How To Get A Lift On SF’s Iconic Method Of Transportation
Of all the things to do in San Francisco, an absolute must is going for a ride on its iconic cable cars.
Looking like trollies in other cities, these transportation devices are packed with tourists, some standing on narrow platforms hanging out over the open sides, making the tourists themselves a picture of San Francisco.
But if you don’t know this one important tip, you may spend several hours for the thrill of this experience rather than just a few minutes.
Do not – repeat, do not – catch a cable car at one of the turnarounds. This is the starting and stopping point where the cars stop and actually “park” for a while and have to turn around on a disc. Not only is this a somewhat time-consuming project, but because it’s the most convenient place to get on a cable car, it’s also the most congested.
Therefore, the lines to board a cable car are long. There can be more than 100 people in line and the wait is 30 to 45 minutes.
The two worst places to catch the cable car are the turnarounds at the bottom of Hyde Street (this cable car goes up Hyde Street, with has a 40% grade, and drops off at the curvy Lombard Street landmark) and Powell Street at Market Street.
The wait at the Hyde Street turnaround can, on a sunny day, can be more than an hour.
Instead, go a few blocks up the street, wait at one of the designated stops, and there you can often just jump on board. The only wait is for the cable car to arrive.
Most tourists just ride the cable car a few blocks for the novelty of it, to do a “San Francisco thing” so there’s usually room for a couple more people, no matter how crowded it looks to you. By getting on at a location away from a turnaround, you’ll be able to experience a cable car ride without waisting a lot of time.
I actually use the cable cars as transportation to get around the city because, let’s face it, they are way more cool than jumping in an Uber or Lyft.
The price to ride a cable car is $7, which is pretty steep (pun intended) for one ride. It’s better to get 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. It also provides admission into several museums; that price is $94.
If you don’t have a CityPASS, you can can pay for one ride or one day on the spot after boarding the cable car.