The Cable Car LinesThere are three cable car lines in San Francisco and all three cross Nob Hill, which lies just north of downtown. Two of the lines connect the Union Square area with Fisherman's Wharf, and these are the lines that are absolutely packed and insane much of the year. The third line actually intersects them and crosses Nob Hill from east to west, and is largely off of the tourist radar (hint, hint).
See all three routes on this Route Map.
Riding the Cable CarCable Car fares are paid directly to the driver or bought from one of the attended booths at either of the turnarounds. Fares are $6 per person at the time of writing and are good for one-way travel only. One, Three and Seven Day passes are also available from the booths, which include unlimited travel on all San Francisco public transportation; cable cars, historic trolleys, subways and buses.
Those that purchase a San Francisco City Pass, get a 7 day transportation pass that includes unlimited rides on the cable cars as well admission to five different major San Francisco attractions.
You can also board the cable car at any point along its route, and most drives actually leave a couple extra spaces for late boarders when they leave the turnaround. If you don’t abuse this option, it can save you hours of time waiting in line.
The Cable Car MuseumLocated inside the actual cable car barn and powerhouse on Nob Hill where the steel engines and massive winding wheels that pull the cables along their track under the ground are on display, the non-profit Cable Car Museum is a fascinating attraction in its own right. Besides a large collection of mechanical equipment, old cable cars and historic photographs, the onsite gift shop stocks coffee table books, souvenirs and other specialty items.
- Location:1201 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA
- Hours:10am - 6pm Daily
- Contact(415) 474-1887 www.cablecarmuseum.org
A Bit of Cable Car HistoryCable cars were introduced in San Francisco in 1873 by Andrew Smith Hallidie and the Clay Street Railroad company. By the time of the great fire of 1906, cable cars criss-crossed the entire city, from Ocean Beach to the Ferry Building. After the city burned however, many of the cable car lines where re-opened using cheaper and more energy efficient electric streetcars. The cable cars where still much better at navigating the steep slopes of the downtown hills however and so they were rebuilt or renovated in the center of the city.
The cable cars were almost destroyed again in the 1940's, when the overzealous automobile industry launched its crusade against public transportation that completely wiped out the streetcars of Los Angeles and decimated the lines in San Francisco as well. Despite the fact that the San Francisco mayor and several other key, yet corrupt, politicians backed the auto industry, a focused group of citizens banded together to fight for the survival of the Cable Cars and their line. The battle was not easy but the Citizens Committee to Save the Cable Cars, along with support from across the nation, including a pro cable car editorial by Eleanor Roosevelt, finally resulted in a popular city vote that overwhelmingly secured the future of the cable car as a San Francisco icon.