For the best views, always nab a seat on the side that faces the bay
The San Francisco cable cars are part of the world’s last manually operated cable car system. Every cable car is tugged along its hilly track by an underground cable which is gripped by a vice-like mechanism operated via the grip lever in the front of the car. If that sounds perilously like a creaking handbrake is the only thing between you and a rocket-ride down into the bay, fear not: every car has three separate breaking mechanisms. You’d have to be pretty unlucky.
Used by commuters and tourists alike, the ultra-safe cable cars are among the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Even the surliest passenger can’t help but me charmed by their wonderful views from this quaint mode of transport. However, you have a few lines to choose between, depending on whether you’re zipping from A to B or lingering for the scenic route.
With the Powell-Hyde Cable Car, the medium is the message: as you crank along this hilly line the Golden Gate Bridge will pop in and out of view. The Powell-Mason Cable Car slowly winds up Nob Hill, as if preparing for a sickening rollercoaster drop on the other side. At the terminus you can find the wonderful Musée Mecanique with its array of mechanical toys and arcade machines.
The California St Cable Car is quieter, riding through Chinatown and climbing Nob Hill to Grace Cathedral. Hop off at Polk St for some boutique browsing. However, it is the Friedel Klussman Cable Car Turnaround which has the best story. In 1947 a lady rallied her garden club against the mayor’s plot to replace the cable cars with buses. When it went to vote, he was trounced. And when Klussman died in 1986, all the cable cars in the city were draped in black.
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