San Francisco cable cars are the last remaining manually operated cable cars in the world. The cars have been in operation since the late 1800s and are still providing service on three lines that criss-cross the city. Riding a cable car is one of the top tourist attractions in the city, and for good reason.
People queue up by the hundreds for a chance to ride and even more stop by just to watch the old-time process of reversing the car. When the cable car reaches the end of the line, it slides into a turntable that allows the operators to manually rotate the car back into the forward-facing position. The process is quite entertaining to watch and shows just how far we’ve come in the way of public transportation.
Here is a video we took of the process in action.
Tips for Taking the Cable Car
Riding the cable car is something many tourists do when visiting San Francisco, not as a means of transportation to get to an attraction, but as the attraction itself. If you’re wanting to take the ride, you’ll want to pay for just the round trip journey.
You can also purchase tickets at the booths that are located at the Powell & Market cable car turnaround, the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Hyde and Beach cable car turnaround. To board cable cars at Powell & Market, Bay & Taylor and Hyde & Beach Streets, you have to purchase tickets in advance. Tickets cost $8 for one way.
There are three possible routes to take. Two of them start at Powell & Market and go toward the Fisherman’s Wharf area at Hyde and at Mason. The third line goes from California toward Van Ness Avenue. The Powell/Mason line is the most popular. If you board at Powell and Market, you’ll get to see the cable car turnaround from the video above.
You can get on the car at any stop along the route, so you can avoid the long line at the turnaround by going to a nearby stop, though you may have to hang on to the side of the car, rather than sitting down. That’s all part of the fun anyway!
The Powell & Hyde line ends up very close to Ghirardelli Square, where you can taste some chocolate, grab a glass of wine, or just stroll around. If you exit the line at Lombard Street stop, you’ll be at the top of the world’s crookedest street.
The Powell & Mason line ends near Fisherman’s Wharf, so you can take advantage of all the things on offer in that area. There are tons of restaurants and bars along the waterfront.
The cable cars in San Francisco keep a schedule of about every 10 minutes. That doesn’t mean there will be no queue. Prepare to stand in line for up to 30 minutes. Keep in mind that there is only one line for two different cable car lines at Powell & Market.
You can tell which car route it is by looking at the name on the car. Make sure you get on the right one! If the next car isn’t yours, just allow others in the queue to go ahead of you to board.
The San Francisco cable car is an American historical treasure. Enjoy your ride and be safe. It’s important to preserve this tradition for many generations to come.