cable cars, a.k.a. streetcars, aren’t just an entertaining way to around this up-and-down city; they really function as public transit too. Hanging onto the outside (yes, the outside) of one of these clanging trolleys, chugging through Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and other city neighborhoods—well, it doesn’t get much more San Francisco than this. Just count how many package- and computer-toting locals climb on and hop off as you ride. In summer, lines can get long at the turnaround at Powell and Market Streets, especially for the Powell-Mason Cable Car line. This can provide a good opportunity to see cars arriving and getting turned around on the massive turntable, but if you want a shorter wait, you can get just as good a ride on the quieter Powell-Hyde Cable Car line, or you can board a car at any of the en-route stops.
For a fascinating look at how the historic cars have crisscrossed the city since 1873, visit the free Cable Car Museum, where you can see three antique cars from the 1870s and gain an understanding of how the cables that power the cars actually work.
Fares are available as a single-ride ticket ($7), or via 1-, 3-, and 7-day passes. Single-ride (one-way) fares must be paid in advance of boarding at the terminus. Fares may be paid on-board to the conductor at all other stops. You can also purchase fares via the free MuniMobile app; the cable car lines start operating at 6:30 a.m. and close just after midnight, 365 days a year. A downloadable map of the cable car routes is available on the Market Street Railway site.
Insider tip: Transfers from buses or metro lines are not accepted on the cable cars.