Sam Francisco’s unique cable cars and celebrated vintage streetcars offer a wonderful way to see many of the City’s colorful neighborhoods and famous attractions. The journey itself is a destination, too!
Our nonprofit support group has compiled all the best rider tips and information about the historic streetcars and cable cars in our pocket-sized book, ON TRACK, available at our San Francisco Railway Museum or here in our online store. It tells about each vehicle, what you’ll see along each route, and walks near each route you can add to experience the City like natives do.
Historic Transit Route Map
Click on the thumbnail at left to view Market Street Railway’s map of San Francisco’s historic rail lines. The F-line’s vintage streetcars and the world-famous cable car lines – the Powell-Hyde line, the Powell-Mason line, and the California Street line – currently operate between 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. every day. (Note: the E-Embarcadero streetcar line is suspended until further notice.)
The F-Market & Wharves historic streetcar line and the city’s three cable car lines are owned and operated by the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (Muni), which also operates light rail lines on both surface streets and in subways, trolley coaches, and motor coaches all over the city. Routes include the 39-Coit bus, shown on our map, which connects Pier 39 to North Beach and the landmark Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill. Here’s Muni’s current systemwide map.
Vintage streetcar cash fares are the same as Muni buses and light rail vehicles (currently $3.00 for adults; $1.50 for seniors or disabled people). You can transfer to another Muni route free within 90 minutes of starting your ride (except cable cars). Kids under 19 ride buses and streetcars free! No change is given on the streetcars or buses, so please have exact fare.
Cable cars cost $8.00 one-way for all riders over 4 years old. (No discounts for seniors or kids; no transfers issued or accepted.). The fare structure is complicated; we try to simplify it for you (but remember, we don’t set the fares. Muni ‘s complete fare page is here.)
On all vehicles, you can pay on the vehicle itself (on vintage streetcars, use the front door for this; on cable cars, the conductor will collect your money). At terminals and other selected locations, you can also buy tickets from official Muni machines.
If you’re planning multiple rides in a single day, the best and most economical way to ride the City’s vintage transit vehicles is with Muni’s phone app Muni Mobile. Download it free here for Apple and here for Android. If you want to include one or more cable car rides in your day, choose “1-Day Passport” for $13.00. You get unlimited rides on all Muni vehicles, including cable cars (but not BART, ferries, or other public transit). The Passport is activated with your first ride on Muni, and is valid until midnight of that day. You can also buy 3-day Passports $31 and 7-day Passports for $41 (the best deal of all if you’re staying that long; less than $6.00 per day!). You can buy Passports in advance if you like, but you must take your first ride within 180 days of purchase.
If you’re looking to ride both types of vintage vehicles with multiple rides per day, we strongly recommend the Muni Passport option on Muni Mobile. (If you don’t want to download an app, you can buy paper passports in a few locations, shown on this Muni page. Or you can always pay the cash fare when you board the vehicle.)
If you’re skipping the cable cars, the best value on Muni Mobile is the “1-day pass (no cable car)” for just $5.00. This lets you ride any Muni vehicle, except cable cars, all day for less than one round-trip cash fare. Muni Mobile can be set up a credit card, ApplePay, GooglePay, or PayPal. For ease of use and biggest savings, we recommend Muni Mobile. You won’t have to worry about having exact change and you’ll be able to board vehicles faster.
If you want to venture beyond the City limits, the Bay Area Clipper Card lets you ride all kinds of public transportation, including BART trains, Bay Ferries, Caltrain commuter rail along the Peninsula, the SMART train in Marin and Sonoma Counties, as well as all Muni vehicles including cable cars. Much less hassle than trying to pay individual fares. You can easily set it up as a phone app. Get it here.
Riding the F-Market & Wharves Historic Streetcar Line
Rail transit has operated on San Francisco’s main street, Market, since 1860! First steam trains, then horse-drawn streetcars, then cable cars, and since 1906, electric streetcars. They were shut down in 1982 when the new Muni Metro subway opened beneath Market, but with our nonprofit in the lead, vintage streetcars returned permanently to Market in 1995 and were extended to Fisherman’s Wharf in 2000.
The vintage F-streetcars operate between Castro and Market Street and Fisherman’s Wharf every day of the year, currently between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m They stop at the raised boarding islands in the middle of Market Street and The Embarcadero, and at curb stops in the Wharf, at Castro, and at our San Francisco Railway Museum at Steuart Street.
When you board a streetcar, if you’re using Muni Mobile or Clipper, use any door and hold up your virtual card near the electronic reader to the left the door. It will beep when it’s read the card. If you are paying with cash, board by the front door and deposit the exact fare in the farebox next to the operator. Muni streetcar and bus operators carry no change. Deposit cash fares into the farebox near the Show transfers (fare receipts from an earlier ride started less than 90 minutes prior) and physical passes to the operator.
As mentioned, you’ll get cheaper fares by purchasing a Clipper Card (either as a physical card or mobile app, usable on all Bay Area transit systems) or using the Muni Mobile App (for Muni buses and rail only). If you’re a resident or a visitor planning multiple rides, these are definitely worth it.
About 20 different streetcars from Muni’s vintage fleet operate each day. The specific streetcars on the street at a given time varies according to maintenance requirements and weather. You can see which exact cars are on the F-line right now on our live map.
Riding the Cable Car lines
There’s no experience on earth like riding San Francisco’s cable cars. That’s been true since they were invented by Andrew Hallidie in 1873. The poet Gillett Burgess penned this tribute to an earlier version of the Hyde line in 1901, including this stanza:
North Beach to Tenderloin, over Russian Hill,
The grades are something giddy, and the curves are fit to kill!
All the way to Market Street, climbing up the slope,
Down upon the other side, hanging to the rope;
But the sight of San Francisco, as you take the lurching dip!
There is plenty of excitement, on the Hyde Street Grip!
From natives who have ridden the cables all their lives, here’s a summary of what you’ll see along each line.
Cable cars currently operate from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m daily, shorter hours than before the Covid pandemic. Our nonprofit is advocating for a return to longer hours. Cable cars are scheduled to operate every 8-15 minutes, depending on the time of day.
Cable car tickets and one-day Cable Car Passes are sold on board cable cars by the conductors. Conductors can make change for up to $20. No transfers are accepted or issued on cable cars.
Basic cable car cash fare for all riders over 4 years old: $8.00 each way (After 9 pm, 5+ can ride for $4.00 cash fare; see best value pre-purchase fares above.
If you have questions on fares or routes, you can try calling Muni Information: (415) 701-2311
Again, we’ve compiled all the insider tips in our pocket-sized book, ON TRACK, available at our San Francisco Railway Museum or here in our online store. It tells about each vehicle, what you’ll see along each route, and walks near each route you can add to experience the City like natives do.
The best single piece of advice we can give for an enjoyable ride on the cable cars or streetcars is this: timing is everything.
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.
Another alternative, especially for those without kids in tow, is riding after 8 or 9 p.m. Lines are usually shorter at this hour and you can get right on board.
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 Drumm 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 Steuart Street stop, across The Embarcadero from the Ferry Building.)
The F-line streetcars rarely have 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 summer, 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.
Lost & Found
Leave something behind? If you think you left something on a Muni vehicle, call Muni Lost & Found by calling (415) 701-2311. Market Street Railway does not operate the cable cars or streetcars and cannot offer assistance with lost items.
Market Street Railway
Our nonprofit, Market Street Railway, provides this information for your convenience. We’re the folks who brought the historic streetcars of the F-line back to San Francisco and work to keep them and the cable cars on track. We’d appreciate even a small donation. Thanks.