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Take a trip back to the 19th century on San Francisco’s cable cars


The California Street line runs from Market Street to Van Ness Avenue
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A ride at an amusement park couldn’t match the thrill you’ll receive from riding a San Francisco cable car. To the sound of clanging bells, you can stand or sit, inside protected from the elements or outside with the wind in your hair, as you zip through the streets of San Francisco’s main tourist sites on a moving historic landmark.

The first cable car was patented on Jan. 17, 1871 by a San Franciscan named Andrew Smith Hallidie. His inspiration came on a damp day in 1869, when he witnessed a disturbing accident -- a horse-drawn streetcar slid backwards under a heavy load on the wet cobblestones, dragging five horses to their deaths. He designed the first cable car using wire-rope technology patented  by his father in Great Britain. Hallidie had previously used it on a suspension bridge across the American River in Sacramento and for ore cars in underground mines.


There are three cable car routes to choose from:


The Powell-Mason line begins at a turntable at Powell and Market streets and runs up and over Nob Hill and down to Bay Street at Fisherman’s Wharf.


The Powell-Hyde line also begins at the Powell and Market turntable and runs over Nob and Russian hills before ending at Aquatic Park near Ghirardelli Square.


While both these lines end near Fisherman’s Wharf, the routes are considerably different.


The California Street line runs east-west from the Financial District, through Chinatown, over Nob Hill and stops at Van Ness Avenue.


Cable cars run every day, with special schedules on weekends. Visit for a complete listing of stops and time tables. Tickets can be purchased at turnarounds or from the conductor while boarding. As of December 2011, the ticket prices per single ride are $6 for adults and youths 5 and older or $3 for seniors or disabled people riding before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m. Visitors might want to consider buying an all-day passport, sold for $14 by the conductors. It will allow you to transfer cable cars or ride other Muni vehicles for one full day.


To learn how the cable cars work and see antique cable cars from the 1870s, visit the San Francisco Cable Car Museum at 1201 Mason St. Located in the historic cable car barn and powerhouse, the museum deck overlooks the huge engines and wheels that pull the cables. Downstairs is a viewing area of the large sheaves and cable line entering the building through the channel under the street. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April through September and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. October through March and admission is free. Since street parking is hard to find and the closest Muni lines are several blocks away, the best way to get there is -- by cable car!