My First Cable Car Ride In San Francisco

cable car

When I saw this view, my smile was unleashed. Photo by laverrue.

I latched onto the side of a cable car just as it was leaving, taking an open stand-up spot, not knowing where I was going to end up, and not caring. It was early evening, the city was alive, and for the first time since arriving from the airport about three hours prior, I thought, “This is San Francisco.”

The operator didn’t warn me about how dangerous it was to be on the very edge of a moving cable car – and I loved that. I was free to be my own judge of safety for once in a world of over-caution. No disclaimers, no overdrawn discussions on the proper way to grab the handle and place my feet. Just get on and enjoy the ride. Refreshing.

It felt like an amusement park ride, only it was real life, if that makes sense. It was fun, but I was actually traveling within the city.

Speaking of danger, we were going full speed toward two men standing beside a car, about to get in. Problem: this particular part of the road was narrow; our cable car was not. The operator rang the bell several times in quick succession – “ding ding ding DING ding ding ding DING.” The men were oblivious to the sound (and the pain they were about to experience), and I was wondering what I was going to do, as I and the other “cling-ons” were the ones who were going to collide with them!

We missed them, but it was very close. They tucked in the door and hugged the side of the car just in time. I was planning on jumping into the laps of the people sitting down if it was closer.

The next close call was just a couple minutes later. A once again oblivious person driving a Mercedes Benz was pulling out in front of us despite the bell ringing. He finally recognized us and wisely veered off to the right shoulder.

My apologies to these people we nearly smacked, but it made the experience all the more exciting for me. 🙂

If there is one word to describe the cable cars in San Francisco, it’s “yield.” Everyone yields to them, perhaps due to the harder-to-control start/stop nature of how they work. One passenger asked “why we frequently stopped in the direct center of an intersection. “If we tried to start on the hill,” the operator replied, “it’ll jump.” Most of the intersections were the only level ground between hills. I felt oddly powerful to stop in the middle of a busy intersection and stay there for a moment while I looked at eager cars wanting to pass through. A decade of driving makes it seem like intersections are the last place on earth you’d want to stop in.

I’d recommend you buy a Citypass for unlimited public transport (including buses) rather than pay the steep $6 fare for a one way cable car ride. It also comes with various discounts of popular SF attractions.

“San Francisco seems plain,” I thought, “it looks just like any other big city.” But then the cable car descended the final big hill and I saw the fisherman’s wharf (as seen in the picture above). The operator stopped the car beside a breathtaking view down a winding road that overlooks a beautiful cityscape. I smiled, pleasantly corrected. You can see what I mean in this video I took:

Riding on a cable car is a fun ride, a scenic tour of an interesting city, and a way to relive history (cable cars were first seen in San Francisco in the 1870s).

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