San Francisco without cable cars? Why not spaghetti without sauce, toast without butter, champagne without caviar…well, you get the picture. Although the San Francisco cable cars are now a National Landmark, they faced extinction back in 1947. But, a public outcry by the citizens of San Francisco and a vigorous campaign to save them resulted in a City Charter to protect them as a national treasure. Cable cars are here to stay.
Although the San Francisco cable cars are a popular tourist attraction, surprisingly more than half of the 9 million passengers a year are local commuters.
At one time more than 100 cities throughout the US had cable cars. Most were abandoned in favor of buses. In 1979 the City of San Francisco closed the cable cars for almost two years as they refurbished them with a hefty $65 million facelift. When the cable cars reopened in 1981 there was a city-wide party to celebrate their return. There are three routes the cable cars travel — the Mason-Taylor line, the Powell-Hyde line, and the California line. (Named, of course, for the streets they run on.)
The driver of a cable car is known as the gripman and it's a highly skilled job, requiring the operation of the lever to grip and release the cable in a smooth manner.
The gripman must release the grip at precise points to coast over crossing cables or where the cable doesn't follow the tracks. He also has to anticipate possible collisions, as other types of vehicles often do not understand the limitations of a cable car.
The cable cars are operated by MUNI — one of America's oldest public transit companies, founded in 1912. MUNI carries more than 200 million customers per year throughout the entire Bay Area. In addition to the historic cable cars, MUNI operates other modern public transport such as light-rail vehicles, buses, and electric trolley coaches.
One of the many good reasons to get ahold of a San Francisco CityPASS before you head out on your trip is that it gives you unlimited transportation on the cable cars and all other MUNI transport.
How much will you save? Quite a bit if you consider that a single one-way cable car ride costs $6.00! The CityPASS also gets you into the top San Francisco museums and attractions — Aquarium of the Bay, California Academy of Sciences, SF-MOMA, the de Young Museum and the Exploratorium, and much more.
Learn all about San Francisco on a leisurely tour on a classic, motorized cable car as it travels across the city. You'll cruise through Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown and beyond.
The best part is you can hop off in Chinatown, at the Ferry Building, or at Union Square, and then hop back on when the next trolley comes by. This trolley tour comes free with the GO San Francisco Card or you can buy a 2-day tour pass for around $45.
Want to learn more about cable cars while you're in San Francisco? Then take the opportunity to visit the Cable Car Museum.
Housed in the historic Washington-Mason cable car barn, you'll look over the massive engines and wheels that pull the cables. See all the fun mechanical devices needed to make the cable cars work such as the cable, brakes, and grips along with detailed models and antique cable cars from the 1870s. The museum opened in 1974 and is operated by the non-profit educational group called the Friends of the Cable Car Museum.
• San Francisco Cable Cars…
• Pier 39 & Fisherman's Wharf…
• Hyde Street Pier…
• Ferry Building…
• Aquarium of the Bay…
• Lombard Street…
• The Presidio…
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