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San Diego CityPASS Review Is it Worth the Price?

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From its 70 miles of gorgeous ocean coastline to the seriously amazing weather, San Diego is the ideal destination for stateside coastal vacations, and it’s also a pretty terrific place to visit when you’ve never traveled to the United States. But how do you choose what to do in this beautiful Southern California city?

One option that may aid your vacation planning is the San Diego CityPASS, a multi-attraction pass that offers discounts on San Diego attractions like the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, and LEGOLAND California.

Buying tickets to famous San Diego hotspots can cause your budget to skyrocket, so scoring discounts on various trips may allow you to add an extra activity to your itinerary. For the price, is the CityPASS worth it? It probably comes down to who you’re traveling with and what you want to do in America’s Finest City.

Let’s jump into the pros and cons of the San Diego CityPASS program so you can decide whether to buy it or skip it for your San Diego trip.

What is the San Diego CityPASS?

San Diego CityPASS Logo

The San Diego CityPASS is a sightseeing pass designed for tourists and vacationers and offers discounted tickets for two of the city’s biggest attractions: SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California.

These two theme parks often boast ticket prices over $100 per admission; the CityPASS can save you some money when you visit these sites, as well as others included on the pass list of attractions.

Key Features of the San Diego CityPASS

San Diego CityPASS Attractions List
San Diego CityPASS / San Diego CityPASS

Deciding whether the pass is a good buy for your vacation means looking at the features included with this travel discount program. The concept of the pass is simple: your pass gains you access to predetermined destinations throughout San Diego, and you choose a few from the group to use with your pass.

Personalize the Pass to Suit Your Interests

San Diego CityPASS Attraction Choices
San Diego CityPASS / San Diego CityPASS

The pass differs from a general discount pass in that it doesn’t just offer discounts for local businesses. With the San Diego CityPASS, you can secure your tickets before you start your travel, which helps you plan and personalize your trip.

Get everything squared away months before you travel, so you don’t have to worry about whether you’ll be able to get tickets on the day. With the pass, you can choose LEGOLAND California, SeaWorld San Diego, or both attractions and then add three of your choosing to the pass.

You might choose the USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum of San Diego if you’re a history buff. If you’re on a couples getaway, you might select the City Cruise and the Old Town Trolley.

The San Diego CityPASS is Refundable

Sometimes, life gets in the way of a planned vacation, and you lose money on a plane ticket you don’t use or a non-refundable hotel stay. One of the nice features of the pass is that you can get a full refund for your purchase as long as you request the refund within one year (365 days) of your purchase.

If your trip is canceled or you need to make a significant change to the dates you plan on traveling, it can take quite a lot of time to cancel or reschedule all the activities and events you’ve planned for your itinerary.

You’ll find it much easier to reschedule or cancel your activities when you use the pass for planning because all you’ll need to deal with is a single cancellation rather than several.

The San Diego CityPASS Lasts Nine Whole Days

No matter the length of your San Diego stay, the last thing you want to worry about is rushing from attraction to attraction to see everything you can during your stay.

If you’re staying for a week in San Diego, you can use your pass throughout your vacation since you have nine days to complete your activities, starting on the first day you use your pass.

You can purchase your pass well before your travel dates, but you can wait to use the pass for up to a year and then take your time seeing San Diego’s best sights and attractions. Some attractions sell out early, so you’ll probably want to choose your attractions and book your tickets early.

“Skip the Line” Features

Sometimes, the longest line you’ll stand in during your visit to a San Diego attraction is the initial line to buy your tickets. When you choose your tickets in advance, you’ll get to skip the ticket line at the major theme parks because you’ll already have your tickets.

However, the San Diego City Pass doesn’t require that you choose every activity in advance. The only decision you need to make when you purchase is which of the premier attractions you’d like to visit during your vacation. In the case of San Diego, those are the popular attractions of LEGOLAND California or SeaWorld.

Enhancements & Upgrades

You may wish to take your San Diego experience a step further with the add-ons and upgrades available with your pass. Each destination included with the CityPASS comes with the option to add enhancements or upgrades to your ticket.

For example, you may purchase an upgrade ticket to SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND California Resort when you visit the park. When you visit the San Diego Zoo, you can upgrade your experience with a ticket to the park’s 4D movie theater.

See Related: Best Museums in San Diego

Top Attractions Included in the San Diego CityPASS

In addition to scoring reduced-cost tickets for these major attractions, you also get access to any three of the following additional San Diego attractions (aside from those already mentioned above):

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Sea Dragon at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, San Diego
Coopa / Shutterstock

The Birch Aquarium in La Jolla is an excellent place to take kids with its large kelp forest installation and the tide pool. The kids probably won’t realize they’re getting some valuable education about oceanography and sea life. This San Diego County aquarium is pretty popular, too, so it’s often a good idea to snag your tickets in advance to the aquarium.

City Cruises

Aerial view of San Diego Harbor Cruise
San Diego Harbor Cruise / Viator

The City Cruise takes you on a one-hour harbor cruise with views of the oldest active sailing ship in the world, the Star of India, as well as several U.S. Navy vessels. San Diego has a large military population stationed at the naval base there, and you’ll often see a massive (MASSIVE!) aircraft carrier on the tour.

Maritime Museum of San Diego

The Maritime Museum of San Diego
f11photo / Adobe Stock

This San Diego museum showcases the long history of San Diego as a port town with tours of tall ships that once sailed the oceans. This is a great day out for those interested in maritime history or bringing kids.

San Diego also has a huge yachting culture, with the Coronado Yacht Club being founded in the early 1900s and the San Diego Yacht Club existing as far back as the 1880s.

Old Town Trolley Tours

San Diego Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour
San Diego Trolley Tour / Viator

One of the coolest places to visit in San Diego is the Old Town area, which is a beautiful place to learn about California’s Mexican heritage and early Californians. The Old Town Trolley tour is an easy way to see as much of it as possible.

The area is full of restaurants and shops, including a chocolate shop with candy from many different Latin American locales and a shop that specializes in hot sauce. Definitely grab a bottle of Marie Sharp’s hot sauce!

San Diego Zoo or San Diego Safari Park

Sunny view of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Kit Leong / Adobe Stock

The San Diego Zoo sits right next to Balboa Park and is near Downtown San Diego. The zoo is the home of more than 12,000 animals of all sorts, as well as a botanical garden.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Safari Park is supposed to make you feel like you’re on a savanna with a tram that takes you all over to see exotic animals. Choosing the San Diego Zoo or the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is probably the most difficult decision you’ll make when planning your trip.

USS Midway Museum

Mighty USS Midway Museum in San Diego
ingusk / Adobe Stock

Over the course of her service, more than a quarter of a million sailors served on the USS Midway, the nation’s longest-serving aircraft carrier. The carrier was christened after the close-run Battle of Midway and commissioned just a week after the close of World War II. She was turned into a museum ship in 2004.

Boarding an aircraft carrier is an incredible experience, and the museum is a worthwhile outing whether you’re a history buff or simply curious. You may find it helpful to visit the official websites of each of these attractions to figure out which destinations you might enjoy most during your San Diego trip.

See Related: Best Restaurants in San Diego

Pros & Cons of the San Diego CityPASS

Is the San Diego CityPASS the best deal you can find anywhere for ticket discounts? Does the pass have any downsides that might cause you to choose another discount program or option?

Overall, the San Diego CityPASS program offers more pros than cons for most travelers, including San Diego residents and families from Southern California.

Pros

Pro: You have nine days to use the pass

Tourist attraction discount passes often only work for a few days, which means you need to stuff in a ton of activities into 48 or 72 hours to maximize the value of your pass. With the pass, you can spread your activities out at a pace that suits you since you have more than a week to complete your journey through San Diego’s best attractions.

Pro: Savings are legitimate when you use the pass to its fullest extent

Maximizing the value of your pass usually means choosing the most expensive activities for your journey. For example, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are on the more expensive side versus the other additional options, so making the most out of your CityPASS usually means choosing one of those attractions for your itinerary.

Pro: No surprise costs or hidden fees

You won’t find any unexpected fees after buying your San Diego CityPASS. The pas are easy to use, and your tickets are real and legitimate to each of the attractions you choose. While you may find it a good idea to buy your tickets in advance rather than at the window (the aquarium routinely sells out, for example), the price you pay for your CityPASS is all you’ll pay unless you purposefully add upgrades.

Pro: Planning is easier with the pass

Researching what to do in San Diego can get a little confusing when it’s your first visit, especially if you’re traveling from out-of-state or from another country. One of the convenient aspects of the CityPASS is that it gives you a concise list of some of the best attractions in San Diego. Every destination available through the CityPASS is worth a visit, and deciding on which attractions you want to try simply boils down to who you’re traveling with and your interests.

Pro: Opportunities to skip standing in line for tickets

If you’re traveling with kids, the last thing you want to do is wake up for an exciting day and find a huge line waiting for you at the entrance of your destination.

The lines to buy tickets for various San Diego attractions won’t take you hours, but it’s much easier to bypass the ticket booth and walk right into the attraction. You aren’t required to select tickets months in advance with the CityPASS, but you might want to consider it, if only for skipping the line.

See Related: Day Trips from San Diego

Cons

Con: The major attractions are youth-oriented

If you’re not particularly interested in SeaWorld or LEGOLAND, the pass might not offer you a true value for your vacation.

Suppose your main pursuits in visiting San Diego are the history museums or engaging in outdoor activities like a San Diego hiking tour. In that case, buying tickets directly from the attractions might be less expensive. Also, if your trip is only a few days, you might find it challenging to visit all the attractions before running out of time.

Con: Parking fees aren’t included in the San Diego CityPASS

One of the biggest “gotcha” moments any traveler has nowadays is the parking fee for an attraction, hotel, or restaurant. Nothing is more annoying than finding an excellent rate on a hotel and then finding out that it’ll cost $50 a night to park your car. The city pass isn’t a truly all-inclusive pass, but it is

See Related: Do You Need a Car in San Diego? Top Things to Know

San Diego CityPASS vs Go San Diego Explorer or All-Inclusive Pass

San Diego, California cityscape at the Gaslamp Quarter.
Sean Pavone / Shutter Stock

CityPASS isn’t the only name in town when it comes to attraction passes in San Diego. GoCity also offers two options: the San Diego Explorer Pass and the San Diego All-Inclusive Pass.

The San Diego Explorer Pass gives you 60 days to explore your choice of attractions. You can pick up a pass for entrance into either 3, 4, 5, or 7 of the city’s top sights. The list for the Explorer Pass includes 40 different attractions, including the San Diego Zoo, USS Midway Aircraft Carrier, and some outdoor adventures like kayak rentals and guided hikes.

Go San Diego All-Inclusive Pass is a bit more powerful in terms of attractions, but less flexible in terms of schedule. Choose from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 7 day passes which grant you access to 55 of the best San Diego attractions. SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California are included on this pass, along with the Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Zoo, and lots of shopping and dining experiences, too.

Like the San Diego CityPASS, both Go San Diego passes are digital, which allows you to skip general ticketing lines and not worry about carrying paper tickets.

The biggest differences between Go San Diego Explorer or All Inclusive Pass vs. San Diego CityPASS is the number of attractions and the timeline. Go San Diego passes are available for either a set number of attractions over 60 days or unlimited attractions over a maximum of 7 days.

San Diego CityPASS taps out at 9 days, with a set number of attractions. While the list from San Diego CityPASS is significantly shorter than the 40 or 55 attractions offered by GoCity, it does hit all of the major sights, like the Zoo or Safari Park, SeaWorld, and LEGOLAND.

How can you determine which pass best suits your needs? List the attractions you want to see, and then compare each pass’s offerings with your ideal schedule.

All these passes will save you money over just showing up and buying general admission tickets, so choosing the best one for you is best determined by your must-see sites.

The Verdict on the San Diego CityPASS

San Diego CityPASS Review Is it Worth the Price?

Planning to purchase San Diego CityPASS for your next San Diego adventure? Here's a comprehensive San Diego CityPASS review.

Product Brand: San Diego CityPASS

Editor's Rating:
4.3

Pros

  • You have nine days to use the pass Savings are legitimate when you use the pass to its fullest extent No surprise costs or hidden fees Planning is easier with the pass Opportunities to skip standing in line for tickets

Cons

  • The major attractions are youth-oriented Parking fees aren't included in the San Diego CityPASS
San Diego, California Skyline
SeanPavonePhoto / Adobe Stock

When used to its fullest potential, the San Diego CityPASS is an excellent way to save serious money on your San Diego vacation. However, for San Diego’s CityPASS, the main attractions offered with the program do attract a younger crowd, which means the pass is a great choice for families traveling with children.

If you’re visiting San Diego for a seaside couples getaway or a romantic weekend, the CityPASS might not offer the best value. Further, the venues you’ll probably focus on as an adult or older adult might not cost anything.

Visiting a brewery is free (San Diego has loads of craft breweries!), strolling Old Town San Diego is free, and sunning yourself on one of San Diego’s white sand beaches costs nothing. San Diego is actually a great place to visit when you want to blow your entire vacation budget on a luxury hotel (I’m looking at you, Hotel Del Coronado, mmm!) and need to rein in the spending for everything else.

Conversely, regarding family vacations, San Diego is also one of the best destinations in the country for its weather, safety, and family-friendly activities. San Diego truly offers visitors a wealth of fun, outdoor-centric activities, and the San Diego CityPASS can help you experience as much as possible during your stay.

FAQ

What attractions are included in the San Diego CityPASS?

LEGOLAND California and SeaWorld San Diego are the premier destinations with the pass. Additional attractions you may choose to visit with the pass include the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, City Cruises, the Maritime Museum of San Diego, Old Town Trolley Tours, the San Diego Zoo or San Diego Safari Park, and the USS Midway Museum. The choice is up to you since you can personalize your CityPASS and the attractions you visit.

Does the City Pass include transportation in San Diego?

Transportation to the attractions included with the San Diego CityPASS isn’t included with the price of the pass. San Diego offers some public transportation, but like much of California, San Diego is best experienced with a rental car, especially if you want to venture more than a few miles from your hotel. The CityPASS also doesn’t include parking fees.

How long is the San Diego CityPASS valid for?

You have one year from the purchase date of your San Diego CityPASS to start using your tickets. You can use your tickets the day you receive your CityPASS.

On the day you use your first ticket, you have nine consecutive calendar days (including the first day) to use your pass. The pass is quite generous in its time allotment.

Is the San Diego CityPASS the same as the Go City San Diego Pass?

No, Go City and CityPASS are different companies. Go City offers a similar pass system in San Diego called the Go San Diego Pass, but it is not the same.

Go City’s Go San Diego Explorer Pass and the Go San Diego All-inclusive Pass are different programs from the San Diego CityPASS. Both of these San Diego passes offer discounted tickets to a variety of exciting and educational attractions like the San Diego Zoo and LEGOLAND.

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