There are three cable car routes in San Francisco. Two of these routes, the Powell-Hyde and the Powell-Mason, begin at the corner of Powell and Market Streets, upstairs from the Visitor Information Center, and run north-south to and from Nob Hill and Fisherman's Wharf. At Fisherman's Wharf, you can board the Powell-Hyde line at Hyde and Beach Streets and the Powell-Mason line at Bay and Taylor Streets. The third line is the California line running east-west on California Street between Market Street and Van Ness Avenue, serving the Financial District, Chinatown and Nob Hill. This line tends to be the least crowded. The transfer point for all three lines is at Powell and California Streets. Cable cars can be boarded at any designated stop along the route. However, during the busy summer months, it is a good idea to join the queue at the terminus, as the cable cars usually fill up at the beginning of the line. Please be aware that you may experience a 45- to 60-minute wait during the summer.
Muni offers 1-day, 3-day, and 7-day passports good for unlimited rides on cable cars, historic streetcars, and all other Muni services (including the Muni Metro subway under Market Street and all bus lines except for special event service). One-day passes may be purchased on board cable cars (but not streetcars). For more information on Muni passes, including sales locations, see Muni Sales information and locations.
The earlier in the morning you can get to the cable car terminals, the faster you’ll get aboard. If you’re staying in the Union Square or general downtown area, try to get to Powell and Market Streets no later than 8:30 a.m. for a ride to the Wharf. When you arrive at the Wharf, stop for a cup of coffee or a quiet walk along the water if the attractions you want to visit aren’t open yet. Same concept in reverse if you’re staying near the Wharf.
During peak periods, including most summer days between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., you can often wait an hour or longer in line at the turntables for a ride on the Powell Street lines. And while there is a cable car stop at virtually every corner along the route, during peak periods, the Powell lines are usually filled to capacity or very close to it as they leave the terminal, which means they are forced to pass up riders waiting at stops along the way.
One more cable car alternative: if the passenger queues at the Powell terminals are hopelessly long, and you don’t care about the cable car’s destination, take an F-line streetcar to the Drum Street stop. (Ask the operator for the stop for the California Street cable car.) The cable car terminal is right there, and there are hardly ever crowds. You won’t go around curves on the California line, but you’ll get a nice ride without a long wait.
Remember, the cable car lines do not issue or accept transfers, so if you get off a cable car along the route, you will have to pay a second fare to continue your journey. (By contrast, the F-line vintage streetcars, besides having a much lower fare, issue and accept transfers, so you can hop on and off anywhere during the 90-minute validity period of the transfer. In particular, we invite you to take a break at the halfway point of the F-line and visit our free San Francisco Railway Museum at the Stewart Street stop, across The Embarcadero from the Ferry Building.)
The F-line streetcars rarely have long lines at the terminals. However, because the F-line is used by thousands of residents and workers as well as visitors, hopping on and off all along the six-mile route, the vintage streetcars can get crowded at any hour of the day or night at certain points along the line, especially near Pier 39 headed toward downtown, and near the Ferry Building. To get the most enjoyment out of your F-line streetcar ride, especially in June, July, and August, pick one of the least crowded times to ride, generally right after morning rush hour (8:30 to 9:30 a.m.), mid afternoons (2 p.m. to 5 p.m.), or early evenings (7 p.m to 9 p.m.).
One more tip: since both the Powell cable lines and the F-line link the Union Square area to Fisherman’s Wharf, take the cable car in one direction and the F-line in the other. You’ll see more of the city, avoid another wait at the turntable, and (if you’re paying cash fares) save a few bucks, too. Oh, and though it pains us to say it, San Francisco, like any big city, has pickpockets. If you’re on a crowded streetcar or cable car, keep a close watch on your valuables.