Some of the most recognizable symbols of San Francisco are the cable cars, or trolleys. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, San Francisco’s cable car system is the last manually-operated cable car system in the world. Situated on the eponymous bay, the greater San Francisco area attracts visitors each year.
Touring Alcatraz Island, taking pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and walking around Fisherman’s Wharf waterfront area are just a few of the tourist must-dos. Getting a tour of San Francisco via a trolley is an excellent way to see many parts of the city in a short amount of time.
Gray Line’s San Francisco Trolley Hop
Hop on and off a San Francisco cable car operated by Gray Line. Join the tour at the Pier 41 1/2, Union Square, Embarcadero Center or North Beach/Chinatown stops. The full route takes a little over an hour to complete and takes visitors through the Waterfront area, as well as the downtown and North Beach areas. The narrated tour allows travelers to learn more about San Francisco’s history as it winds its way around Ghirardelli Square, the Wax Museum, and majestic Grace Cathedral. There are frequent Trolley departures throughout the day, from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. daily. Reservations can be purchased online or by calling 888-428-6937.
Motorized Cable Car Tour and Bay Cruise from San Francisco Tours
Take a 2 and a half hour narrated tour on a motorized cable car. The tour includes such iconic San Francisco attractions such as Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Chinatown. Tours begin daily (except for holidays) at 10 a.m. After the cable car tour, spend an hour cruising San Francisco Bay viewing sites such as Fort Mason, the Marina District, and the Presidio. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 888-478-1465.
Classic Cable Car Sightseeing
Family owned for more than 50 years, Classic Cable Car Sightseeing operates a cable car tour of San Francisco. The company boasts that it is the only tour group that takes tourists over the Golden Gate Bridge, giving visitors a view of San Francisco from the other side of the Bay. Many of the cable cars used for tours were operated by the city on their California Street line over 100 years ago. Other cable cars were built using original blueprints. (450 Bay St., San Francisco, CA 94133; 415-596-9929; board at the corner of Taylor and Jefferson streets across from the Fisherman’s Wharf sign)
Taking a trolley tour of San Francisco offers visitors an excellent vantage point to view the city. Photographers will enjoy capturing panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio and the San Francisco Bay while enjoying a classic symbol of San Francisco.
Travel in San Francisco
Despite California’s love affair with the auto, it is easy to get around San Francisco without one. In fact, traffic and a lack of inexpensive parking make driving around the city less than desirable. Following are the various ways for visitors, newcomers and residents to get around San Francisco without a car.
MUNI – San Francisco’s Public Transportation System
Carrying over 200 million riders a year, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MUNI) is the country’s seventh largest provider of public transit but one of its most diverse. MUNI’s vehicles include buses, light rail, historic street cars, and cable cars.
Fares for the system are $2.00 per ride for adults (except cable cars which cost $5.00 per adult ride) and $.75 per ride for youth, seniors, and the disabled. Fares need to be paid with exact change. Transit passes are available (at various locations), including the MUNI Fast Pass which is good for the designated month and MUNI Passports which are good for 3 or 7 consecutive days.
Many MUNI buses and light rail start in downtown San Francisco and travel outbound via Market Street. Light rail vehicles have letters for names; buses have numbers. The K, L, M, N, & J streetcars all travel in the underground subway while downtown; the T and the historic F streetcar lines travel on the surface. Stops in the downtown commercial area include Embarcadero (Ferry Building, hotels, and the water’s edge), Montgomery, and Powell (hotels and shopping).
Riders need to look at the destination marked on the front of the vehicle. When waiting underground, monitors tell which light rail train is coming and when it will arrive; when waiting on the surface of Market Street, destinations are marked on signs at the appropriate curbs or traffic islands.
Cable cars were designed to navigate the city’s huge hills. The Powell-Mason Street line that goes to Fisherman’s Wharf is the most popular. The wait for this cable car line, however, can take over an hour. A pleasant alternative to this destination is to take the F streetcar line on Market Street. Using historic streetcars from all over the world, this line travels towards the Ferry Building, rides along the picturesque waterfront, and ends at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Some notable destination accessible from other streetcar lines: The J Church line gives a great view of the San Francisco skyline as it travels near The Castro and The Mission and then heads to the shopping of 24th Street in Noe Valley; the L Taraval heads towards the ocean and The San Francisco Zoo. The N Judah runs near Golden Gate Park, the Academy of Sciences, and the shopping found on Irving Street in the Sunset.
Diesel, hybrid, and trolley buses cover the rest of San Francisco. Some examples: the 5 Fulton goes to the museums (De Young and Academy of Sciences) and other wonders of Golden Gate Park; the 30 Stockton goes through Chinatown, North Beach, and the shopping on Union and Chestnut Streets and ends near The Exploratorium.
On December 5, 2009, new routes and schedules went into effect for MUNI. Current versions of MUNI’s Street and Transit Map can be found posted at most transit stops or can be purchased for $3.00 at various locations throughout the city as well as the Powell and Market transit kiosk near the beginning of the cable car.
BART within San Francisco
BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) operates trains that pass through San Francisco on the way to East Bay and South Bay. Stops in San Francisco include Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell, Civic Center, 16th Street Mission, 24th Street Mission, Glen Park and Balboa Park. Traveling between any of these stations, costing $1.75 per trip, is faster on BART than on MUNI. You can also take BART to either airport: directly to San Francisco International Airport or the airport shuttle that goes to Oakland International Airport.
Planning your trip on MUNIis as easy as calling 311 (in San Francisco) or calling 511 (within the San Francisco Bay Area). You can also access the trip planner of 511 or Google Maps through the internet. These resources all give free transit info.
No matter where you want to go in San Francisco, there is an inexpensive way to get there on public transit.