Did you know that San Francisco’s cable cars are officially a “moving” National Historic Landmark? The cars first clanged their bells on the steep streets of this city in 1873. Andrew Hallidie began to build the cable car lines after he saw an accident that injured and killed horses that had been drawing carts on the rain-slicked hills. Hallidie thought up a better way for public transport. His idea proved to be a great one, as the cars are still running nearly 150 years later.
Today San Francisco’s cable cars offer three lines. You can ride the Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde lines from the Union Square area down to Fisherman’s Wharf. The third line, California, runs the other direction (east-west) across the Powell lines. It also ends up at the wharf. Cable cars share the streets with autos, which can get interesting.
How to Ride
You can board at the turntables at the end of the lines. Or you can wait at any stop marked with a sign. If the cars aren’t full, they will stop and you can hop on. The most fun way to ride is to stand on the running boards on either side and hang onto a pole. Just be sure to keep your arms and legs close to the pole, especially when passing a cable car going the opposite way. Riders are close enough to people on that car to high five.
Views from the cable car are breathtaking, whether it’s day or night.
The gripmen and brakemen can make the ride really funny. A brakeman sang us all a rhymed travelogue of the city. One gripman had us all chanting the names of the kids on the car as he rang the bell. “Nico, Nico, Nico” (ring-ring, ring-ring, ring-ring). Another brakeman let me stand in the back to take photos. Then he called my husband back and told him to hang on to me. “OK, we’re coming to a sharp turn and then a steep hill. Ready? Let go and hang over the edge and take pictures!” You only live once, right? And another had us all jumping up and down as we rounded a corner. (I’m not sure that’s safe, but it was certainly fun.)
How the Cars Go
Cables running under the street never stops. They go constantly at nine miles an hour. The gripman uses the pincher contraption to hook onto the cable and go.
Letting go of the cable brings the car to a stop, but there are also three brakes to halt the cars, a great safety feature. The cars start and stop frequently, so you’ll want to be sure to hang on either a pole or strap if you’re standing.
The Cable Car Museum
We ended our visit to San Francisco at the Cable Car Museum, where you can see the cables running for the three lines. This is where San Francisco’s cable cars spend the night, and where all the mechanics are on view.
This guy has the job of watching all the cables for any problems. I’m not sure I could stay awake or keep from being mesmerized by the spinning cables, so I appreciate someone who can do this.
Here’s the only surviving car from the original lines of 1873.
And here’s a machine to collect fares – from long ago when a ride cost only 25 cents.
A visit to San Francisco just isn’t complete without a ride on the famous cable cars. Hop on and enjoy the ride as the cars whisk you around corners and up and down hilly streets. Laugh with the other passengers and take in the sights and sounds of the city. You’ll love it and remember it for a long time to come.
If You Go
A one-way fare of any length costs $7. One-day passes and three-day passes are available. We rode seven times in three days, so we definitely saved money with the pass.
Check the official website for up-to-date prices and information on the places you can buy passes.
I love San Francisco and the cable cars. Great collection of photos.
The last time we were in San Francisco I thought we might take the cable car up to Chinatown, but there was hours of wait with a huge crowd of tourists, so we walked. Always like the cable cars, but these days they are too crowded with tourists.
My son lives right in front of the tram rails in the Hague, and the station is just around the corner, so whenever we are there we ride the tram to the middle of the city where all the shops are. There’s only one difference – the Hague is pretty flat compared to San Fran:):) Wow, you did the works on investigation about the history and workings behind the tram! Many thanks for All Seasons – have a lovely week Sharon!
I live across the Bay Bridge from the city and have not tried riding this. When relatives came visiting in March we thought we’d take them to ride, but upon seeing the long lines, my relatives decided it’s not going to be worth it especially when time is very limited.
Who doesn’t love San Francisco ~ My favorite though was the cable cars ~ your photos bring back warm and loving memories of a beautiful city ~ Your family is beautiful! ~ Great post and photography ~ ^_^
Very nice. I was born in San Francisco and was raised in the East Bay and still live in the East Bay and work in San Francisco. Sad to say that I have maybe rode the cable Cars about five times in my life. I did ride it up to the wonderful Cable Car Museum.
Thanks for sharing and beautiful pics.
What a fun and educational trip! Thanks for sharing the ‘behind the scenes’ action.
So fun! I’d love to see San Fran one day!
I grew up going to SF quite often but didnt get to ride a cable car until Xmas 2014! Loved doing it, but they’re soo loud! That’s cool that you can end your ride in the barn! I don’t know if I could stay awake either with that guy’s job! haha #CityTripping
Ohhh….we just went to California for the first time last month!! We started in San Francisco! The Cable Cars were my favorite! Had so much fun on them. We had a great driver who let my kids stand with him and he answered all kinds of questions for them. Then he took a picture of us hanging off the side! It’s now on the front of my website now I loved it so much!! Thanks for sharing this great post and all the great info on the Cable Cars! I hope we get to go do it again sometime.
We went there to years ago with the kids and they had so much fun!
OK don’t laugh now, but I’ve lived in San Francisco for two years now and I am yet to ride those cable cars or go to the museum. It looks like so much fun though! #CityTripping
Love…love…love this series! Such fun!
I’ve been on the cable cars many times but I’ve never been to the cable car barn. It looks fascinating. Hold onto your packages if you are on the outside of the car. I saw my Boudin’s sourdough roll down the hill because I wasn’t attentive enough 🙂
Oh, we made sure to do that when we were there and a few of us got to hang off the side, too! That was fun.
Noting how steep the hills are, I’m glad their brakes are in good repair!
You really managed to capture the steep pitch of the hills in some of these streets quite well.
Thanks for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2017/06/shades-of-purple.html
…I’ve been to SF once, i need to return.
Beautiful photos! The Cable Car Museum is one of my all time favorites. We went before we had kids but I know they would love to visit. #TravelPhotoTursday
I used to live in San Francisco and took the cable car whenever I had an excuse to! The lines at Powell street can be really long, but they tend not to be as bad at the other end of the line. And, as with any tourist destination, you’ll have fewer crowds early in the morning or late in the afternoon or in the evening.
I’ve only been on San Francisco’s cable cars once – and it was extremely crowded. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. There is just something that is perfect about cable cars and the hills of San Francisco. A match made in heaven. Thanks for sharing!
Fab post – I loved the San Francisco cable cars but we didn’t have quite enough time to ride them as much as I’d like. Definitely something to fit in when we return one day. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping
So much fun! SF is so an awesome city and the cable cars add to the fun! Hoping to take my son there soon, he would LOVE riding the cable cars!
Those cable cars look like so much fun! I’ve never been to San Francisco, but if I go, I will definitely make sure to ride on them!
Great photos as always! I love how gripmen and breakman added to your experience and made your ride on these famous cable cars are little more fun and memorable!
The cable cars are a must in San Francisco (even if you have to make the long lines to ride them). I am amazed hoe they navigate the hilly streets of the city. I didn’t know about the Barn. That is a great idea for my next visit. #TPThursday
I absolutely love SF and their cable cars. Glad you had a great time, you’re making me miss the city!!!
Alex J Brown
These photos are fantastic! I have always wanted to go to San Francisco and riding a cable car is DEFINITELY on the list for when I get there 🙂 Thanks for the travel inspo!
xxoo, Taylor (thesprinkle.tayloramead.com)
I have never been to San Francisco and your blog totally makes me wanna get there today. Thanks so much for sharing these and making me jealous! LOL. 🙂
San Francisco is one of my favorite cities, and I love riding the cable cars too. Did any of your drivers yell at tourists? Shocking and funny at the same time.
You make riding on a cable car sound like such a fun adventure, Sharon! It’s great to hear how chirpy the grip men and brakemen are. It sounds like they do everything they can to make the ride more special. I did enjoy going on the cable cars when I visited San Francisco. I’ll have to return and bring the kids – they’d love it. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles
What a great post! I think I might be a little scared standing on the edge, but I am sure it made the ride more exciting. Erm… the guy checking the cables looks a little bored.
I agree a trip to San Francisco is not complete without riding a cable car. I have done it myself a few times, but I have not had the courage to hang off the sides. I have always had a seat, but maybe next time I will try it. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.
This is such a cool post! I didn’t realize the cable cars are so historic! I can’t wait to ride them someday myself! #TheWeeklyPostcard
Great Pictures. This looks like so much fun. I think it will have to be a must do when I visit San Francisco someday. I’ll try not to sing any Judy Garland songs while I’m on it, but no promises.
How fun! I think San Francisco and its cable cars would be super exciting. The antics of the Gripmen and Brakemen were hilarious! Thanks for sharing your experience!
The cable cars are such a San Francisco icon. You really made the most of your passes and I loved the Cable Car Barn. Something I’d definitely like to do if we ever visit San Francisco #farawayfiles
What great photos! Something to add to my bucket list.
I’ve been to San Francisco a few times, and have yet to ride the cable cars! I will have to add it to my list now that I know there is singing involved. #weekendwanderlust
Super cool. I loved seeing your cable car photos, they were fantastic. Sounds like you all had a great time.
[…] Riding San Francisco’s Cable Cars […]
Great journey. Last year I enjoyed this riding.