This is a guest post by Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.

Travel can get expensive, can’t it? First you’ve got to pay for airfare and hotel. Maybe a rental car. Then you want to eat, don’t you? And you don’t want McDonald’s. You want good, local food. After all of that, you still haven’t budgeted for any activities! And museums, boat tours, and aquariums seem to cost an arm and a leg these days, especially if you’re taking your whole crew along.

San Francisco, cable car

I tend to be really picky about the activities I do when traveling just to keep costs down.

But on a recent trip to San Francisco, that changed. I had a virtual smorgasboard of activities available to me (and had no chance of actually taking advantage of all of them in the short three days my son and I were there).

The Goods

San Francisco Travel was kind enough to give me and my son both a GO San Francisco Card and a CityPass, both of which included entry and access to multiple museums, cruises, aquariums, and transportation. I’d never used an all-inclusive pass like these before, so I was curious how they worked.

Ripley's Believe it or Not, San Francisco

The GO San Francisco card was like a credit card, and served as our admission ticket to more than 30 top Bay Area attractions like the Exploratorium, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Aquarium of the Bay and much more. We just flashed our card at the attractions we visited and had no issue getting in. It was like a VIP pass! And there’s no limit to how many attractions you visit for the duration of the pass you purchase.

The CityPass was a paper booklet with coupons for different attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure. But by far what I liked best about the CityPass was the ease with which we could access all San Francisco transportation: buses, trolleys, and cable cars. I always get a little nervous taking public transportation (we don’t really use it for things to do in San Diego): how much is a ticket? Where can I buy it? Where do I get on? But with the CityPass, I just flashed the booklet to the driver, who barely acknowledged me, and we were on board. It’s especially cool to take a historic cable car, though unfortunately the one we tried to ride got shut down when the cable line was down.

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san francisco, cable car, trolley

Is an All-Inclusive Pass Right For You?

I think the best situation to buy either the CityPass or GO City Card (both of which are available in other cities as well) is when you are planning a visit of a week or more. The tickets are still an investment, so you want to make sure you’re going to get your money’s worth. Here are the current prices (subject to change):

  • CityPass adult: $94
  • CityPass child: $69
  • GO San Francisco adult 3 day pass: $115
  • GO San Francisco child 3 day pass: $85

I suggest looking at the places you really want to visit and totaling up what it would cost you to buy admission to each. With so many things to see and do in San Francisco, if the total for your entire trip is less than a pass, by all means, it’s worth it. For me, it was a relief to not have to buy all the tickets we needed separately. I felt like a kid in a candy store with so many fun options to explore this city by the bay.

Article and photography by travel writer Susan Guillory. I received complimentary GO San Francisco Cards and CityPasses, however all opinions are my own.