Build a day trip to The City around ca­ble car lines

Escalon Times - - LIVING - By DEN­NIS WY­ATT

My best days spent in San Fran­cisco have cen­tered on rid­ing the Pow­ell-Ma­son ca­ble car line.

Rid­ing the ca­ble cars when we went to San Fran­cisco to visit Aunt Grace who worked as an emer­gency room nurse at St. Mary’s Hos­pi­tal and lived in The Av­enues was a summer rit­ual in the early 1960s be­fore San Fran­cisco got swept up in the Summer of Love.

The some­what jerky ride in an open air rail car tak­ing in The City while hang­ing on for dear life as a 6-year-old tops any­thing I ever rode at Dis­ney­land. It wasn’t just the ca­ble car ride per se, but the peo­ple, the sights and the smells. It also was the won­der­ful places on each end of the line we vis­ited — shop­ping near Union Square or din­ing at Fish­er­man’s Wharf.

The best ride by far was on May 25, 1993. Af­ter propos­ing to Cyn­thia on Drake’s Beach at Point Reyes Na­tional Seashore we headed to din­ner at Alioto’s. I can’t re­call much about din­ner but I vividly re­mem­ber kiss­ing af­ter we hopped on the run­ning board of a ca­ble car at the wharf in the driz­zling rain. The magic of the mo­ment still lives as does a com­ment made by a seated French tourist in his na-

tive tongue about “stupid Amer­i­cans” block­ing his view.

It was when I de­cided that the real city of love wasn’t Paris, but San Fran­cisco.

And what’s not to love about San Fran­cisco? When it’s 100 de­grees in the Cen­tral Val­ley its win­ter in The City. There’s vir­tu­ally ev­ery ur­ban ex­pe­ri­ence you could ask for — not to men­tion end­less din­ing choices that have vir­tu­ally ev­ery nook and cranny of cui­sine from the seven con­ti­nents jammed in 47.9 square miles save Antarc­tica.

The ad­vent of Pier 39 has been a curse and a bless­ing. It’s a good place to an­chor a day ex­cur­sion to the city when you have vis­i­tors that have never been to Cal­i­for­nia and want to see San Fran­cisco. That usu­ally means a drive by tour of all the key at­trac­tions, some­time at Ocean Beach — or Land’s End if I can talk them into that — and set­tling for Pier 39 for din­ner with its world-class views of The Bay, sea lions and hu­man at­trac­tions.

On the rare oc­ca­sions I have a vis­i­tor that is will­ing to set­tle for a slice of San Fran­cisco in an 10-hour day in­stead of try­ing to jam ev­ery­thing in and I have the lux­ury or work­ing in a mid­week day off, I plan our trip around rid­ing the ca­ble cars — specif­i­cally the Pow­ell-Ma­son Line — from Fish­er­man’s Wharf to Mar­ket Street.

it’s away from the ul­ti­mate tourist trap Pier 39 has be­come — OK, much of San Fran­cisco could be con­sid­ered a tourist trap — and it gives you a wide va­ri­ety of din­ing op­tions on both ends as well as “touristy” shop­ping at Fish­er­man’s Wharf and the clas­sic ur­ban va­ri­ety that awaits at Union Square. In be­tween there are spec­tac­u­lar views.

It’s a day trip that never dis­ap­points for peo­ple watch­ing.

The rea­son I’d rec­om­mend plan­ning a day trip around a ca­ble car route mid­week this time of year is be­cause the tourist crowd isn’t quite as thick mak­ing wait­ing for ca­ble cars at both ends of the line much more tol­er­a­ble.

If you haven’t rid­den the ca­ble cars for a num­ber of years, ex­pect a bit of sticker shock. It is $7 one way per per­son. If you are plan­ning to try mul­ti­ple lines such as Cal­i­for­nia Street to reach Chi­na­town, there is a $21 per per­son all-day ca­ble car pass. Both can be bought di­rectly from con­duc­tors — or Muni machines. Be warned that con­duc­tors only take cash and can make change only up to $20.

When you con­sider the ex­pe­ri­ence you’re get­ting, it’s a bar­gain es­pe­cially if you ex­plore down­town once you get there. Sim­ply walk­ing around Union Square and brows­ing stores like Neiman Mar­cus to see how peo­ple who ap­par­ently have more money than they know what to do with shop — I’m not in the league of folks that can pay $65 for a pair of men’s brief un­der­wear — is worth it. You can also wan­der through the the­ater dis­trict or just take in the char­ac­ters in the form of side­walk artists ad peo­ple in gen­eral.

And if you’re cu­ri­ous to see how ca­ble cars work and learn their his­tory, drop by the Ca­ble Car Mu­seum at 1201 Ma­son Street. And, yes, the Wash­ing­ton-Ma­son line can take you there which is an­other rea­son to buy the all-day pass. The mu­seum is lo­cated in the Wash­ing­ton/Ma­son ca­ble car barn and pow­er­house.

From a deck in the mu­seum you can see the mas­sive en­gines and wind­ing wheels that move the ca­bles. There is also an area where yu can see the ca­ble line en­ter­ing the build­ing.

Ev­ery­thing you need to know about able cars is there, along with a sig­nif­i­cant col­lec­tion of his­toric pho­to­graphs, mod­els, var­i­ous de­vices, tools, and mod­els of ca­ble cars. There are also three an­tique ca­ble cars from the 1970s.

The gift shop can lit­er­ally make it pos­si­ble to ring your bell as gen­uine ca­ble car bells are for sale among other ca­ble car mem­o­ra­bilia in­clud­ing books, cloth­ing, and cards.

Ad­mis­sion to the mu­seum is free. It’s open from April through Oc­to­ber from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from Novem­ber through March from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Make no doubt about. San Fran­cisco’s ca­ble cars are a big deal. The City boasts the world’s oldest and largest per­ma­nent ca­ble car oper­a­tion. It is the only place on earth where the ca­ble cars are still op­er­ated in the tra­di­tional old-fash­ioned man­ner. That means they are man­u­ally op­er­ated by the grip­man as you are pulled through street traf­fic of­ten filled with tourists from all over the world gawk­ing at ca­ble cars that are just an hour away from most places in the 209.

San Fran­cisco Travel As­so­ci­a­tion photo by Jack Hollingsworth

A ca­ble car is shown along the Pow­ell-Mar­ket line.

San Fran­cisco Travel As­so­ci­a­tion photo by Scott Ch­er­nis

Din­ing out­doors on Maiden Lane off Union Square less than a three block walk from the down­town ter­mi­nus of the Pow­ell-Ma­son ca­ble car line.

San Fran­cisco Travel As­so­ci­a­tion photo by Jack Hollingsworth

A cou­ple en­joys fresh crab at Fish­er­man’s Wharf near the north­ern ter­mi­nus of the Pow­ell-Ma­son main ca­ble car line.

A ca­ble car crosses Cal­i­for­nia Street.

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