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San Francisco Cable Cars
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrCable cars are as much a part of San Francisco as the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, even predating the bridge by half a century getting their start in 1873. The cable cars in San Francisco are the only remaining manually-operated cable cars in the world that are still in operation. They are listed in the United State's National Register of Historic Places.
In the heyday of the cable cars, San Francisco had 23 routes starting in Union Square. Three of the routes remain to this day: two of them going to Fisherman's Wharf and one going to the financial district along California Street. Cable cars used to be the main form of transportation in the extremely hilly city. Today, they are used predominately by tourists and rank among the main tourist attractions in the city side-by-side with Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf.
HistoryAndrew Smith Hallidie lived in San Francisco in the mid to late 1800s. He saw first hand how the extremely hilly and steep grades of San Francisco's roads mixed with the fogs, mists and rains from the coast and caused highly dangerous situations. Text books tell us that one day Hallidie saw a heavy-laden horse cart start to slide down the steep wet slopes. The vehicle dragged five horses to their deaths, and Hallidie spent his next years trying to come up with a solution.
Hallidie had an advantage over the average man. He was the son of an inventor who had already applied his father's invention, wire rope, to many things in California. His accomplishments included the building of a suspension bridge over the American River in Sacramento and creating a wire rope system for pulling ore cars out of mines.
In 1873, the first San Francisco cable cars were tested on Nob Hill, and for nearly 40 years cable cars transported people around the city. Then, on April 18, 1906, San Francisco's infamous Great Earthquake decimated much of the city and laid waste to most of the cable cars. Since street cars were deemed safer than cable cars, most of the routes were changed to streetcar routes as the city was rebuilt.
TodayToday, the remaining three routes are color coded: yellow to Bay and Taylor, red to Aquatic Park. The California Street's cars go east and west from the financial district, through Chinatown, and over Nob Hill. Riders can get on or off the cable car at any turntable, but unless you have a day pass or week pass you pay for a one way trip. To board the cable car, just wait at a stop and wave at the gripman, (operator). Wait for the car to stop and hop on, or if you want to imitate the movies, grab onto a pole and hang off the side while trying to avoid traffic. When you exit the cable car, always be sure to pass behind it and not in front as the cars have no immediate stopping potential and cable cars cannot swerve.
Union Square is said to be the most visited neighborhood in San Francisco, and it is a great place to watch the cable cars change direction. It is also a good place to start or end your cable car journey since Union Square features numerous flagship hotels, restaurants, night clubs, cafes and places just to sit and watch people.
The operational Cable Car Barn and Powerhouse on Nob Hill is open for visitors and provides a place where you can view the actual, operational cable car machinery and paths of cables entering and leaving the building. You can also see grips, trucks and braking devices with informational placards. A number of historic cable cars are on display as well as a museum-style look back into the history of this famous and revolutionary form of transportation.
Getting ThereThe best way to get on a cable car once you are in San Francisco is simply to wait at a cable car stop along California Street, Powell Street, Hyde Street, and/or Mason Street. If your are thinking of attractions, you can catch the cable cars near Chinatown, Fisherman's Warf, Union Square and Nob Hill. The closest MUNI bus lines are the 1 and 30.
Other things to see and do in San FranciscoWhile in San Francisco, there are countless other places to see and things to do while you are there. A few examples include: Visit the monolithic Transamerica Pyramid, drive, bike or walk the Golden Gate Bridge, visit the infamous prison, Alcatraz, explore the distinct and historic San Francisco neighborhoods (Presidio, Sea Cliff, Nob Hill, Chinatown, etc), be dazzled by the gorgeous architecture and elaborate details of the Fairmont Hotel or Hotel Whitcomb, stroll or eat your way through Fisherman's Wharf, or take a short drive out of town and experience the wonders of Yosemite National Park. While this is just a short list of a few of the more popular attractions, it should be enough to get you started!
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Author: Robert. Last updated: May 08, 2015