CityPASS San Francisco: Cut the cost of San Francisco travel

Cover: San Francisco Powell and Market cable car
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


We visit San Francisco every few months and, while it has a firm grasp on the #1 spot as our favorite city in the United States, it is expensive. When overnight hotel parking runs $50, a couple of martinis $30, and a bowl of soup $10, a chance to save some money without compromising on the experience is always welcomed.

CityPASS San Francisco
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Having discovered CityPASS while in Chicago, which saved us both time and money, we now begin destination planning with CityPASS at the same time we book the hotel and other travel arrangements. While CityPASS always saves on top museums and attractions, in San Francisco, there’s another really big advantage – CityPASS includes a week’s worth of Muni transportation, including riding the cable cars.

Saving 49% (or more) with CityPASS San Francisco

CityPASS calculates the savings for each city by taking the regular price of a ticket if you purchased it at the attraction, adding all the tickets provided together, and subtracting the cost of the CityPASS booklet. For San Francisco, that works out as…

  • A 7-day cable car and MUNI pass – $40
  • California Academy of Sciences – $34.95
  • Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure – $30
  • A choice of the Exploratorium at $29.95 or the de Young Museum at $10
  • A choice of the Monterey Bay Aquarium at $49.95 or the Aquarium of the Bay at $29.95

The CityPASS booklet runs $94. If you go to all of the highest priced attractions, it would cost $184.85, so that’s a 49% savings. Even when you choose the least expensive options, as we did, it is still a 35% savings over purchasing the attractions individually at the regular price. However, a single one-way cable car ride is $7 and it costs $2.25 for one Muni bus or rail fare, so you can imagine how fast the CityPASS savings rack up versus just hitting the streets and hopping on and off cable cars and buses as you work your way around San Francisco.

CityPASS San Francisco attractions

7-day Cable Car and Muni Bus Passport

CityPASS attraction: Powell-Market Cable Car
CityPASS attraction: Powell-Market Cable Car
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a ride on an iconic cable car. Invented in San Francisco in 1873 by Andrew Smith Hallidie, the beloved cable cars are both an attraction and a means of transportation and San Francisco has three lines…

  • California Street Cable Car Line, which runs east/west from Van Ness Avenue to the Financial District
  • Powell-Hyde, which transports passengers back and forth from Ghiradelli Square to Market Street
  • Powell-Mason, which runs between Fisherman’s Wharf and Market Street.

The F Line of streetcars also travel along the Embarcadero from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Castro District. For the rest of the city, a network of Muni buses, light rail vehicles, diesel buses, alternative fuel vehicles, and electric trolley coaches get you where you want to go.

CityPASS includes a seven-day Muni pass, so once you’ve exchanged your CityPASS voucher for a CityPASS booklet, simply show the booklet as you enter any cable car, streetcar or other Muni method of transportation and have a seat.

CityPASS attraction: Streetcars
CityPASS attraction: Streetcars
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

California Academy of Sciences

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: California Academy of Sciences, Steinhart Aquarium
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: California Academy of Sciences, Steinhart Aquarium
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Home to nearly 40,000 animals, the California Academy of Sciences is a museum, an aquarium, a planetarium and it even has a rainforest. As you climb the ramp of the glass-enclosed four-story rainforest, butterflies and birds fly, frogs chirp and huge fish swim below. Other museum highlights include the Steinhart Aquarium, a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, the African Hall, the Foucault pendulum, the world’s deepest indoor living coral reef, the Shake House earthquake simulator, a colony of African penguins, and an 87-foot-long blue whale skeleton.

The CityPASS booklet includes general admission to all of the California Academy of Sciences exhibits. The museum was the first attraction we visited, but the CityPASS booklet vouchers don’t have to be used in any specific order, just sometime within 9 days of their first use.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: California Academy of Sciences, Osher Rainforest
CityPASS attraction: California Academy of Sciences, Osher Rainforest
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

There’s no better way to experience the City by the Bay than to head out on the bay on a cruise. CityPASS has a couple of Blue & Gold Cruise Adventures options – a one-hour bay cruise or a spin around the bay aboard the RocketBoat, a thirty-minute speedboat thrill ride.

We opted for the bay cruise, which leaves from Pier 39, sails to the Golden Gate Bridge, then turns back and passes by Alcatraz, before heading back into port. The narrated ride is a wonderful way to view and photograph the San Francisco skyline, the waterfront, the Rock, and the Golden Gate up close and underneath. The Blue & Gold Cruise Adventures are large and have both indoor and outdoor seating. Reservations are not taken; simply present the CityPASS voucher at theBlue & Gold Cruise ticket booth at Pier 39, select the time of the cruise, and you receive a boarding pass for the cruise.

Exploratorium or de Young Museum

CityPASS San Francisco: The de Young Museum
CityPASS: The de Young Museum
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The next option was to visit either the Exploratorium or the de Young Museum. We opted for the de Young, as the Exploratorium was closed on Mondays, the day we had scheduled for Embarcadero & Fisherman’s Wharf activities.

The de Young, which is located directly across from the California Academy of Sciences, is a beautiful museum and CityPASS admission also includes access to Hamon Tower at the Young, as well as entrance to the Legion of Honor at Lincoln Park. Together, the two museums form the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, home to one of the largest art collections in California.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: de Young Museum
CityPASS attraction: de Young Museum
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The de Young’s collections include over 27,000 works of art with American art from the 17th to the 21st centuries, photography, paintings, costumes, textiles, and art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Also located at the Young, Hamon Observation Tower offers 360-degree views of San Francisco. The Legion of Honor showcases over 124,000 works of art and is well-known for its European collections of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Hamon Observation Tower at de Young Museum
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Hamon Observation Tower at de Young Museum
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

What did we miss? The Exploratorium, which is located at Pier 15 and is a place of exploration – as the name would imply – and home to the glass-and-steel Bay Observatory and numerous science, art, and human perception exhibits. If you have the time, here’s how you can experience both the de Young and the Exploratorium for only a few more dollars. In the back of the CityPASS booklet, there’s a page labeled, “CityPASS Coupon” with a heading “Why choose one attraction when you can see both?” The Exploratorium is regularly priced $29.95, so use the CityPASS voucher for that attraction. Admission to the de Young is only $10 – a bargain because it is a stunning museum. But, with the coupon page, you get $2 off, so it’s only $8.

Aquarium of the Bay or Monterey Bay Aquarium

CityPASS San Francisco: Aquarium of the Bay
CityPASS San Francisco: Aquarium of the Bay
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The next choice is either the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 in San Francisco or the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, which is a couple of hours away. We love Monterey, and if you have the opportunity to add on a day or two to your San Francisco visit, the Monterey Bay Aquarium should definitely be on your agenda.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Aquarium of the Bay
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Aquarium of the Bay
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

However, if you want to stay in the city, Aquarium Bay is awesome. Visitors walk through 300 feet of clear tunnels while viewing over 20,000 marine animals native to the San Francisco Bay area. Sharks and rays swim overhead and inches from you in the tunnels – it feels like you are diving or snorkeling, but without getting wet! At the Touch the Bay exhibit, you can touch sharks, rays and sea stars and then watch the river otters play. A very cool place to visit, the CityPASS booklet provides general admission entrance to the aquarium.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Monterey Bay Aquarium
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Monterey Bay Aquarium
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

CityPASS San Francisco – Is it worth it?

Always a fan of CityPASS for saving money, in San Francisco it makes even more sense because of the 7 day Muni pass. A 7 day Muni pass is $40 so that only leaves $54 in admission fees to break even. If you plan to do at least two of the more expensive attractions, like a bay cruise, you should definitely look into getting a CityPASS.

Where do you get a CityPASS San Francisco?

You can purchase a CityPASS voucher on the CityPASS website that can be exchanged for a booklet at any of the attractions, you can have the CityPASS booklet mailed to you or you can purchase a CityPASS booklet at any of the attractions when you visit.


Disclosure & disclaimer: We received complimentary CityPASS San Francisco booklets for this review. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Cable Car rides
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Cable Car rides
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media