San Francisco Cable Car (Photo © Phillip H. Coblentz for the SFCVB)

Clang-clang-clang! The gripman pulls the bell rope as you grab onto a pole and hang off the outside of the car. You’re riding on the world’s last permanently operational manually operated cable car system, the only transportation system listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A San Francisco icon.

Keep your eye on the gripman; he’ll alert you to potential hazards (you don’t want to get smacked by a protruding street sign). He’ll also release the grip and coast wherever cable lines cross, operate the breaking mechanism, and forestall collisions.

San Francisco CityPASSA 7-day Cable Car-Muni Passport is included with the money-saving SF CityPASS

Cable cars were invented by Andrew Smith Hallidie after he witnessed an awful accident: a horse-drawn streetcar climbing a steep, slippery SF slope slid backwards, dragging five horses to their deaths. Hallidie’s father owned the patent for “wire-rope,” and Hallidie had already spent a lot of time considering uses for it (e.g. suspension bridges). He got to work on his new invention, and in 1873 the world’s first cable car started public service in San Francisco.

Today two cable car lines serve the waterfront. The Powell-Hyde line runs from Aquatic Park near Ghirardelli Square over Russian and Nob hills. The Powell-Mason line runs from Bay Street at Fisherman’s Wharf over Nob Hill. Both end at the Powell-Market turntable.

Did you know: Only about 30% of the people who attempt the cable car gripman training course actually pass. ~ On the second or third Thursday each July, a cable car bell ringing contest is held in Union Square between cable car crews.

Money-Saver: The San Francisco CityPASS includes a 7-day passport for unlimited use on cable cars, streetcars and buses.

SF Waterfront Editors Recommend…

Ghirardelli Chocolate/Wooden Cable Car: Two San Francisco icons are united in this special gift. An intricately-carved wooden cable car is 14″ long, 5″ wide and 5″ high–and is filled to its cute red roof with 50 individually-wrapped squares of Ghirardelli chocolate. That’s six each of milk chocolate, milk & caramel, milk & peanut butter, dark & caramel, dark & mint, dark & raspberry, and sublime white vanilla dream; and 8 dark 60% cacao. About $70. Buy the Ghirardelli Chocolate/Wooden Cable Car Gift (50 Squares). Or consider a smaller version of the Wooden Cable Car with Ghirardelli Chocolate Squares, available for $20.

San Francisco Cable Car Charm: This well-crafted and whimsical silver charm is approximately 3/8″ long and 3/4″ high (exact measurements: 0.38 x 0.804 inches). The rhodium-plated Sterling Silver charm has been hand-polished to a high finish; it is the same on front and back. The jump ring is heavy-duty, easily twisted open and attached. Made by Rembrandt Charms, it’s guaranteed for life.  About $27. Buy or learn more about the Sterling Silver SF Cable Car Charm. Rembrandt has also created a Golden Gate Bridge Charm. Both charms are  available in white or yellow gold.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: