Cable Cars

Frommer’s recommends taking the Powell-Hyde cable car from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf. An excellent suggestion, as it turns out – Union Square doesn’t take long to see and Fisherman’s Wharf is a notorious tourist trap…joined by a fun cable car ride, however, they all make for an enjoyable day out.

There seem to be conflicting theories as to how the cable car came about:

  • the inventor saw a horse injured when the carriage it was hauling up a typically steep San Franciscan hill broke and fell.
  • the inventor was also the inventor of a very strong type of steel rope, the monetising of which he was completely stumped until he realised that it could be used in a slightly bizarre mechanism to haul passengers up the steep slopes of the city.

Well, maybe it’s both. They are absolutely perfect for the city, though – slightly old fashioned yet unique…and perfect for steep streest. So perfect, in fact, that at their peak, over 100 miles of cable car lines criss-crossed San Francisco. However, as usage slowly declined, so lines began to close. Just before they all disappeared forever, local campaigners managed to make the city see sense and in 1964 the cable cars were designated a national landmark.

Just three downtown lines remain, a fascinating (and surely very rare) example of old-style and one-off train systems remaining in use in a major city.