The San Francisco Cable Cars are one of the city’s defining features. It was one of the first things that we looked for when we made our way into downtown San Francisco.
Being tourists in thet city of San Francisco, we absolutely had to ride the cable cars. The cable cars are a part of the San Francisco MUNI system. A one day pass allows you to ride the cable cars, the electric trains, and the MUNI buses. So, if you plan to spend a day in the city, the cable cars can be a very cost-effective attraction.
As I have mentioned before, San Francisco is one of the easiest cities to get around, but it is large! – very large! So, if you are planning to see a great deal of the city in one day, the MUNI pass is the way to go! Then you can ride the cable cars til your heart’s desire.
There are three cables car lines currently running in San Francisco –
- The California line runs East-West from the Financial District, through Chinatown, over Nob Hill stopping at Van Ness Avenue.
- The Powell-Mason line begins at the Powell/ Market turntable, and runs from there up and over Nob Hill and down to Bay Street at Fisherman’s Wharf.
- The Powell-Hyde line also begins at the Powell Market turntable and runs over Nob and Russian hills before ending at Aquatic Park near Ghirardelli Square.
The Powell-Mason line and the Powell-Hyde line start at the same turn-table in Union Square. You need to know which line you are boarding. The Powell-Hyde line completes its journey down Hyde Street which has some of the steepest hills in the city – be sure to ride this line from Union Square at least once. Here is a great map of the cable car routes that I found. It highlights the routes on the map for ease of understanding.
The best ride on the cable cars, in my opinion, is the Powell-Mason Line from Powell Station to Ghirardelli Square. It seems like the fastest moving of the lines, but actually it is the hills that make it feel that way – A definite MUST RIDE!!!
How do Cable Cars Work
Now, since I am such a geek, I had to understand how the cable cars work – There is a cable that runs under the street on the cable car line, the San Francisco cable car moves forward by gripping the cable with a vise-like gripping mechanism. The operator grips the cable using the grip lever. Releasing the grip lever will cause the car to slowly stop…. there is also a brake to help the cable car stop quicker.
When the cable cars reach the end of their line, a turn table is used to turn the car around and send it back on its way again. The car is pushed onto the turn-table, and then released from the underground cable. The operators then manually turn the turn-table by pushing against the back-rests. After the car is turned, it is reattached to the cable, and pushed out onto the track again. We got a kick out of watching the operators turn the huge cars.