San Francisco Powell & Hyde Cable Cars, Fisherman’s Wharf


After arriving in San Francisco, I found my hotel (for once, I actually made reservations) and settled in for a few minutes.   Fortunately, I was staying on Market Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares.  It’s also the southern end of the famous Powell and Hyde cable car route.

Crowds line up around the cable car turnaround: a wooden platform powered only by muscle, the same way it was a century ago.

After operators spin the car around, they roll it off the turnaround circle, then the crowd can climb aboard.

A ride on the cable car costs $3 per person, one way, no transfers.  You can sit inside the cabin, on an outside bench, or hang onto the side… but probably the most exciting place to stand is on the rear end of the car. If there’s a long line, though, you’ll probably have to take whatever spot you can get.

Pardon my slightly crooked pictures, but it’s difficult to snap a photo with one hand, while you’re hanging off a cable car, with the other.

The photo above shows the view downhill on Powell Street, looking back to the end of the line (or in this case, the beginning).

Cable cars stop in the middle of intersections, not at the corner, as you might expect.

Another view along Powell, looking forward this time, after reaching the crest of the first big hill.

Watch for incredible glimpses of the city as you pass by every street.  Here, you can see the Transamerica Pyramid building.

In the distance you can see Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, an attraction that’s certainly worth a closer look, if you have the time.

Coit Tower was perhaps the original  project of the depression-era WPA.  It was open to the public in 1934, but not until a controversial part of a mural inside the tower was removed. has a wealth of information on the tower’s history, as well as visitor info.  Also, I visited Coit Tower in 2007, so check that out, too.

Also worth a stop: the San Francisco Cable Car Museum.  It’s conveniently located near the middle of the Powell-Hyde line, on the corner of Mason and Washington Streets.  Inside you can view the machinery that powers the city’s cable cars.

Fisherman’s Wharf

You simply can’t, and shouldn’t, avoid a visit to San Francisco’s most famous tourist trap, Fisherman’s Wharf.  It’s definitely a great place to find excellent seafood, but you’ll have to make your way through crowds of tourists, and past dozens of souvenir shops.

Don’t even bother driving to Fisherman’s Wharf.  San Francisco is so pedestrian friendly, you’d be much better taking a cable car, bus, or subway.  Also consider using the city’s fleet of historic electric streetcars, which provide a blast back to the 50’s.

Probably when this sign went up, your only option was to “view” Alcatraz.  Now, you can also catch ferries that will take you for a visit to the legendary island-prison.

Ghirardelli Square is another San Francisco landmark within walking distance of the Wharf.  In fact, it’s right at the end of the cable car route.  Inside you’ll find more restaurants and shops, and I’m willing to bet, enough chocolate to satisfy any craving.

While pricey restaurants rule in this part of town, there is one alternative: In-‘N-Out Burger. Eating here is part of the California experience.  My selection: the double double, light on the sauce.

This was my final stop for the day.  The cable car took me back to my hotel on Market Street, well after dark.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.

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