Ride Through History at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum

A cable car climbs uphill along the Powell-Mason line in San Francisco. Photo: Benny Marty / Shutterstock.

SAN FRANCISCO – Whether you’re looking for a place to take lingering out-of-town guests, entertain kids still home from school, or you’re just looking for a local outing to enjoy with friends or family, the San Francisco Cable Car Museum is a great place to visit.


Photo: Jessica Graham / Your Town Monthly

Although the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority is responsible for the operation of the cable cars, the museum itself is a nonprofit educational facility operated by the Friends of the Cable Car Museum. The museum is relatively small, yet offers a broad look into these iconic cars’ history, dating back to 1873 when the first cable car was tested on Clay Street. At the museum you can check out three antique cars, watch an entertaining video, examine numerous bits of memorabilia
and ring a cable car bell used in the annual bell ringing competition. Of particular interest (at least to me) was learning how the 1906 earthquake affected the cable cars and how they narrowly escaped being replaced by buses in the 1940s.

While the museum exhibits primarily focus on the history of the cars, perhaps the most fascinating exhibit isn’t really an exhibit-it’s the cable car machinery. The building that houses the museum still functions as the cable cars’ barn and powerhouse, which means you can witness the somewhat noisy wheels in motion. This attraction is a great place for kids since the typical need to be quiet in a museum isn’t required. The upper level features an observatory deck, giving you a bird’s eye view of the engines and wheels that pull the cables. Go downstairs to see the large sheaves and cable lines entering the building through the channel under the street.


The building that houses the museum still functions as the cable cars’ barn and powerhouse. Photo: Zhu Difeng / Shutterstock.

The museum is in the Nob Hill area, and street parking can be quite limited. If you can’t find a metered spot, use one of the nearby parking garages or better yet, ride the cable car to the museum! The cable cars run on three routes: the Powell-Hyde line, the Powell-Mason line and the California line. Both the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines stop in front of the museum. The California line stops three blocks south of the museum.

If you go: The museum is located at 1201 Mason Street in San Francisco. Visitors needing a ramp or elevator should use the Washington Street entrance. The museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm from November through March, and 10 am to 6 pm from April through October; it is closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission to the museum is free. Everyone over 5 years old needs a ticket to ride the cable cars. The fare is not a relic from the past; it is $7 each way. Discounted fares are offered for those 65 and older and for persons with disabilities. Visit sfmta.com for more information on fares. Tickets can be purchased directly from the cable car conductors. Visit cablecarmuseum.org or call 415.474.1887 for more info.

San Francisco Cable Car Museum
1201 Mason Street, San Francisco

Your Town Daycations is a series featured in the print edition of Your Town Monthly. This article was originally published in the January 2017 issues.