Visit San Francisco Cable Car Barn Museum
Cable Car Barn Museum & Powerhouse (Free Entrance)
Riding one of the iconic cable cars is a popular thing to do in San Francisco—but getting to explore them up close takes the experience to a whole other level. This free museum is a thrill for kids, as well as for grownups who have wondered how the historic cable car system really works.
Located in Nob Hill, the museum houses three cable cars from the 1870s, including the last remaining car from the Clay Street Hill Railroad. But it’s not just a look at the cable cars’ past. The museum is part of the Washington-Mason powerhouse and carbarn, which includes the giant mechanisms that power the current system’s cables.
Gearheads will love looking at the displayed tools, grips, track, cable, brakes, and more, as well as the displays detailing the history of the cable car. It’s no wonder, for starters, that cable cars first appeared in hilly San Francisco: their inventor came up with the idea for the steam-powered system after watching carriage horses struggle on a steep street. Check out the gift shop for an authentic cable-car bell, or visit in July for the annual Bell-Ringing Contest, first held in 1949, that now takes place at Union Square.
The Cable Car Museum was established in 1974. It is operated by the Friends of the Cable Car Museum as a nonprofit educational facility.
Located in the historic Washington/Mason cable car barn and powerhouse, the museum deck overlooks the huge engines and winding wheels that pull the cables. Downstairs is a viewing area of the large sheaves and cable line entering the building through the channel under the street.
On display are various mechanical devices such as grips, track, cable, brake mechanisms, tools, detailed models, and a large collection of historic photographs.
The museum houses three antique cable cars from the 1870s. The Sutter Street Railway No. 46 grip car & No. 54 trailer and the only surviving car from the first cable car company, the Clay Street Hill Railroad No. 8 grip car.
The museum store offers a variety of cable car memorabilia, books, clothing, cards and even genuine cable car bells!
San Francisco Cable Car Ride
San Francisco’s unique cable cars and celebrated vintage streetcars offer a wonderful way to see many of the City’s colorful neighborhoods and famous attractions. The journey itself is a destination, too!
No experience is more uniquely San Francisco than a ride on a cable car. Cable cars have come to symbolize our great city (along with another world-renowned transportation icon. Hint: it’s a suspension bridge painted an International Orange color.) After all, San Francisco is the city that first launched cars pulled along by cables running beneath the street.
Invented here nearly 150 years ago and named a National Historic Landmark in 1964, today’s San Francisco cable cars are kept in tip-top shape by the SFMTA.
It’s easy to find and board a cable car. Choose from three cable car lines – two start at Powell and Market and continue to the Fisherman’s Wharf area; one starts at California and Market and continues to Van Ness Avenue. Board at the cable car turntables (the beginning or end of each route) or look for the brown-and-white cable car sign post.
Which is the best Cable Car route?
The cable car routes come in three flavors, but they all go up and down steep hills and give you an exhilarating ride!
The two lines leaving from Powell and Market Streets both take you to Fisherman’s Wharf, but take different routes to get there.
The California Line runs perpendicular to the other two lines.
The Three Cable Car Routes
- Powell & Hyde: leaves from Market Street at Powell, near Union Square, and ends at Hyde and Beach Streets in Fisherman’s Wharf.
- Powell & Mason: also leaves from Market and Powell, and ends at Bay and Taylor Streets, a couple of blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf.
- California Line: runs from the end of Market Street (at Drumm St.) to Van Ness St., up to the top of Nob Hill.
Cable Car Tips
- San Francisco’s busy streets and steep hills can make for an exciting ride. Hold on tight. If you’re holding onto the special poles on the outside of the car as you stand, please don’t lean outward.
- When exiting, wait until the vehicle comes to a complete stop. Then check the street nearby as you step out. Stop, look and listen carefully before crossing cable car intersections. Please remember that the green “X” traffic signal is the “go ahead” signal for cable cars, not pedestrians.
- Full-size bicycles and folding bikes are not permitted aboard cable cars. Check out other Muni routes if you’re traveling with your bike.
- Service animals are encouraged to ride in the interior section of the cable car, either on their owner’s lap or as far out of the aisle as possible. If riding on the exterior sections of the cable car, service animals must be on their owner’s lap.
- Cable cars are not equipped with accessible boarding.