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    Cable Car Museum: San Francisco's historic tram museum

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    When you think of San Francisco you think of traveling up and down its beautiful hills overlooking one of the iconic trams (cable cars) that since 1873 have connected the city… an image that we all have in mind and that if we are in San Francisco it can only be one of the experiences to do absolutely. And why not also discover the secrets and history of this picturesque means of transport? The Cable Car Museum, the Tram Museum, is the answer to this desire… and what's more, it's completely free.


    • What is the Cable Car Museum
    • Where is it and how to get there
    • Timetables and tickets
    • Why visit it?
    • Where to sleep in the area

    What is the Cable Car Museum

    On the hill of Nob Hill there is the Cable Car Museum, the museum dedicated to the means of transport of San Francisco that comes every year used by over 7 million people.

    The museum was founded in the 1974 and is located in the historic headquarters of the tram power station. Today it is managed byorganizzazione no profit Friends of the Cable Car Museum.

    The invention of the tram is due to Andrew Smith Hallidie that on 2 August 1873 he proved to the whole city that his vehicle worked better than any horse-drawn carriage. The conformation of the city with its differences in height could only agree with Hallidie. His vehicle, in fact, immediately met with great success. A 'carriage' attached to an iron cable that runs along the road up and down the hills of the city and a skilled operator who, using a lever, starts the vehicle at a certain speed or applies the brakes: a simple and effective concept. So much so that the monopoly of Hallidie's company, the Clay Street Hill Railroad, lasted only 4 years. In 1889, there were eight companies and the trams traveled 53 miles connecting the streets and main areas of San Francisco.

    The terrible earthquake of 1906 and the new means of transport (such as the bus, certainly less expensive) led to the request in 1947 to permanently eliminate trams as city transport. A committee to safeguard cable cars was formed immediately. Thanks above all to the commitment of Friedell Klussmann, the tram went from a simple means of getting around to a symbol of a city like that of San Francisco. In 1966, the tram was even added to the National Register of Historic Places, the United States Register of Historic Places.

    For more details on operating lines and advice on where to get on to get the most out of a cable car experience, read our article dedicated to Cable Cars in San Francisco.

    Where is it and how to get there

    The Cable Car Museum is located at 1201 Mason Street in San Francisco. The wheelchair access is on Washington Street.

    The best way to get to the San Francisco Tram Museum? In tram! The Powell-Hyde Line and the Powell-Mason Line both have a stop outside the museum entrance. The California St. Line has a stop on Mason Street and within a few minutes' walk you will reach the museum.

    If you are in auto, there are not many car parks in the area. One of the best is the Masonic Temple at 101 California Street, about an 8-minute walk from the museum.

    For more information read our articles on:

    • Getting around in San Francisco
    • How to rent a car in San Francisco

    Timetables and tickets

    The Cable Car Museum is open:

    • Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 to 16:00
    • on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 to 17:00.

    The museum is closed on Mondays, New Year's Eve, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    The Cable Car Museum is free.

    Why visit it?

    The Cable Car Museum is not only a museum dedicated to one of San Francisco's icons, but it is also the perfect place to understand how this means of transport works. Here, in fact, you will be able to see for yourself how the three still existing lines work and are operated: the motors, the wheels and the large steel cables to which the machines are connected.

    Descending under the intersection of Washington and Mason Street on the lower level of the museum, you will see where transportation cables are routed to travel miles to the south, north, east and west of the city. Appropriate galleries overlook this area closed to the public to allow it to be viewed anyway.

    In the museum you will also see some antique tram models dating back to 1870:

    • the Sutter Street Railway Number 46
    • the Sutter Street Railway Number 54
    • the Clay Street Hill Railroad Number 8, the only surviving tram of the first ever tram line.

    For fans of engineering and objects here there is everything: brakes, bells, pieces of rails, cables, models and numerous historical photos. Speaking of bells, if you're in San Francisco in the summer check out the calendar as Union Square might have the Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest, the annual tram bell competition that has been repeated since 1949… unmissable!

    Where to sleep in the area

    Il Nob Hill neighborhood (here are our tips for sleeping in this area), where the Cable Car Museum is located, is one of the residential districts a little distant from downtown but well connected by means of transport and of sure charm: breathtaking views and beautiful Victorian houses, as well as good restaurants and places to eat well in San Francisco. In our article on where to sleep in San Francisco you will find targeted advice not only on this chic and picturesque neighborhood but also on all the other best areas to stay in the city.

    Our tips on where to sleep in San Francisco

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