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Avoid the Cable Car and Streetcar Tourist Traps: Your Guide to SF’s historic rail


By Tim Jue / Beat Staff Writer

Read the original story about the long waits and hassles for Cable Cars and Historic Streetcars in San Francisco here.

So, you’ve read about how great San Francisco is in all the travel guides and brochures. Co-workers and friends have egged you into coming here, and now that you’re in the City by the Bay, how do you get around all the headaches of being an out-of-towner in this crazy city? Take a read.

Tips & Tricks to BEAT the hassle

Here are some effective methods at getting around the hassles and those long lines:

Routes Map from the Market Street Railway here.

For the Cable Cars:

  • If you’re getting on a Downtown-bound Powell Street car, avoid the turntable terminal by boarding at the nearest stop on the route. On the Powell-Hyde line, that means walking up the hill to North Point Street and getting on at the Cable Car stop there. The Cable Car operators make it a point not to pack the cars at the turnaround so they can pick up more riders enroute. This might get tricky if you have a big group, but if you’re a party of three or under, it works. But prepare to stand.
  • Buy a MUNI passport. They can last for 1-day, 3-days or 7-days, but allow you to ride any MUNI line (including Cable Cars) in the city. Just flash and go.
  • If you want to ride a Cable Car just to say you’ve been on one and don’t care where you’re going, try the California Street line instead. It’s less crowded.
  • The crush time (when most people ride) usually starts after noon and lasts right before dinnertime. This holds true during the summer tourist season especially.

For the F-Market streetcars:

  • Hold on to your transfer! If it’s still valid when it’s time to make your return trip, just flash it and go!
  • If you’re in the Fisherman’s Wharf Area and are looking to board a train back downtown, get on at the Beach & Jones Street stop in front of the Walgreens drug store. It’s the northern terminus for the trains, andit gives you the first shot to grab a seat before the streetcar gets packed (and it will).
  • Going Downtown from the Northern Waterfront? Be careful where you board. The F-line runs in a loop when it hits Pier 39. Trains heading west goes to the terminal at Beach and Jones Sts. and the Operator will kick you off and make you wait. You want to board a train heading east onBeach Street.
  • Look for “Shuttle” trains that run between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf. This is supplemental service that is generally less crowded because it doesn’t run the full route to the Castro District.
  • It’s hit or miss if you’re boarding along the Embacadero during peak tourist times (the afternoon). You will get passed up. The busiest stops with the most crowds on the line are on Market Street east of 5th Street, the Ferry Building, and the Stockton & Beach St (the Pier 39 to Downtown stop).

Avoid the mess altogether

It’s so unglamorous, especially in a glamorous city like San Francisco, but you can always take a MUNI bus to your destinations:

Downtown to Chinatown/ Fisherman’s Wharf/ North Beach/ Pier 39 (and vice versa):

  • Take the 30-Stockton trolley bus from 3rd Street/ Market Street to the North Point/ Columbus Street stop for a brisk walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. Fair warning, it gets packed from all the Chinatown bound folks on the first leg of the trip.
  • Take the 9X-Bayshore Express bus. It takes you through Chinatown too and drops you off a couple blocks from Pier 39.

Downtown to Nob Hill

  • Take the 1-California trolley bus. It too goes past Chinatown but reciprocates the California Street Cable Car line in many ways.

Do you have more suggestions? Post them below in the comments section!

Happy trails!