Top 20 San Francisco attractions

Cable Car Museum

free admission

The San Francisco Cable Car Museum is one of San Francisco's most popular attractions.

5 best things about Cable Car Museum

1. It's free to visit (at 1201 Mason Street).

2. Watch how San Francisco cable cars actually work. 

Cable Car Museum San Francisco

It's pretty cool stepping inside the Cable Car Museum, to see the world's last manually operated cable car system in action.

The first thing you notice is the overwhelming noise of the winding wheels, assigned to the California, Powell-Mason, and Powell-Hyde lines.  The rotating cables on the giant motorized wheels, drag cars up and down San Francisco hills on cables installed between the street rails.

The cable cars don't have engines, and are wholly reliant on what happens inside this building.

3. Ride a cable car to the Museum. 

Both the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines travel between downtown and the Fisherman's Wharf, stopping at the Cable Car Museum along the way. Learn more about these lines.

4. Learn about the fascinating history of cable cars. 

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

Before the advent of cable cars, horses were used to transport people around San Francisco.  However they were an ineffective transportation system, finding it difficult to navigate San Francisco's hills.  Many had a very short working life before they were retired. 

The inventor of the cable car system, Andrew Hallidie, was spurred to action when he saw horses being mercilessly whipped as they struggled to ascend a hill.  He tested his first cable car on August 2, 1873.  His Clay Street Hill line was the sole operator in San Francisco for four years, eventually followed by other competitors. 

The 1906 earthquake and fire had a devastating impact on the cable car system in San Francisco, and much of it was replaced with electric cable cars that had lower construction and maintenance costs.  By 1912 there were only eight cable car lines left.  

In 1947 the San Francisco mayor wanted to remove all remaining manually operated cable car lines. However a massive citizen's campaign spearheaded by Friedel Klussmann, saved the remaining cable cars.  Celebrities and newspapers got behind her, arguing that the tourist benefits of cable cars far outweighed the costs.  Proposition 10 was placed on the ballot, and passed with strong support, directing the city to retain the cable cars.

5. Visit the fun gift shop.

Pick up some cable car themed merchandise at the gift shop.

Know before you go

  • Address:  1201 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA 94108.
  • Admission:  Free.
  • Hours: here.
  • Cable Car lines that stop here:  Powell Mason and Powell Hyde lines.

More Museums in San Francisco

Review this attraction