San Francisco is the only city in the world with cable cars. What people sometime mistake for cable cars are electric trolleys or street cars. The big difference is a cable car doesn’t have an engine. It’s a box with wheels. What gets it up and down the hills is it has a grip, and that grip grabs the moving cable under the street. It’s like grabbing a tow line at ski resort.
From a platform inside you can the machinery that moves the cable under the streets.
Video of machinery pulling cables
There are four cables for the three cable car lines. That’s because the Powell line splits and takes riders to Hyde St or Taylor St on Fisherman’s wharf. The California St. line is continuous. Where ever they end, they all start here, winding out in their miles long loops.
To see the machinery is to truly appreciate what simple yet amazing technology the cable cars employ. It is virtually unchanged since 1873, except instead of steam engines powering the machines, it is now electric. It will give you an enlightened experience when riding a cable car.
There is also a museum about the history of the cable cars, and of course a gift shop, which actually has cool stuff.
You should visit because there is no other place like it in the world. And best of all, it’s free. Bring the family because the kids will like it, and if they don’t, no matter. You haven’t spent a dime. But they’ll like it. It feels like you’re backstage, looking at secret things. It’s a little noisy, not too much, just enough to let you know something special is going on.
When I take people out on a private tour, the guests always comment on the hills. But the city isn’t all hills. A rule of thumb is “Because we have 47 hills, if something is flat, it must be landfill.”
What is San Francisco didn’t used to be San Francisco. We’re a small city; 7 miles by 7 miles (give or take.) The story of San Francisco always involves land: how to use what little we have, and how to make more of it.
This map shows the original shoreline. Soon after the Gold Rush in 1849, Yerba Buena Cove was filled in with thousands of abandoned ships. It took an average of 5 months to get here from where ever gold seekers came from, and they came from all over the world (except Japan because it was isolated at the time) and the during the journey all they could think of was that someone was in the gold country grabbing their gold. The ships were abandoned, scrapped, and with dredging bay and dirt from the hills and became the Financial District.
The Marina lies on top of once was a fresh water lagoon. It was filled in with dredging from the bay and some debris from the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. It was filled to to be the site for the 1915 World’s Fair.
So when you walk on two of flattest parts of San Francisco, you’re walking over the 2 major events in San Francisco history.
Block long Balmy Alley is one of the best places to see a collection of murals in San Francisco, and definitely off the usual tourist path. Located in the Mission District, these beautiful artworks contain many different styles and subjects.
These are local treasures that even many people who live here don’t know about. So if you visit them, you might see the city better than a local. They are best viewed on foot. Or from a convertible MINI Cooper.
Balmy Alley is located off of 24th Street in The Mission. It is parallel to Treat Ave and Harrison Street between 24th & 25th streets.
This photo shows hundreds of ships in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Cove 1851. The cove isn’t there anymore. It’s now the Financial District. Most of the ships that sailed into the cove were abandoned during the Gold Rush. Some were used as hotels, or shops, but eventually they were scuttled, and filled in the cove.
The map shows the original shoreline, and some of the ships that have been discovered during construction in the area.
So when you walk in the Financial District, remember this: under your feet is San Francisco’s Gold Rush History.