Have you ever used a CityPASS? The one-time, discounted ticket package is a great way to expand your travel budget and plan your trip to over 15 cities across the United States. You save up to 45 percent on tickets for all kinds of attractions.
With CityPASS, you pay one price for a selection of the city’s most famous destinations. Then show your CityPASS at the ticket counter and embark on your next adventure. You can use your smartphone or paper ticket as a 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 passport took me to San Francisco, a city where I’ve lived or lived near for much of my life. With my CityPASS, I’ve seen places I’ve never been before. Things like a bay cruise always seemed too touristy. Instead, it helped me see my favorite city in a new light. I have also used the tickets in Denver and New York City. In October I will be exploring Atlanta with CityPASS.
When I met CityPASS’s Deborah at a travel writers conference a few years ago, I must have seemed like a true fan girl raving about how much I loved discovering that CityPASS was available in a place where I was traveling Recently, Deborah helped me rediscover San Francisco by providing passes for me and photographer Kevin Scanlon.
Our San Francisco Top 5
San Francisco is the “City By The Bay” and a place millions leave after just one visit. The list of famous and notorious sights is long. You can sail San Francisco Bay, take a cable car ride, come face-to-face with a shark, explore the Presidio, and cruise the Embarcadero on two wheels. There are so many fantastic attractions that one could spend days not seeing them all.
One of the city’s most iconic destinations, Golden Gate Park fills its more than 1,000 acres with gardens, museums, performance spaces, open spaces, lakes and playgrounds. You could spend days here and not experience everything. CityPASS offers tickets to three destinations in Golden Gate Park; all are inspirational, beautifully curated and accessible.
Here’s how Kevin and I spent our two-day San Francisco getaway with a San Francisco CityPASS at four attractions.
1. Butterflies, whales, bugs and bones
Danger! A butterfly can flutter on your cheek at any moment. They fly free in 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 creatures, a rainforest, an aquarium, a natural history museum and a planetarium. The place of every creature in our planet’s ecosystem is illuminated. The academy is made for people of all ages and abilities. There is a coffee shop and gift shop 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 hours is a good time to visit if you’re hoping to avoid a close encounter.
2. Brushes, clay and chisels
Art museums make my heart sing and de Young Museum make my heart dance. For more than 100 years, the de Young has housed American art and textile arts from the 17th to the 20th centuries. The museum also displays art from Africa, Oceania and the Americas.
Through permanent and rotating exhibitions, de Young showcases the medium of each distinction between local and global artists. You’ll see 400-year-old paintings and walk-through multimedia experiences. Both traditional and norm-critical art will be presented.
De Young’s grounds, some 12 acres, are beautifully landscaped and adorned with sculptures. The building is a work of art. It’s mesmerizing from every angle. A 144-foot tower occupies the northeast corner. You can walk up a gently sloping spiral to a viewing platform that offers spectacular views of the bay. The observation deck is open to the public and no ticket is required.
Pro Tip: The museum café serves regional dishes prepared in an international style. The soup of the day and a glass of sparkling wine were the perfect lunchtime meal for me.
3. 4,000 years of art
The Legion of Honor ticket is included with your admission to the de Young Museum. Both institutions make up the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Visiting the grounds is an unforgettable experience, but inside, the collections include European art, ancient art, graphics, photography, decorative arts, and sculpture. These collections shed light on the history, politics and culture of the last 4,000 years of art.
The Legion is known for special events. Visit the website for exhibition openings, concerts, film screenings, lectures and workshops. In addition, a coffee shop is open for indoor and outdoor dining.
4. Let yourself be surprised
The Exploratorium is difficult to explain, but it’s awesome. The facility is “a public learning laboratory that explores the world through science, art and human cognition”. It’s also one of the funniest, most unique, fascinating and amazing places I’ve ever been.
Located at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero, you can explore 75,000 square feet of exhibit space. Over 650 exhibitions are interactive in this space. Scientists, artists and exhibition designers have created these interactive experiences to stimulate 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, machinery, and electronics. Plan to stock up on some Christmas gifts at the two stores. You can eat in the cafe or have it outside at the tables by the bay and the excellent ship viewing spot.
Outside the Exploratorium, numerous exhibits can be tried out free of charge. Some require passers-by to be recruited to make music. Others show you what lives beneath 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 can consider an after-dark tour for adults 18+ on Thursdays.
5. Drive across the bay
You will definitely lose your heart when you see the seven hills of San Francisco from a boat in San Francisco Bay. The Blue & Gold Fleet has plied the San Francisco coast since 1979. It transports more than 4 million passengers safely every year.
Depart Pier 39 aboard a Blue & Gold ship. Wave to the sunbathing seals and sea lions that dock at the floating docks. Looking back toward the waterfront and up the city’s notoriously steep hills, some of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks can be captured in the same photo, such as the Trans America Pyramid and Coit Tower. 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. Weather and tide permitting, sail under the Golden Gate Bridge for an unforgettable thrill.
More options in your San Francisco CityPASS
There are two types of San Francisco CityPASSes. One bundles four attractions, the other three. You can choose my five favorite excursions or from:
- Bay Aquarium
- 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 by seven miles. This makes it easy to see a lot of the city in a day or two. Getting around is easy — that is, if you’re not trying to drive. San Francisco is NOT a car-friendly city.
- When you fly in, forget the rental car. Instead, from San Francisco International Airport, take the BART to downtown. From there you can take a MUNI, tram, cable car or taxi to your hotel. Use the “Travel Planner” on the front page of the BART website.
- When you drive in, I suggest you find a safe place to park the car and forget about it until you leave town. Better yet, leave it outside the city and catch a bus or train. Parking in San Francisco is scarce and astronomical. Hotels typically charge $60 per day for parking.
- Always use public transport. In San Francisco it is plentiful, safe and very economical.
- Get one visitor pass even if you are only there for a day. The transit pass is available in versions for one, three and seven days. The pass gives you unlimited rides on MUNI, the MUNI subway, historic trams and cable cars. A day pass costs about $13. Without the pass, each cable car ride is $8, so great value.
How to get your CityPASS
Go to CityPASS and select the city you wish to visit. There are 15 to choose from. In some cities, passes are offered in two sizes. For example, San Francisco has a four attraction pass and a three attraction pass. The size you choose depends on how much time you have in the city.
Once you’ve decided on a pass, you can buy it online. It can be used for nine consecutive days within one year of purchase. The pass can be downloaded to your phone as a QR code or printed out 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: