The Backpacking Husband and I recently spent two fun and action-packed days in San Francisco. On the first day, we rented bikes and cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning and then took the afternoon ferry over to visit Alcatraz Island. The next day, we were on a mission to enjoy two more typically iconic San Francisco tourist experiences – to ride on a traditional cable car down the incredibly steep streets and then to savour a classic San Francisco lunch of clam chowder from a sourdough bread bowl!
We were staying in the Fisherman’s Wharf area and so we bought our cable car tickets from the ticket booth at the turnpike there. The current price per person is $8 each way.
There are three routes to choose from and we chose to take the cable car from Fisherman’s Wharf turnpike all the way to Union Square where it turns around at the junction of Market and Powell Street and heads back up the street again. You can ride on the cars by sitting on seats inside or outside. You are also allowed to stand. Lots of people stand whether there are seats available or not – often on the running boards while hanging onto a pole – as this is how you get the best views of the steep streets and the harbour.
The cable car system is fascinating and unique. Built in 1873 it’s synonymous with the streets of San Francisco and it’s the last working system of its kind in the world. The cable cars are powered by an engine located in a central powerhouse and they move by gripping an underground cable that is in constant motion. The man operating the cable car is called the gripman as he is responsible for operating the grip and also ringing the bell.
Fun Facts on The Cable Cars of San Francisco
The cable cars of San Francisco are the only mobile National Monument in the world and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is an annual cable car bell-ringing contests, which happens on either the second or third Thursday of June each year. Held in Union Square the spectacle attracts thousands of spectators.
You can visit The Cable Car Museum on the corner of Mason Street and Washington Street. It’s free to enter and you can see historic cable cars and displays of interesting old photographs. And, as this is actually the powerhouse of the cable car system, you can watch the huge engines at work as they pull those colossal cables that run the cars.
When we arrived back at Fisherman’s Wharf we had classic clam chowder at ‘Chowders‘ for lunch!
Clouds rolled in across the bay in the afternoon as we took a leisurely walk around Pier 39. We stopped to watch the sea lions that have made the place their home and were sleeping on the wooden dock. We had a look in the souvenir stores selling t-shirts and touristy trinkets. We admired the view of Alcatraz Island once again and enjoyed what was a beautiful breezy day. I’ve heard that San Francisco can be overly crowded at times and that it can be foggy and chilly with strong winds at certain times of the year. We were there in mid-April and found it was an absolutely perfect time to visit this beautiful city.
There are so many songs about San Francisco and while you are there it’s hard not to quietly hum the tune to ‘San Francisco – Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair’ or ‘Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay’ or ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco’ – or maybe that’s just me!
Have you ever been to San Francisco?
Did you ride the cable cars?
Did you try clam chowder?
What’s your favourite song about San Francisco?