buy: Buy Direct here for the Best Price
  • Number of Attractions:  20+
  • Time Limit: 30days or Day Pass
  • Rating: Under Review/5 Stars
  • Read Our Full in Depth Review Here – Coming Soon

Attractions Included:

  • Aquarium of The Bay
  • At&t Park Tour
  • Madame Tussauds
  • San Francisco Dungeon
  • Full List here

The Sightseeing Pass is the New Pass on the Block and has only recently come to the market. In some Cities we see this brand making big waves. In New York, it’s really shaken things up! But here it is a bit of a Damp Squib. It is well priced and offers a huge amount of Flexibility in the purchase options. The Flex pass offers a set number of attractions while the Day Pass offers all inclusive for a set number of days, like the Smart Destination offering.

Where it falls down is the list of attractions! It is pretty light and very light on quality attractions with some of San Francisco’s big hitters completely absent. For this reason, we really don’t recommend it. Of course, as we said it’s still a new Pass so Time may well see more and more added and if that’s the case the establised passes my have a fight on thier hands!

Look out for out full review as we take an indepth look.

Which Pass to Choose?

Cal Academy of Science

Which Pass to choose is very dependant on the type of traveller you are and the type of trip you are planning. We think the San Francisco CityPASS is a great option. It gives a great selection of top attractions, and is very easy to use and competitively priced. We love the inclusion of a 3-day Muni Pass. However, as the attractions are set they need to match what you are planning to see. If they are of no interest to you it is really not worth the money.

The Go Card All Inclusive is aimed at those who want to do it all. If a non-stop all action trip is on the cards this is a fantastic choice you really will get to see as much as time will allow, often a bit too much!

The Explorer Pass is another great option, but mainly geared toward the relaxed pace traveller as there is a 30 day window to use your attractions up most people will only be limited by vacation time, leaving a lot more time to see and enjoy the City. Its isn’t a great option for shorter trips, but offers a wide selection of good attraction for you to enjoy at your leisure.

We are not fans of the meagre 20% off offered on the Build your own pass so tend to skip it.

Alcatraz?

Alcatraz Island at Sunset

You may have noticed a bit of an elephant in the room. One of San Francisco’s TOP attractions is a tour of Alcatraz Island. None of the passes offer this as a direct option apart from the Go Card Build your own (bundled in with a city tour at $125!), which limits you to 20% off. We find this a bit disappointing as we know so many of you are wanting to visit the old Federal penitentiary.

The San Francisco CityPASS does offer Alcatraz if bought directly from the Blue and Gold Fleet Kiosk, but its all a bit complex, requiring you to buy the cruise first then transfer it when at the kiosk. Read more here.

Our Advice is simply to ignore Alcatraz as a PASS option and just book the cruise separately. Alcatraz Cruises is the tour operator and they have a bit of a monopoly on the island so it is sometimes just easier to just book direct.

Let us know what you think of the different attraction Pass options? have you used one? was it good Value in your Opinion?  What did you think of the attractions themselves? Just drop us a comment or if you have any further questions feel free to ask away.

One last time here are the links to our detailed review of each of these passes:

San Francisco CityPASS

San Francisco Go Card (all options)

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8 comments

  1. I’ve always wanted to visit San Francisco, I live on the other east coast so it is super far, but I am almost ready for a trip to CA, and am definitely stopping by at San Francisco. Thanks for sharing this guide, will be using it and the options you recommended during my trip.

    1. Hi Deep,

      We know it’s quite far across America, but only a few hours on a plane, for us its a 12hour transatlantic trip, and worth every minute. We are sure you will love CA when you finally make it San Francisco is a fantastic stop but there is so much to see and do in Cali. We will be writing extensively on the subject.

      We hope you enjoy your trip and thanks for reading, so glad you found it useful.

  2. Alcatraz! I would love to visit this attraction one day, and as you recommended I would choose a separate cruise that time, it’s a mysterious spot with lots of details that have to be discovered.
    I enjoyed reading your article, and you really encouraged me to visit San Francisco City.

    1. Yes Alcatraz is a fantastic place to visit. Just one of the many attractions in San Francisco. It is such a shame it isn’t really included on the City pass’s but its easy enough to just book separately and worth the time and costs to see this historic jewel.

      Glad you enjoyed reading and hope you enjoy your trip to San Francisco.

  3. CannaGary

    Hi Steve, thanks for this wonderful breakdown for the different city passes that are available.
    My wife and I were in San Francisco last spring and we loved it.

    We did however have a trip that was more like the 2nd line under your opening heading, Is a Pass Right for You?
    We spent 3 nights near Fisherman’s Wharf and just soaked up the food, atmosphere and fun of doing very little.

    I managed the some marvelous Cioppino from the family run Aliotos that was to die for.
    We did take an evening sunset cruise around the bay that we really enjoyed. It was not an Alcatraz cruise but I got some great pictures from the backside of Alcatraz.

    Thanks again for this helpful post,
    CannaGary

    1. Hi, CannaGary

      That sounds a wonderful Trip. There is nothing at all wrong with just soaking up what San Francisco Offers, after all there is so much to do that’s free/cheap. 3 nights at fisherman’s wharf sounds like heaven too us. We are always torn between seeing and doing everything…or doing nothing! We love Cioppono too such a fantastic dish, you might like to read our what to eat in San Francisco guide?

      We are really happy you enjoyed reading our guide, sounds like it brought back some fantastic memories!

  4. This is a pretty cool website Steve. We are planning a trip to New York later this fall so I’m going to have to check that page out as well.

    We spent our 2016 anniversary weekend in San Francisco and had a great time. We booked Alcatraz direct, and I don’t remember it being too terribly expensive. And it was probably my favorite part of the whole trip. It’s really pretty there and so interesting to tour the old prison. We loved visiting the Japanese Tea Garden, and we also spent a day a bit north in the Muir Woods. Probably the only thing I thought was overrated was Lombard Street. Just too packed for how much of an attraction it is, but that wouldn’t be included in the passes anyway… since it’s free.

    Great food as well. Loved the sourdough bread bowls you can get at the Boudin restaurants. Anyway… awesome site. I’m sure I’ll be back to read more.

    Thanks,
    Dustin

    1. Hi Dustin, Hope our New York pages help with your upcoming trip. We have loads of info and tips on New York. Its a breath taking City!

      Sounds like your trip was fantastic, Alcatraz is a great place to visit really like nowhere else on earth, just steeped in ominous history. We are glad you managed to see the area surrounding San Francisco too. We always encourage people to get out the city a bit. While San Francisco is such a great city, the surrounding country side is incredibly beautiful too. And you just can’t go to San Francisco and not have a bread bowl Just delicious.

      We are thrilled you like our site, feel free to check back anytime, we are constantly writing new content all the time.

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