Have you ever used a CityPASS? The pay-one-price discounted bundle of tickets is an excellent way to stretch your travel budget and plan your trip to over 15 cities in the US. You’ll save as much as 45 percent on tickets to attractions of all types.
With CityPASS, you pay one price for a selection of the city’s most famous destinations. Then, you show your CityPASS at the ticket booth and walk to your next adventure. You can use your smartphone or paper ticket as your pass. The only difficult thing about buying or using a CityPASS is deciding which attractions you want to experience.
CityPASS, I’m A Fan
I’ve been a CityPASS fan for years. My first pass was to San Francisco, a city I’ve lived in or near much of my life. With my CityPASS, I experienced places I’d never been to. Things like a bay cruise always seemed too tourist heavy. Instead, it helped me see my favorite city in a new light. I’ve also used the tickets in Denver and New York City. In October, I’ll explore Atlanta using CityPASS.
When I met Deborah from CityPASS at a travel writer’s conference a few years back, I must have seemed like a real fan girl gushing about how much I loved discovering CityPASS was available in a place I was heading to. Recently, Deborah helped me re-explore San Francisco by providing passes for myself and photographer Kevin Scanlon.
Our San Francisco Top 5
San Francisco is the “City By The Bay” and a place millions leave their hearts after just one visit. The list of famous and infamous attractions is lengthy. You can sail the San Francisco Bay, take a cable car ride, get face to face with a shark, explore the Presidio, and roam the Embarcadero on two wheels. There are so many fantastic attractions, you could spend days and not see them all.
One of the city’s best-known destinations, Golden Gate Park, fills its more than 1,000 acres with gardens, museums, performance spaces, open spaces, lakes, and places to play. You could spend days here and not experience everything. The CityPASS offers tickets to three Golden Gate Park destinations; all are inspiring, beautifully curated, and accessible.
Here’s how Kevin and I spent our San Francisco 2-day escape at four attractions using a San Francisco CityPASS.
1. California Academy Of Sciences
Watch out! A butterfly may flutter by your cheek at any moment. They fly freely inside the rainforest. The planet’s natural world is on display at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. This place is over the top.
Inside the building are over 2,000 living creatures, a rainforest, an aquarium, natural history museum, and a planetarium. Each creature’s place in the ecosystem of our planet is illuminated. The academy is made for folks of every age and ability. There is a café and gift shop on sight with indoor and outdoor seating.
Pro Tip: This can be a very crowded place. It’s a favorite of tour groups. Mid-week during opening time is a good time to visit if you hope to avoid a close encounter.
2. De Young Museum
Art museums make my heart sing and de Young Museum makes it dance. For more than 100 years, the de Young has been home to 17th-20th century American art and textile arts The museum also features the art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.
Through permanent and changing exhibits, the de Young displays the medium of every distinction between local and global artists. You will see 400-year-old paintings and walk-through multimedia experiences. Both traditional and norm-challenging art is presented.
The de Young grounds, about 5 acres, are beautifully landscaped and adorned with sculptures. The building is a work of art. It’s fascinating from any angle. A 144-foot tower occupies the northeast corner. You can walk up a gently sloping spiral to an observation deck offering a spectacular vista of the bay area. The observation deck is open to the public and no ticket is needed.
Pro Tip: The museum café serves locally sourced foods prepared in an international style. The soup of the day and a glass of sparkling wine were the perfect midday repast for me.
3. Legion Of Honor
The Legion of Honor ticket is included with your de Young Museum admission. Both institutions make up the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Visiting the grounds is a memorable experience, but inside, collections include European art, ancient art, graphic art, photography, decorative art, and sculpture. These collections highlight the history, politics, and culture of the last 4,000 years of art.
The Legion is known for special events. Check the website for exhibit openings, concerts, film screenings, lectures, and workshops. In addition, a café is open for indoor and outdoor dining.
The Exploratorium is hard to explain, but it is fantastic. The facility is “a public learning laboratory exploring the world through science, art, and human perception.” It is also one of the most fun, unique, intriguing, and dumbfounding places I have ever been to.
Located on Pier 15 along the Embarcadero, you can explore 75,000 square feet of exhibit space. In that space, over 650 exhibitions are interactive. Scientists, artists, and exhibit designers created these interactive experiences to spark your curiosity about the world, others, and yourself.
There are six galleries, a life sciences lab, classrooms, a 200-seat theater, and workshops for wood, metal, machines, and electronics. Plan to do some holiday-gift shopping in the two stores. You can have a meal in the café or take it outside to the bayside tables and outstanding ship spotting place.
Outside the Exploratorium, numerous exhibits are free to the public to try. Some require recruiting people passing by to make music. Others show you what lives under the pier and some are simply works of art.
Pro Tip: This is a busy place; it’s a favorite for school-group tours. You might consider an after dark tour on Thursdays for adults 18 and older.
5. Blue & Gold Fleet
You will definitely leave your heart when you see the seven hills of San Francisco from a boat on San Francisco Bay. The Blue & Gold Fleet has been on San Francisco’s waterfront since 1979. They safely transport over 4 million passengers annually.
Leave Pier 39 aboard a Blue & Gold vessel. Wave to the sunbathing seals and sea lions that haul out on the floating docks. Looking back to shore and up the city’s notoriously steep hills, some of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks can be captured in the same photo, such as Trans America Pyramid and Coit Tower, for example. Relax with a glass of wine as you cruise the bay and chat with your fellow passengers.
Blue & Gold offer bay day cruises, Alcatraz cruises, and sunset cruises. With weather and tide permitting, you’ll sail under the Golden Gate Bridge, an unforgettable thrill.
Other Choices In Your San Francisco CityPASS
There are two types of CityPASS for San Francisco. One bundles four attractions, and the other bundles three. You can choose my favorite five excursions or select from:
- Aquarium of the Bay
- San Francisco Zoo and Garden
- The Walt Disney Family Museum
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
- Bay City Bike and Parkwide Bike Rentals
Pro Tip: Compare the attractions.
Getting Around San Francisco
San Francisco has a small footprint; seven miles by seven miles. That makes it easy to see lots of the city in a day or two. Getting around is easy—that is, if you don’t try to drive. San Francisco is NOT an auto-friendly town.
- When you fly in, forget the rental car. Instead, from San Francisco International Airport, take BART to the city center. From there you can take a MUNI, street car, cable car, or taxi to your hotel. Use the “Trip Planner” on the BART website front page.
- When you drive in, I suggest you find a secure place to park the car and forget it until you leave the city. Better yet, leave it outside the city and take a bus or train. Parking in San Francisco is scarce and astronomical. Hotels commonly charge $60 per day to park.
- Always use public transit. In San Francisco, it is plentiful, safe, and very economical.
- Get a visitor passport even if you are only there for a day. The transit pass comes in one, three, and seven-day versions. The pass gives you unlimited rides on MUNI, MUNI metro, historic street cars, and cable cars. A one-day passport is about $13. Without the passport, each cable car ride is $8, so it is a great value.
How To Get Your CityPASS
Go to CityPASS and select the city you want to visit. There are 15 to choose from. In some towns, two-size passes are offered. For example, San Francisco has a four attraction and a three attraction pass. The size you select depends on how much time you have in the city.
Once you decide which pass you want, you may purchase it online. It may be used for nine consecutive days within one year of purchase. The pass can be downloaded as a QR code to your phone or printed as a paper pass.
Don’t forget your CityPASS; it will make seeing San Francisco exciting, easy, and budget-friendly.
For more tips on traveling to San Francisco, check out these articles: