Although you can bike, MUNI, BART, taxi, or just plain walk across this hilly city, there's nothing quite like hanging off the back of a San Francisco cable car as sweeping vista after vista rolls into view.
San Francisco cable car — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
With the exception, perhaps, of the streetcar lines of New Orleans, no other U.S. city boasts a signature means of transportation like San Francisco and her historic cable cars. The first cable cars were tested in 1873 by Andrew Halldie, who was inspired to create a safer and more effective method of transporting people up and down the slippery cobblestone streets of San Francisco after witnessing a horsedrawn streetcar slip and, horribly, drag five horses to their deaths.
There are three main cable car lines: the Powell/Hyde Line, the Powell/Mason Line, and the California Line. Where you want to start and end up, as well as how much time you have, will determine which line you should take. If you'd like to start from the Embarcadero and shoot straight through downtown with the highlights of Grace Cathedral and Chinatown, the California line would be a good choice. If you'd like to start around midtown near Market Street and end your day closer to Fisherman's Wharf, the Powell/Mason line would be a smarter choice.Fisherman's Wharf — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
If you just can't get enough cable car in your life, then we recommend the Powell/Hyde line, the longest and most popular of the routes. If you plan on spending more than one day on the cable car, which is a pricey $5 fare one-way, consider buying the 3-day, $20 pass. Although both the Powell/Hyde and Powell/Mason lines end up right around Fisherman's Wharf, the Powell/Hyde line pulls you right into the true hubbub of this iconic area, highlighted by the ever popular and historic Ghirardelli Square. Ghirardelli Square — Photo courtesy of Ghirardelli Facebook Page
For a full cable car day on this route, grab breakfast near the Powell turnaround, either at one of the cafes around Union Square or across Market Street within the Westfield Shopping Center. Having a pass also makes the most sense for a full day since you can jump on and off at different spots without having to pay another fare.
Cable Car — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
For example, a popular "jump-off" stop on the Powell/Hyde line is the famous Lombard Street, the windiest street in San Francisco. But even if you decide to sit tight or hang on for the whole ride to Fisherman's Wharf, you won't be disappointed by the stunning downtown and Bay views that roll into sight with each crested hill.
If you're looking for that signature San Francisco day that will provide lots of memories and photo ops, make it a cable car day. It's still the San Francisco treat.