The Old Fogies take a ride on a San Francisco Cable Car

One of San Francisco’s unique attractions is the cable cars that trundle up and down the steep hills. The San Francisco cable car system is the world’s last manually operated cable car system and is used by 7 million annual passengers each year.

Twenty three cable car lines were established between 1873 and 1890, however only three lines remain. Two of the routes travel between Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, and a third route goes along California Street.

The cable cars are very popular with visitors to the city and often towards the end of the lines, large queues form. Locals often move a few stops to jump on the cars but we were determined to have a ride from one end of the line to the other to experience a unique way of travelling through the heart of San Francisco. Also the rather expensive fare of $7 is the same for a short ride or the full ride and the longer ride is much better value for money.

After looking around Fisherman’s Wharf, we made our way to the Taylor Street and Bay Street terminal to take a trip on the Powell – Mason line of the system and joined the queue. Part of the fun whilst waiting is watching the workers manually pushing the turntables to reverse the cars.

The cable cars a relic of a bygone age and have a rather antiquated system, the cars are pulled by a cable running below the street. To start and stop the car, the gripman closes and opens the grip around the cable. To prevent the cable cars running away, they use three separate braking systems operated by the gripman and the conductor. The gripman stands in the middle of the car and the conductor stands at the back.

There are three ways to travel in the cars, sitting inside, sitting outside on benches and for the brave, standing on the running board. We decided to try the sitting outside on the benches.

The cables cars travel relatively slowly and are an ideal way to watch the daily life on the San Francisco streets and the various districts as you trundle along. The hills of San Francisco are incredibly steep in some areas and travelling on the cable car is the nearest thing you can get to riding a roller coaster through a city.

The San Francisco cable car system is unique and most visitors ride the cars at least once. They maybe the transport of a bygone age but they are still incredibly popular with locals and visitors.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London here.