San Francisco Sights to See
Cable Cars
The famous San Francisco cable cars

San Francisco is, with both intent and forethought no doubt, one of the most eccentric and mixed metropoli on the planet. The town is heavily populated with residents strongly opposed to anything commercial.

Yet, at the same time, it is also home to corporate headquarters of one of the world's largest banks (Bank of America) and several other mega-companies. Nowhere is this split personality more evident than, in of all places, the city's popular Cable Car rides.

Designated as official landmarks by the National Park Service back in 1964, the cable cars go much farther back to San Francisco's heyday in the 1870's. Though long recognized as a genuinely inefficient means of transportation, over the years, the cable cars have survived several attempts at decommissioning.

This is fortunate to the visitor. After all, when all is said and done, they're huge fun.

Fun? Yes? Expensive? Yes, again!

Prices range from $25-$50 for a one or two hour guided ride. Short trips for a few dollars are also available. They're crowded, but fun. All the cars are generally going to carry from 90 to 100 passengers and they pack them in. Long lines of wannabe riders are always waiting to get on. The wait can be anywhere from an hour to two hours or more.

However, despite the high price, the cramped space and the long wait, riding them is an experience that more than makes up for the least in most visitors' minds. Passing within a foot of one another as they make their way around the city, the car's tours encompass Ghiradelli Square and Pier 39, views of the bay at the Wharf and trips up and down the famed steep hills.

It's those hills that,at least in part, gave birth to the unusual device; or so legend has it. London-born engineer Andrew Hallidie (1836 - 1900) is said to have been watching horses haul a carriage up one when the lead slipped. The unfortunate animal took several others with him on a slide down the hill. This event caused Hallidie to vow to replace them and four years later, in 1873, he succeeded.

Visitors can easily get an idea of how the cars work simply by looking down through the center of the street. They have no diesel engines and no electrical motors. Just beneath the street is a cable that runs at a steady 9.5 miles per hour (5.4kph). When the operator pulls a lever that grabs hold of the cable, off you go.

Those seeking a ride can hop on or off a car at Pier 41, Ghiradelli Square and Union Square. During the trip, best experienced close to the edge and standing on the platform, according to afficianados, riders travel over a large part of the city.

Rides move through Chinatown and North Beach (home of the topless club boom of the 60's), the waterfront, downtown, the Palace of Fine Arts and near the Golden Gate Bridge and many more spots in the fabled city by the bay. Seventeen miles of track still remain along which the cars designated as "moving historical landmarks" move.

From their maiden run from the top of Clay Street in 1873, hence the original name "Clay Street Hill Railroad", to today's bustling city where it shares space with 300-horsepower SUVs and fuel efficient hybrid cars, San Francisco's cable cars have added their own iconoclastic flavor to this most colorful and diverse city.

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Page Updated 6:36 PM Wednesday 5/5/2015