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    Cable Cars San Francisco: map, timetables, prices and operation

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    Martí Micolau

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    When planning your trip to San Francisco, one of the problems you will face will surely be the one concerning the best way to get around the city. Although there are many fast and modern options to rely on, almost all tourists do not miss a ride on a means of public transport that dates back to the late nineteenth century.

    We are talking about the famous ones Cable Cars which together with the Golden Gate and Alcatraz only the best-known postcard of the city of San Francisco. With this article we will discover together their history, the map of the route, how they work, the prices of the races and all the information that may be useful to you.


    • Story
    • operation
    • Route map
    • Useful Tips
    • Prices
      • Visitor Passport
    • Opening Hours
    • Cable car museum


    Between the years 1873 and 1890, 23 cable car lines operated along the city of San Francisco. We owe the idea of ​​this particular form of transport to a Londoner named Andrew Hallidie who, as the story goes, perhaps mixed with a bit of legend, after seeing a horse-drawn carriage slide off a hill in San Francisco had the intuition to develop the idea of ​​cable cars.

    That is, a system that would adapt to the particular conformity of the city's territory and allow its citizens to move safely between the peculiar streets of San Francisco.
    Their historical importance is underlined by the fact that they were the first public transport system to be incorporated since 1964 in National Register of Historic Places.

    Today the cable car service is part of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and, although only three lines remain active, it is estimated that each year they use this service well. seven million people, however, most of which are tourists, with the locals who now rely on the most modern and fast connections that the metropolitan area of ​​the Bay can offer.


    The peculiarity of the cable cars is precisely that of moving along the city streets without the need for an engine. The operating mechanism provides that a iron cable runs at a constant speed under the road surface to which the surface cable car “hooks up”.

    In other words, to trigger the movement of the vehicle, the operator operates a lever which, like a pair of pliers, is tightened to the cable through an opening on the road surface and, based on the pressure applied, the speed is determined. To stop the cable car, the reverse procedure is carried out, the grip on the cable is loosened and the brakes are applied.

    At the end of the route there is a large one turntable which allows you to literally turn the cable car to allow it to resume the return journey.

    Route map

    Both Powell - Mason and Powell Hyde lines have their home base Market Street and make a stop at Union Square; the differences between the two are in the route and in the final destination. But let's see the itinerary of the lines in detail.

    • Powell – Hyde line: has the end of its run near Ghiradelli Square. We recommend that you use this line if you want to reach the famous one Lombard Street and because right at the height of the famous road you can enjoy a view from above over the entire bay and the island of Alcatraz.
    • Powell – Mason line: ends its run at the corner of Bay Street and Taylor Street near the famous Fisherman's Wharf. This line also passes near Lombard Street but unlike the Powell - Hyde it will allow you to admire the famous street from below instead of above.
    • California St. line: starts at Van Ness Avenue and goes up to Financial District. At the California Street / Powell Street stop in Nob Hill it intersects with the other two lines.

    Useful Tips

    As you know, or you may have understood from the photos, the space on the cable car is not much and, especially during the high season, there is always a decent queue at the terminus. Despite this, the advice I would like to give you, even from personal experience, is to go to the terminus if you are going to use the service.

    The cable car indeed comes almost always filled at the start and most of the time there is no space to get on at the next stops thus running the risk of remaining on foot until a cable car with enough space for you shows up (but if there are always people at the terminus you understand that it will be very difficult for this eventuality to occur in a short time).

    Another restriction due to the lack of space concerns the strollers which are not allowed on the cable cars, but if the influx of people is low you can ask if it is possible to go up with the closed stroller; the decision is at the discretion of the staff.

    È the use of a mask is mandatory on board the vehicles.


    As for the payment you will have many possibilities to choose from, some of which will also guarantee you a decent saving if you intend to use the service more than once. The price of a ride is 8$, which can also be paid in cash to the staff on board or you can obtain a single ticket before boarding.

    But be careful: the single journey can be used only and exclusively on the cable car you got on. Therefore, if you want to start the journey on one line and end it on another you will have to pay another ticket.

    It should also be noted that "single travel" means a "one way" travel (one way), so if you want to go from one terminus to the other and then go back on the same line you will have to take another ticket: since it is not a "time" ticket but a "one-way" ticket, it is not possible to stay inside the cable car to make the return journey with the same ticket.

    But let's see what are the opportunities to save something:

    Visitor Passport

    Their price varies based on how many days you want to use it and will also allow you unlimited rides on MUNI public transport.

    • 1 day: $ 13
    • 3 days: $ 31
    • 7 days: $ 41

    Opening Hours

    The cable car service starts at 22.30am and runs all day until XNUMXpm. The cadence of the races is quite frequent in principle there is a race departing from the terminus 10 every minute. To check the steps in detail, we refer you to the official website.

    Cable car museum

    It is located in 1201 Mason Street and if you want to deepen your knowledge of these peculiar means of transport, a visit may be worthwhile: both the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines stop in front of the museum while California St. stops on Mason Street which is only three blocks from the building. And this is the way to get recommended, as well as on the subject, why there is no dedicated parking.

    Visiting it you will discover that it is not only a simple museum but it is also the point from which all the steel cables that allow the movement of the cable cars of the city depart! To find out more, read our guide to the Cable Car Museum.

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