Cable Car Routes Compared

Other than the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s hard to think of anything that says “San Francisco” better than the sight and sound of a cable car clawing its way up a ridiculously steep hill, “halfway to the stars.”

For tourists and locals alike, the urge to hop aboard, grab a pole and ride to the end of the line is irresistible — but that brings up the question: “Which line?”

Before the Great Quake of 1906, cable car tracks ran all over the city. Now, only three routes — all of them downtown — remain active.

The most utilitarian of the three is the California line. It features a challenging climb and descent but it’s just a straight run along California Street.

You’ll have more fun on either of the two Powell Street routes with the more spectacular being the Powell-Hyde Street line.

Starting at Market Street, both routes feature a climb past the hotels and shops of Union Square, up and over Nob Hill, and a nice squeal-inducing turn onto Jackson Street at the edge of Chinatown.

At the next intersection (Mason St.) the Powell/Mason line makes a hard right turn and heads downhill through North Beach to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Powell-Hyde riders keep on climbing. Their big payoff comes soon enough, with an exhilarating descent toward the bay and the tall ship Balclutha on the Hyde Street Pier.

At Maritime Park, the Powell-Hyde cars are shunted onto a turntable, where they’re spun around and reloaded with passengers.

This is the most scenic cable car turnaround in the city. Pull out your camera and you can get San Francisco’s two most famous icons — the Golden Gate Bridge and a cable car — in the same picture.

RELATED LINKS San Francisco’s Cable Cars

Cable Car Routes Compared (Animated GIF)

Cable Car Lore