My Review Of The San Francisco Cable Car Museum
I love stopping by the San Francisco Cable Car Museum for a quick visit. It’s free and it’s so much fun watching the wheels in action. This SF museum also does a wonderful job of laying out the timeline of the cable cars in San Francisco including why they were built, what happened to them during the 1906 Earthquake, and why only a few of them are in service today.
It’s also fun to step inside an old car in the basement. It’s a great way to learn a little more about them without too many people in your way.
I would absolutely recommend a stop at this museum if you are in the area and plan to do a variety of activities nearby. It’s a fun stop for kids of all ages and doesn’t take long to visit.
I would not make an effort to only come to this museum as parking is difficult and expensive.
What You Need To Know
The museum is located at 1201 Mason Street in San Francisco. It is open every day except Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and January 1. Admission is free and it will take you about half an hour to view the exhibits.
The best way to get to the Cable Car Museum is the most obvious – by riding a cable car. If you’re on foot instead, you don’t need a map, just follow the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason cable car tracks.
Street parking is nearly non-existent near the Cable Car Museum, and the nearest public parking lots are in North Beach. The closest MUNI bus lines are the 1 and 30.
Unique San Francisco Gifts
The gift shop in the San Francisco Railway Museum features a wide variety of unique San Francisco gifts, souvenirs and memorabilia not available anywhere else.
Our flagship merchandise line is Market Street Railways own Historic Travel Series of images that evoke the heyday of travel posters from the 1920s and 1930s. These images, created by San Francisco artists John Mattos and David Dugan, depict cable cars and historic streetcars in the context of the San Francisco neighborhoods they serve. This furthers Market Street Railways mission of educating the public to the value of historic transit to neighborhood vitality and to expansion of San Franciscos vital visitor industry. These images are currently available as posters, note cards, framed prints and magnets. We also offer our signature fleet poster of all the vintage streetcars currently active on the F-line. Were always adding additional unique gifts, including mugs, t-shirts, and kids items.
The museum is free , and is currently open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12 noon 5 pm. It is located at 77 Steuart Street, between Market and Mission Streets, across from the Ferry Building, at the F-line Steuart Street stop
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San Francisco By Bus And By Bike
Explore the major sites of San Francisco aboard an open top Double-Decker bus. Take a bike and ride along the Marina District and around other neighborhoods or ride across the 1.7 mile span of the world famous Golden Gate Bridge.
Whatever spectacular ride you choose, we will make sure you have an unforgettable experience in San Francisco!
Urban Adventure Quest Scavenger Hunt In San Francisco
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See San Francisco with Urban Adventure Quest, the interactive city tour. Let your smart phone be your guide in a competition to see the sights and learn local history, from Fisherman’s Wharf to Chinatown to the Cable Cars that still cross-cross the city.
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How To Get Here By Cable Car
The best way to get here is to take the Powell/Mason or the Powell/Hyde lines. Both stop right out front of the museum at the corner of Washington and Mason Streets. Usually the cable car drivers will call out when they arrive at this stop.
Both lines run between Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. They take a slightly different route, but both stop right in front of the San Francisco Cable Car Museum.
A Species In Extinction
The first trams in San Francisco were pulled by horses who managed with difficulty to climb the city’s steep hills. In the year 1873 the city’s first electric tram was tested.
We could consider the tram as a survivor from a former age. This form of transportation was at the verge of disappearing in 1947 but a furious public strongly opposed its removal. In 1964 the cable car system was .
The reason for its near extinction was the high cost of its maintenance. A clear example of this is that every two or three months it is necessary to replace the cables that let the system run, costing some $20,000 per cable.
To see how it works and learn more about this odd form of transportation, we recommend visiting the .
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Parking Near The San Francisco Cable Car Museum
Street parking near the San Francisco Cable Car Museum is difficult to find. You might get lucky and find a spot, but most likely you will need to plan to park in a paid lot. If you prefer to park on the street, I recommend looking it on Mason Street between Sacramento and Washington.
There are a few lots within a couple of blocks away in either direction. The streets in this area are steep though, so be prepared to do a little hill walking even if you are only two or three blocks away. Parking rates will vary based on events and activities during the day, so my rates stated below are just a rough idea on what to expect.
Here are a few options nearby.
1320 Washington St: This parking lot is just city two blocks away from the San Francisco Cable Car Museum. The walk down to the museum isn’t bad, but it’s a decent walk back. Washington is a one-way street, so you will need to drive to Leavenworth first and then come down Washington to enter the lot. Parking in this lot around $20 for the day.
Portsmouth Square Plaza: This parking lot is about 4 city blocks away from this SF museum in Chinatown. It’s a larger lot with plenty of parking, but it is a bit of a hike to get to the museum. If you don’t mind walking and like to explore, it’s a great option. It’s located on Kearny between Washington and Clay Streets. It’s about $4 an hour with a daily maximum just over $32. 733 Kearny Street.
What You Will See At The San Francisco Cable Car Museum
There are two levels to the San Francisco Cable Car Museum. The top floor is where you will find out about their history.
Here you will learn more about all of the original companies. At one time, as you can see from the pictures, there were eight companies running these up and down the steep SF hills.
On this floor, you will also learn more about how the 1906 Earthquake and Fire impacted all of these lines. It walks you through the damage to the lines and what needed to be done to get them up and running again.
All around the San Francisco Cable Car Museum, you will find out more about the specific parts and the tools used to maintain them. You can also check out the three historic cars on display.
My favorite part of this museum is seeing the live cables in action. Oh yes, the cables you get to see are the actual cables pulling the cars around the streets of San Francisco. This picture shows you a a look into the Sheave Room that powers cables from the second floor.
There are currently three SF car routes. They are run by four sets of cables.
The four cables are Hyde, California, Mason and Powell. Both the Hyde/Powell and the Mason/Powell cars use the Powell cable. They then transfer to their own cables.
Here is a closer look at the Powell Street wheel. This is the live wheel pulling both the Hyde/Powell and the Mason/Powell cars around the city.
To get here, head outside and walk up Washington Street. You will see this doorway about halfway up the block.
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The Cable Cars Are Free To Ride For The Entire Month Of August
The cable car routes are the Powell-Hyde line, the Powell-Mason line and the California line. Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines stop at the museum. On the California line get off at Mason Street , the museum is 3 blocks north.
Cable Car FareAdult & Youth : $7.00 eachway OTHER PASSES: Muni Passports 1-day , 3-day , and 7-day are accepted on all Muni vehicles – cable cars,historic streetcars, and trolley buses.All passes are available downtown at the Powell & Market ticket booth orone block east of Ghirardelli Square at the Beach & Hyde ticket booth. For more information on pass pricing and where to buy them visit Limited edition souvenir cable car tickets are available at ticket booths located at Powell and Market Streets and at Hyde and Beach Streets. For detailed route and schedule information visit We encourage you to take public transit. Street parking is limited.
San Francisco Cable Car Museum
|Exterior of the Ferries and Cliff House Railway Co. building which was constructed in 1887 and houses the cable car winding station, motors, and museum. The smoke stack in the rear was damaged in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, restored then soon decommissioned when steam power was replaced with electrical power at the winding station.
|Location within San FranciscoShow map of San FranciscoSan Francisco Cable Car Museum Show map of CaliforniaSan Francisco Cable Car Museum Show map of the United States
The Cable Car Museum is a free museum in the Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, California. Located at 1201 Mason Street, it contains historical and explanatory exhibits on the San Francisco cable car system, which can itself be regarded as a working museum.
Reconstruction of powerhouse
Layout of Cable Car Museum primary exhibit space is on the northwest mezzanine level
Preserved Sutter Street Railway No. 46 and 54
The museum contains several preserved cable cars, together with smaller exhibits and a gift shop. The cable cars displayed include:
- Sutter Street Railway – grip car 46 and trailer 54 dating from the 1870s
- Clay Street Hill Railroad – grip car 8, the only surviving car from the first cable car company
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San Francisco Railway Museum & Gift Shop
San Francisco is one of the few places in the world where you can get the actual experience of riding vintage rail transit in its natural habitat the rumble of the motors under your feet, the swaying of the car itself, the smell of the brakes. Before or after you take that magical ride on the museums in motion, visit our museum to make your experience complete.
What we offer at the museum is a celebration of San Franciscos rail transit history, focused on exploring the positive impacts streetcars and cable cars have made on the quality of urban life in this great city.
The museum features a full-sized exact replica of the motormans platform of a 1911 San Francisco streetcar, where kids of all ages can experience what it was like to be at the controls. Youll also find unique historic artifacts, illustrative and informative displays, rarely seen archival photography, and audio-visual exhibits that use 21st century technology to bring rail transit in the 19th and 20th centuries to life.