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Cable Cars San Francisco

Discover Their History, Routes and Tips for Riding

Do you want a fun way to get around the city? If so, then the San Francisco Cable Cars are the way to go!

This tourist attraction is VERY popular - so you'll probably have to wait in line for a little while for a seat (unless you take advantage of my local's secret below!). It's a ride that you will never forget!

san francisco cable cars

The first cable car line was put on the tracks on August 2, 1873. Horses and carriages had a very tough time getting up and down the steep hills, especially when it was raining. So, the system was built to get San Franciscans around safely.

The City of San Francisco kept adding more and by 1889 it consisted of eight different lines. Over the years, the use of the cable cars in the city declined as faster transportation was developed.

In 1947, the city attempted to close down all of the cable car lines. The locals protested and were able to retain the remaining three cable car lines that still run today.

The oldest line still in operation is the California Cable Car line. It currently runs up and down California Street from Nob Hill to the Financial District.

The map below shows you each of the three lines. The arrows indicate the starting/ending point of each line. The green arrows are for the Powell/Hyde line, the red arrows are for the California line and the blue ones are for the Powell/Mason line.

san francisco cable car map

Powell/Hyde Line: Union Square,
Lombard Street to Fishermans Wharf

The Powell/Hyde line is one of two cable cars San Francisco lines that run from Union Square to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. This is my favorite line, since you get the chance to pass by Lombard Street and see amazing views of the bay on the final hill of the ride. It's the one I always recommend when you ride from Union Square to Fishermans Wharf.

The Powell/Hyde line beings near Union Square at the turn style at Powell Street and Market Street. Powell dead ends right before Market Street and you'll see the starting point for this line once you arrive. This line goes up Powell Street for about a mile.

cable car hyde powell

It then turns west and goes forward for about five blocks. Then it turns north again onto Hyde Street. It then follows Hyde Street all the way down to Jefferson Street and ends in the wonderful Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood.

Local secret: Try to sit in the front of the cable car on the east side. This gives you the best view. If you aren't sure which way is east, your seat will face away from Sephora.

By sitting here, you are in the best position to get a look at the famous Lombard Street. You are also in a great position to see the SF bay as you head down Hyde Street toward Fisherman's Wharf.

Double check the signs for this cable car when you board. The Powell/Mason line picks up in the same location, so make sure you read the signs before boarding.

The stop at Lombard Street give you the opportunity to hop off and take pictures. This is cable car is an excellent choice to select if you are heading straight to Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square, Aquatic Park or other location on the west end of Fisherman's Wharf.

If you hop off at Lombard Street to take some photos or to walk down "the most crooked street in SF", you have a few options to get to Fisherman's Wharf:

  • Use Your CityPass & Jump On Another Cable Car: If you plan on taking the cable cars or public transit a lot (and visiting a few of the top museums), look into the San Francisco CityPass. The card is a great bargain as it includes 7-day unlimited pass on all cable cars, buses and street cars. Show you card and hop back onto the cable car to the Fisherman's Wharf stop.

  • Walk to Fisherman's Wharf: This is a great option if you don't mind a short walk. Fisherman's Wharf is only about six blocks from Lombard Street. I would recommend walking to the bottom of Lombard Street, taking your photos then walk north on Leavenworth Street. This is flatter than Hyde Street and takes you right into the west side of Fisherman's Wharf.

  • Pay Again and Hop Back on the Next Cable Car: If you only bought a one trip ticket, you can still take the cable car from Hyde Street to Fisherman's Wharf. You'll need to pay for another full ticket, but you can pay once you hop onto the cable car. Wait on Hyde Street for the next cable car and jump on where ever you can.
  • Without question, the Powell/Hyde is my favorite of the cable cars San Francisco lines. The ride has the most hills and it is fun to see Lombard Street along the way.

    Local Secret: When picking up this cable car from Fisherman's Wharf, do not stand in line at the turn style at Hyde and Beach Streets waiting for your turn. Simply walk up Hyde Street to the stop at North Point Street. When the cable car leaves the turn style, there is always a little room to pick up passengers along the way. This locals' technique will save you up to two to three hours of time standing in line!

    Powell/Mason Line

    The Powell/Mason line runs from Union Square to Fishermans Wharf. This line takes a slightly different route to get to Fisherman's Wharf.

    I recommend taking this one on the trip from Fishermans Wharf to Union Square. By taking the Powell/Hyde line one direction and this one other direction, you get to see some different sites in this city.

    cable car powell

    I would recommend the same seating location as the Powell/Mason line. This allows you to look out over the east side of San Francisco.

    This line heads up Powell Street. It does a quick turn on Jackson Street and after one block it then turns again north up Mason Street.

    If you are heading towards North Beach or Fisherman's Wharf for the day, this is the line to choose. You can jump off at Columbus Street in North Beach.

    You can also ride all the way to Bay Street and walk just three blocks to Jefferson Street (the main street in Fisherman's Wharf).

    An added attraction for this line is the Cable Car Museum. It stops right in front on the museum, so you can quickly jump off and head inside for a visit.

    California Line

    The California line is the only line to run east to west. It starts at California and Market Streets in the Financial District. This is the cable cars San Francisco that heads up and over Nob Hill and ends at Van Ness and California Streets.

    california cable car

    Seating Tips for Market Street: If you pick the cable car up at Market Street, find a seat in the back on the north side facing the Hyatt Hotel. From these seats, you will get a great look down the hill as you head up California Street.

    Seating Tips for Van Ness: If you catch the cable car at California and Van Ness, I recommend you sit in the front on the north side of the car. You know you are in the right seats if you see the Sleep Train Mattress Center across the street.

    These seats afford you a view of Grace Cathedral, the Fairmont Hotel and one of the old 'Big Four' mansions (the Flood Mansion) at California and Mason Streets. You also great some great views of the city as you head up or down the steep hill of California Street.

    Payment Options, Tips & Discount Passes

    There are a couple of payment options for the cable cars San Francisco. The first is a one-time ride ticket. This ticket is $7 and allows you to ride one way on one line. You can pay at the ticket booth (if there is one at your stop) or just pay once you board.

    If you decide to hop off, you will have to pay again to re-board and finish the route. The cable cars do not offer transfers.

    Another great option is the San Francisco CityPass. It's a great money saver for those planning on visiting some of the top museums as well as taking public transit throughout their stay. The pass is good for seven days and you can ride Muni and the cable cars an unlimited number of times.

    Alcatraz Tours: If you have not booked your trip to Alcatraz, then read this section before you book. It tells you all you need to know about the difference between the morning and night tours. This information will help you decide which tour is right for you.

    Attractions by Neighborhood: Discover some of the top attractions by neighborhood. If you want to plan out your trip by neighborhood, I recommend reviewing the information on this page. You can find some great places to visit during your stay.

    Museums: There are a number of great museums in San Francisco. Are you looking for history museums? What about art museums? Check out this page to find more about some of the best San Francisco museums.

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