Guide To Riding San Francisco Cable Cars with Kids: Everything You Need to Know

​Riding a cable car is a must when in San Francisco! Photo by Gina Ragland
​Riding a cable car is a must when in San Francisco! Photo by Gina Ragland
1/21/24 - By Nicole Findlay

The San Francisco cable cars are the most entertaining and iconic way to travel from one part of the city to the next. And riding San Francisco's beautiful cable cars with kids only adds to the fun! San Francisco cable cars provide a wonderful peek into the past for the entire family on this National Historic Landmark. 

The steep San Francisco hills, the fresh air, the gorgeous city scenery, and the charming, chipped paint on the handrails all make riding the San Francisco cable cars a unique and memorable experience. Here's everything you need to know about riding the San Francisco cable cars with kids. 

For more must-do activities in San Francisco, see these tips for visiting Golden Gate Park with kids, and work your way through this list of 100 things to do in San Francisco with kids before they grow up


How To Purchase San Francisco Cable Car Tickets

San Francisco cable car tickets can be purchased online or in person.

If planning to board at Powell & Market, Bay & Taylor, or Hyde & Beach Streets, families must purchase tickets beforehand. This is easy to do with the MuniMobile App. It lets you buy tickets immediately from your phone via credit or debit card, Apple Pay, or PayPal. Simply select "Buy Tickets." Choose a rider. Then, opt for "Single Cable Car Ride" and add it to the cart. Add the remainder of your family before checking out.

Alternatively, you can purchase tickets online via Clipper or at ticket kiosks around the city. I find the MuniMobile App to be the easier option. If boarding anywhere other than Powell & Market, Bay & Taylor, or Hyde & Beach Streets, exact cash is accepted and collected once seated when the cable car is moving.

Costs of San Francisco Cable Car Tickets

The cost of one ride on a San Francisco cable car is $8 per adult and $5 per youth (ages five to 18). Children under five ride free.

However, if you're planning to board the cable cars more than once while in San Francisco, it's a good idea to buy the Visitor Passport. You can purchase passports for one day ($13), three days ($31) or seven days ($41). Prices are the same, regardless of age. These passports let you travel via cable cars, San Francisco's historic streetcars, and Muni. 

San Francisco Cable Cars Guide ​
It's easy to ride San Francisco cable cars and convenient, too. Photo by Gina Ragland

Where To Board San Francisco Cable Cars

Boarding San Francisco cable cars is easy. There are three lines:

  • California Cable Car
  • Powell/Hyde Cable Car
  • Powell/Mason Cable Car 

All lines run from 7am to 10pm daily.

1. California Cable Car Line

Board at California and Market and ride up and down picturesque California Street to Van Ness.

2. Powell/Hyde Cable Car Line

Conveniently located just outside the Powell Street Bart Station, visitors can board the Powell/Hyde Cable Car at the cable car turntable at Powell and Market Street. This route ends at the intersection of Hyde and Beach Streets.

3. Powell/Mason Cable Car Line

This cable car also departs from the corner of Market Street and Powell Street. However, this line ends at Taylor Street and Bay Street.

While these are the most popular spots to board a San Francisco cable car with kids, families can opt to board at either the start or end of a line and anywhere in between. Look for brown and white cable car signposts for in-between boarding spots. 

San Francisco Landmarks Along Cable Car Rides

San Francisco cable cars are an excellent means of transportation when visiting the Embarcadero, Union Square, North Beach, Chinatown, Nob Hill, and Fisherman's Wharf. Each cable car line has its own set of fun stops for kids. 

California Cable Car Line

The California line is ideal for those starting in the Embarcadero. After a stroll along the waterfront, hop on a San Francisco cable car and catch a ride up the hill. To spend time in the oldest Chinatown in the U.S., hop off on California & Grant. Kids will love the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, which is one of the essential free things to do in San Francisco with kids. 

As you continue to travel up the hill, remember to look back to be rewarded with stunning city views. 

At California & Mason, families can explore some of the best hotels in the city atop Nob Hill, like the Fairmont San Francisco and the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins. There's also a playground in Huntington Park. It's small, peaceful, and offers plenty of things for kids to do. The California Cable Car line continues past popular Polk Street to Van Ness. 

RELATED: 100 Things To Do in San Francisco with Kids Before They Grow Up 

San Francisco Cable Cars Guide 
Kids will think riding a cable car is an exciting adventure! Photo by Nicole Findlay

Powell/Hyde Cable Car Line

The Powell/Hyde line departs from the corner of Market & Powell. To spot one of the city's most iconic attractions, hop off at Hyde and Lombard and walk up and down Lombard Street, the city's most crooked street. The phenomenal views include the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Coit Tower.

To let kids run around while parents enjoy the views, hop off at Hyde & Bay, where you'll find Francisco Park. At the end of the line (Hyde & Beach), families get the sweet treat of landing in Ghiradelli Square, full of restaurants, shops, and plenty of Ghiradelli chocolate. 

Powell/Mason Cable Car Line

While the Powell/Mason Line also starts at the corner of Market & Powell Streets, this cable car line is great for hopping off at Mason and Union to explore North Beach. 

While in North Beach, check out the many tasty, family-friendly Italian restaurants, like Original Joe's and Tony's Pizza Napoletana. Caffe Trieste (allegedly where Francis Ford Coppola wrote The Godfather) on Vallejo Street is great for hot coffees, sandwiches, and sweet treats.

Liguria Bakery is a must-visit spot to grab some focaccia to enjoy in Washington Square while little ones run around the grassy area and explore the small playground (but be warned that it sells out quickly and early). 

Alternatively, little ones will love the larger Joe DiMaggio playground, a two-acre playground with tennis courts and plenty of climbing structures. If the kiddos are in the mood for some quiet time, the North Beach Library on the corner of Columbus and Lombard has a good kid's section.

The California line stops at Taylor & Bay, ideal for those wishing to explore Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. 

Tips for Families Riding San Francisco Cable Cars

  • Strollers are allowed on San Francisco cable cars, but they must be collapsed before boarding.
  • Hold on tight! Adults and older kids can hold onto the poles and stand, but stand up straight and don't lean out of the car.
  • When getting off the cable car, make sure it comes to a complete stop.
  • Hold little ones' hands and make sure to look both ways before crossing the cable car intersections.

Riding San Francisco Cable Cars with Kids

On a recent cable car ride with my six-year-old, our experience felt very reminiscent of an amusement park ride, but with the added benefit of taking us somewhere we needed to go.

Sure, my little tyke can climb the hill to the top of Nob Hill, but it's so much more exciting to hitch a ride on a cable car. We chugged up the hill, taking in the sights and smiling every time the driver sounded the famous bell. The second we stepped off the cable car, my kiddo immediately asked to go back on again. 

RELATED: Free Museum Days for Kids in San Francisco 

San Francisco Cable Cars Guide: San Francisco Cable Car Museum 
Learn about the history of cable cars at the always-free SF Cable Car Museum. Photo by Gina Ragland

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

Want to learn more about San Francisco cable cars? The San Francisco Cable Car Museum is one of the many free things to do with kids in San Francisco and is open daily (except Mondays).

Located on Mason Street, not far from the California and Mason stop (on the California line), this museum is the perfect place to learn more about the invention of San Francisco's historic cable cars.

Kids will love the collection of cable cars, interesting exhibits, and old photographs, which won't take more than an hour. Visit the gift shop (but bring cash) to pick up a family souvenir to remember your day riding the iconic San Francisco cable cars with loved ones. 

Places featured in this article:

San Francisco Cable Car Museum