Do you want a fun way to get around the city? If so, then the cable cars in San Francisco 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!
The SF cable cars run seven days a week including holidays. They are a popular forum of transportation not only for tourists, but also for residents.
The first SF 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 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 San Francisco 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 San Francisco cable car routes. 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.
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The Powell/Hyde line is one of two cable cars in San Francisco 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.
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 SF 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 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:
Without question, the Powell/Hyde is my favorite of the cable cars in San Francisco. 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! You can also use this techique for any stop on the routes. Even though you won't get the best seat, at least you don't have to wait in line as long.
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 the city.
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.
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 car in San Francisco that heads up and over Nob Hill and ends at Van Ness and California Streets.
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 are facing away from Starbucks and Wells Fargo.
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.
The cable cars in San Francisco run 365 days a year including holidays. You will find that tourists aren't the only ones that use them to get around the city, so they are always in operation.
All three San Francisco cable car lines start around 6am and run until around 11pm most days. They run a little later on the weekends.
All of them run often and leave about every 15 to 20 minutes.
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. It's best to have exact change to make the process faster for everyone.
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.