April 19th, 2022
Cable Car FAQs and #InsiderTips
Cable cars are one of the many unique features of San Francisco. We were the first city to pull cars via an underground cable and are the only city in the world to offer them today. Cable cars were introduced to the city (and the world) in the late 1800s as an alternative to horses, that struggled climbing the steep hills of San Francisco. And though technological advances such as electric street cars and automobiles eventually would eliminate the need, the cable car system endured, eventually gaining National Historic Landmark status. This protection ensures that cable cars will continue to grace the streets of San Francisco for generations to come.
OK, you want to ride a cable car. Now what? How do you pay? Where do I get on? What do I do once I’ve hopped on? To a first-time rider, the whole process can be confusing. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers to help you experience Cable Car culture in San Francisco.
Q: What is the cost of a cable car ride?
A: Cable car tickets are $8* per person, per ride (each way).
You can also purchase a Visitor Passport which includes unlimited rides on cable cars, Muni busses, and historic streetcars.
1-day Visitor Pass - $24
3-day Visitor Pass - $36
7-day Visitor Pass - $47
*$3 additional Clipper Card fee
#INSIDERTIP: If you’re staying at the Stanford Court, you can ask for tickets or passes and charge them to your room. (COMING SOON IN MAY 2022)
Q: How do I purchase cable car tickets?
A: You can purchase Clipper Cards at the Stanford Court front desk for $11 ($8 + $3 fee) and charge it to your guest room. Or you can purchase in advance via the MuniMobile app or Clipper Card app.
If you board at Powell & Market, Bay & Taylor, or Hyde & Beach, you must purchase your fare in advance at that location. If you board at any other stop, you can pay with cash, but exact change is required (though as long as it's not a bill over $20, they'll probably make an exception).
#INSIDERTIP: The Stanford Court offers several packages which include cable car tickets or Visitor Passes. (COMING SOON IN MAY 2022)
Q: How do I pay for my cable car ride once I board?
A: Once you’ve hopped on, enjoy the ride. Once the car begins to move, one of the cable car operators will come around to collect your payment.
#INSIDERTIP: If you board at Powell & Market, Bay & Taylor, or Hyde & Beach, you have to have a ticket prior to boarding, but there are ticket booths at each of these stations. Or, hop on one stop further and you can pay cash.
Q: How do I get on the cable car at a turnaround point?
A: If boarding at Powell & Market, Bay & Taylor, or Hyde & Beach, you’ll need to first purchase a ticket (they won’t take cash at these points). There is likely a long line waiting to board, so when it’s your turn, you can sit or stand anywhere you’d like and on either side of the car. If you’re last to board you’ll probably need to take an inside seat, but you can move to the exterior as others depart.
#INSIDERTIP: When boarding begins, head immediately to the far side of the car to get a prime outside seat or pole. (most people fill the closest side first)
Q: How do I get on the cable car when I’m not at a turnaround point?
A: There are stops along each route every few blocks. (Look for the purple signs.) Wait at the curb and be sure to wave at the car as it approaches. If there is room on board, the car will stop, often in an intersection. As soon as the car stops, proceed to boarding wherever there is room.
#INSIDERTIP: The lines of people waiting to board a cable car at the turnaround stations is often long, especially on weekends. You could be standing in line for an hour waiting to board. Instead, just walk a block or two up the street to the next cable car stop and board there. It’s a little known fact that they leave quite a few seats (usually on the inside) available for people to board at other spots.
Q: How do I get off the cable car?
A: The cable car operator (grip) does not stop at every stop unless asked to do so. You should request to get off by telling the grip in advance. Just say “Next stop, please”. As soon as the car comes to a stop, you can hop off and be on your way.
#INSIDERTIP: Be careful when getting off the car as you’ll be in a lane of traffic and some drivers are unaware.
Q: What are the cable car hours and how often do they come by?
A: Each line is slightly different in terms of operating hours, but generally they’re available from 6:30am to midnight. Cable cars typically come by every 10 minutes or so, but this can vary by time of day and day of week.
#INSIDERTIP: If you want a great seat or standing area, hop on midweek and during non-peak hours.
Q: Which line has the best views?
A: The Powell-Hyde line is our favorite. It starts at Powell & Market near Union Square and ascends up Nob Hill (our favorite neighborhood with the best view in the city). The line passes the Cable Car Museum (highly recommend and FREE). You’ll head up to Russian Hill and cross Lombard Street (crookedest street in the world). Here you’ll get an unobstructed view of Alcatraz. You’ll then head downhill toward Fisherman’s Wharf. Lots of great selfie opportunities!
#INSIDERTIP: Sit/stand on the right side of the car when heading towards Fisherman’s Wharf and on the left side when heading towards Union Square.
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DID YOU KNOW? The corner of California & Powell, which is at the front steps of the Stanford Court hotel, is the only location in the city where all three San Francisco Cable Car lines intersect? This makes it easy to walk out the front doors of the hotel and hop any of the three lines to get to your destination.