How To Ride These Icons Of The City By The Bay
You can’t go San Francisco as a tourist (or even a first-time business traveler) and not ride its iconic cable cars.
But these ancient machines can be intimidating because they are old and appear to be rickety as they plod up those steep hills. Not to worry, they are completely safe. Just stay out of the way of the “grip.”
Here’s your complete guide to riding the cable cars in San Francisco with tips on where (and how) to get on one, the routes and information on tickets.
1.) Avoid The Cable Car Turnarounds
Don’t ever go to the stopping/starting point of a cable car. This is what most tourists do and you’ll wind up standing in a long line for 30 minutes to an hour to get on a cable car. Instead, to up the street and get on at a designated stop. Read more about this here.
2.) Ride The California Street Cable Car
These are far less crowded than the other lines. It covers Chinatown, the Financial District, Downtown, the Civic Center Nob Hill and Pacific Heights. This is known as the California, or Red Line.
3.) Ride More Than One Cable Car
Just don’t ride once for the quick thrill of it – ride the cable cars several times.
4.) Stay Out Of The Cable Car Conductor’s Area
Operating a cable car requires a lot of focus and they do not like people going into their area to take photos, selfies or videos. Just ask PubClubette Ashley who was told, in a very stern way, to “move out of this area.” The operators pull handles for brakes (not an easy task on those hills) and to re-attach to the underground cables, to set them do their job. This person is called the grip; the person who takes your tickets or money is at the back of the cable car and is the conductor.
5.) Where The Heck Do Those Cable Cars Go, Anyway?
They go along the streets they are named after, and here’s a brief guide:
• Powell/Hyde. It goes from Powell & Market streets (Union Square area) all the way to the bottom of very steep Hyde street. This puts you near Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. It ends (or begins, depending on your direction) across from the Buena Vista, the very busy Irish coffee bar. At the peak of Hyde Street, get off at Lombard Street and walk down the famous crooked street.
• Powell/Mason. Again, Union Square and it also gets you to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 but also goes through North Beach, San Francisco’s mecca of Italian restaurants along Mason Street. The line here to board from the Fisherman’s Wharf area is far shorter than the one at the Hyde Street turnaround.
• California Street. See above.
How And Where To Purchase Tickets & Prices
Single rides are pricy at $7. I recommend getting an an all-day pass for $14. If you get the San Francisco CityPASS, the cable cars (as well as all forms of MUNI transportation) are included for three days. CityPass also provides admission into several museums; it cost $94.
If you don’t have a CityPASS, you can can pay the conductor for one ride or one day on the spot after boarding the cable car.