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Travel bucket list idea:

Ride a San Francisco cable car

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

Last updated: 28 April, 2024

San Francisco is a city famous for its hills – which even today can make navigating the city hard work. In the ‘good old days’ at the end of the 19th century, before the widescale adoption of the motor car, San Francisco had 23 cable car lines crisscrossing the city.

Sadly, most were decommissioned in favour of more modern transportation and just three now remain. It’s the last manually operated cable car system in the world. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, it carries both visitors and locals alike over some of the city’s steepest hills while showcasing some of its most iconic views. A ride on one is a must for visitors.

Of its three remaining lines, the Powell-Mason line, which goes from Union Square, over Nob Hill and into Fisherman’s Wharf, is arguably the most picturesque. If you can, try scoring one of the cable car’s coveted standing spots on the outside for a quintessential San Francisco experience.

While you're there

Disembark atop Nob Hill for exquisite views and a cocktail at Top of the Mark, tucked away on the 19th floor of the historic InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel.


Price from: £5
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 4+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

The most accessible cable car points are the turn-arounds at Powell and Market streets and in Fisherman’s Wharf. However, these are also the busiest and waits can often take an hour or two, especially on weekends.

One of the best things to do is try and catch a cable car already en route, at one of the hop-on/hop-off stops along the way.

The California cable car line, which runs along California Street from Davis Street west to Van Ness Avenue, is typically less crowded. While it doesn’t access Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf, it’ll still take you straight up to Nob Hill.

When to do it

They tend to run every 10 minutes, from 7 am to 10.30pm, all year round, seven days a week.

Like most things, cable cars are more popular on the weekends and during summer months, as well as during commuting hours and lunchtime.