San Francisco’s most iconic form of transportation, the Cable Car, is a treat for traveling families. With a rich history that dates back to 1873, the City’s Cable Cars are more than just a simple mode of transportation; they are a nostalgic look back in time. The cars still operate on the same basic principle that inspired their creation –in a town as slick and steep as San Francisco, it is helpful to have something holding you down. Underneath the track of each trolley is an underground cable that literally pulls each cable car around and over the city’s steep hills. A grip lever in the front of each car serves as brakes allowing the car to stop at various points en route. Operating the grip levers is not one easy task. These “gripmen” require a ton of upper body strength and endurance, and despite the name, have even had a few strong ladies join their ranks.
Three lines run through San Francisco: Powell-Mason, Powell-Hyde, and California. During peak tourist seasons, visitors line up in switchbacks at the turnabout beginnings for the cable cars, especially for the Powell lines. If you want to avoid the long lines at the line ends, feel free. You can actually board the cable cars at any of their numerous stops along the route. By skipping the lines, you will likely be hopping into a very full cable car, so be prepared with these tips:
• Although you might have seen it in movies, don’t hop on a moving cable car. Wait by the cable car stops, marked with brown and white signage on the route.
• Pre-fold strollers to be ready for the car’s arrival.
• Once the cable car stops, step off the sidewalk and jump inside. You can enter from any side of the car.
• There might not be room on every particular car; you might have to wait for another.
• Pay attention to the gripman. He will call out important notes, when to hang out, etc…
• Children must stay inside the cable car, but older ones can hang on to the outside of the car.
If your little ones want to explore more of the history and facts surrounding the cable cars, be sure to head to Mason Street’s Cable Car Museum. The museum is free to visit.
Cable Car single tickets start at $5/person each way, although daily passes can be purchased for $13 which includes access to not only the cable cars, but all San Francisco public street transportation. Kids four and under ride free.
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