The cable cars in San Francisco have made their mark on not just the city, but pop culture as well. Learn how to ride these moving national historic landmarks.
There is nothing quite like riding a cable car up and down the hills of San Francisco. While they symbolize the early innovation that made the city iconic, the experience of riding a cable car is timeless. The cable car experience starts while waiting at the cable car turnarounds (at Powell or California and Market Streets) or along the routes, waiting for the cable cars to approach. Once you hop on the cable car, you can either find a seat or hold on to the handles as you hang on for the ride. The cable car gripmen handle the grips to move the cars. And let's not forget about the cable car bell ringing. You can hear it from blocks away. It's used to get the attention of intersecting traffic.
The cable cars are the world's last manually operated cable car system, a tramway whose cars are pulled along by cables embedded in the street. These right-out-of-the-Smithsonian cable cars were named a national historic landmark in 1964. Refurbished and equipped with new tracks, cables, turnarounds and cable propulsion machinery, they operate much as they did on Aug. 2, 1873 when Andrew S. Hallidie guided the first car down Clay Street.
Hours of operations for the cable cars are 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday through Sunday.
San Francisco Cable Car Fast Facts:
- 9.7 million people ride cable cars each year.
- Building a cable car is an exacting art that takes several dozen craftsmen 18 to 24 months to complete.
- Streetcars are different from cable cars
- World War II opened up cable car jobs for African-Americans and women.
- Muni holds a cable car ringing competition every year.
Movies that Feature the Cable Cars:
The Rock (1996)
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
Foul Play (1978)
In Harm's Way (1965)
The Birds (1963)
San Francisco Cable Car Routes
Once upon a time, cable car lines serviced the entire city. Today, only three lines remain, but they can take you to some of San Francisco's most popular neighborhoods.
There are three lines you can choose from:
- California Line - Picks you up at California and Market Streets.
- Powell-Mason - Picks you up at the Powell Street Cable Car turnaround off of Market Street in Union Square.
- Powell-Hyde - This line also picks you up at the Powell Street Cable Car turnaround.
The three lines go through these neighborhoods:
How to Ride
- Visitors must purchase a ticket to ride the cable cars. A single ride costs $8, no matter your age or the time of day. You can pay with exact change or via the MuniMobile app or a Clipper card.
- There are designated cable car stops along each route. Line up and wait for the cable car to approach and come to a full stop. Be aware of your surroundings as you step from the curb; cable cars share the road with cars and buses. Listen to the cable car operator's instructions for where you may sit or stand. Payment will be collected after you board.
- You can find out about the history of San Francisco's cable cars—and even see the enormous mechanisms that keep the system running—at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum (1201 Mason St.). This fun attraction is open every day of the year (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day) and is always free.
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