Quirky Attraction: The Cable Car Museum in San Francisco

featured cable car museum
The Cable Car Museum is a quirky attraction in San Francisco.

Cable Car Museum
Location: San Francisco, CA (1201 Mason St.)
When to visit: Open 10-5 Fri to Sun (10-4 Tue to Thu; closed Mon)
Cost: Free
Time needed: 30-45 minutes
Website: https://cablecarmuseum.org

Curious about visiting the Cable Car Museum in San Francisco? It’s a great place to learn about the famous streetcar that has operated in the city for more than 150 years. And it’s totally free!

In this article, we’ll go over the logistics of visiting (hours, parking), provide several pictures from inside the museum, and discuss the history of the SF streetcar. Read on to learn about this fascinating facility!

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San Francisco Cable Car Museum Review and Pictures

It’s funny how you can be familiar with something without ever stopping to think how it works.

Every time I visit San Francisco, I’m intrigued by the old-time cable cars. But I never really contemplated how the cars operate.

It’s right there in the name, of course: Cable cars. These trolleys are pulled by underground wire cables using a pulley system with cables that run continuously at 9.5 miles per hour.

cable-car-museum

Most mass transit vehicles today operate on gas power, while some even use electric. But San Francisco’s cable cars still use the old-fashioned method of power: sheer brute force.

At the Cable Car Museum, you can walk out onto a viewing deck to the see the machinery in action, and you can view historic photos and artifacts.

Here’s the oldest cable car in history!

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It’s Clay Street Railroad Car #8. This is the only surviving car from the original 1873 fleet, which means it is in fact the oldest remaining cable cars in the world.

There are three cable cars on display from the 1870s, in fact. That’s a century and a half old. Before the motor car was invented!

The Cable Car Museum itself isn’t very large, but it’s free, so you’re getting your money’s worth. Main highlight #1 is the viewing deck where visitors can see the giant gears actually cranking those cables.

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Machinery inside the Cable Car Museum.
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The information on display is enlightening. You’ll learn that there are currently 40 cable cars in the San Francisco system. A max of 26 are in use at any one time.

The Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde cars cannot be turned around; when they reach the end of the line, a turntable spins the cars around to head back in the opposite direction.

The California Street cars, meanwhile, can run in either direction.

Another highlight is a series of exhibits that tell the history of the city’s cable cars and the routes around the city. The black and white photos from the past provide some context that helps tell the story of the cable car.

museum-exhibit

Here’s an exhibit showing transportation tokens from around the country. Some are 100 years old!

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Overall, I enjoyed the museum and would suggest that tourists who are curious about the cable car system should consider stopping in to check it out.

It’s small, but interesting. I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

FAQs About Visiting the Museum

When did the San Francisco Cable Car Museum open?

The Cable Car Museum in San Francisco has been open since 1974. It’s operated by an organization called Friends of the Cable Car Museum.

How much do tickets cost for the Cable Car Museum?

As of this writing, the museum is free. Friends of the Cable Car Museum operate the facility as a nonprofit.

You do not need to secure a ticket in advance. Just show up during business hours.

Does the museum have a gift shop?

Yes. While the museum does not charge for tickets, they do sell gifts and trinkets like toy cable cars to commemorate your visit. You can even purchase genuine cable car bells!

toy-cable-cars

When is the museum open?

It’s closed on Mondays, but is otherwise open every day of the year except Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.

The museum opens at 10 am and remains open until 5 pm from Friday to Sunday. From Tuesday to Thursday, it closed earlier at 4 pm.

Is there parking at the Cable Car Museum in San Francisco?

Unfortunately, the Cable Car Museum does not have a parking lot. There is street parking, but it’s very limited.

If you need to drive, you may have to park in one of the nearby garages, most of which charge at least $20 for two hours.

Your best solution is to take public transit. MUNI bus lines 1, 12, 30, 45 all stop nearby. Or ride the streetcar itself to the museum! Here’s a map of the cable car routes.

How much does it cost to ride the actual cable car through San Francisco?

And if you’re interested in riding the actual cable car in SF, the current cost is $8 one way. The Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines both stop at the museum.

Is the museum wheelchair-accessible?

Yes. The museum has a wheelchair ramp on the Washington Street side of building.

What else can I do in San Francisco?

While you’re in SF, make sure to check out all the famous attractions like Alcatraz and Coit Tower, the Rainbow Honor Walk, and the California Academy of Sciences.

See also our big list of things to do in Berkeley, and our article advising whether visiting Berkeley is worth it.

San Fran is an ideal stop on a west coast road trip drive between San Diego and Seattle.

Would you visit the Cable Car Museum?