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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Its cable cars the original San Francisco treat

A  cable car makes it way up San Francisco's Hyde Street leaving the Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood behind 

There’s rarely time enough to experience all of San Francisco, so I chose my free time carefully when I was recently in town for a conference.
Riding the cable car is always near the top of my list, so when I discovered that San Francisco is now part of the CityPASS program I jumped at the opportunity. The program collects must-see attractions and bundles them with unlimited Cable Car rides plus  Muni buses and rail for seven days. It also includes a one-hour Bay cruise, an aquarium visit and a visit to either the Exploratorium or the de Young Museum.
So folks like me, in town for a conference, can make the best use of whatever free time is available.
I checked into the Mystic Hotel by Charlie Palmer on Union Square, grabbed a map and discovered the cable car line was really close. What’s more, CityPASS had left a ticket book for me with the front desk. I had a really bad cold and wanted nothing more than to hop into bed, but I just couldn’t resist the cable car.
So I walked a few flat blocks to reach the tracks, alternating Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde cable cars. The two lines split  on the other side of Nob Hill at Washington and Mason near the Cable Car Museum and each went its own way toward Fisherman’s Wharf. I was on the Powell-Hyde line which ended up closer to Ghiradelli Square.

The city’s cable car line dates to 1873 when metal rope manufacturer Andrew Hallidie  felt sorry of the overworked horses carrying passengers up and down the city’s many hills and invented a better way. The cable cars became so popular  that at one time eight companies operated a total of 22 lines in San Francisco.
Today there are 41 cable cars in service each with a capacity of 60 people. In a year, more than 7 million people ride the cable cars.
Eleven miles of cable runs beneath the city’s streets, moving at a steady 9.5 miles-an- hour. Each car is operated by a grip and a conductor, the grip operating  the device that grasps hold of the moving cable beneath the street to haul the car uphill. He and the conductor operate the brakes to slow the cars down on their downhill run.
The grade is 17 percent over Nob Hill and 21 percent along Hyde Street, so it’s definitely a fine option to walking and a bit of a thrill ride for kids.
It was a fine spring day and I wanted to be among those hanging onto the car’s upright poles to ride on the outside of the car. As another car approached, the grip warned us to suck it in so as not to sideswipe the passengers hanging onto the approaching car. But my cold caused a fit of coughing and soon I was back inside sitting safe and secure on a wooden seat as other passengers moved away from me.
Stops are every few blocks and passengers need to watch for cars as they disembark.
I got off at the Cable Car Museum, which is where  the cars arrive and depart daily. One can look down onto pulleys which thread the cable through big figure-eights and back into the system The museum also has one of the very first cable cars and exhibits  which show how it operates. A fine little gift shop offers unique souvenirs, including a cable car  bell I now have on a wall next to my back door.
Learn more about cable cars and other San Francisco treats at  Read the May 11 Travel to discover  a walking tour of of one of the city's oldest city neighborhoods.

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