To travel to San Francisco and not take the cable car ride is to miss out on one of the delights of the City by the Bay. The cable cars are extremely popular with visitors to the city — and why shouldn’t they be? The cable cars take different routes that allow you to explore some of the best locations in the city, sites such as Union Square, North Beach, Chinatown and the Fisherman’s Wharf. Even though locals often eschew this San Francisco treat, the cable car’s delightful vintage charm is wonderful if you have some time to take in the city at a traveler’s pace.

Whether you’re visiting the city alone, with friends or with your family, these cable cars are an affordable way to explore and enjoy the best of what San Francisco has to offer. If you have kids younger than 5 years old, you won’t have to pay their fare. You can save further by planning to take the car three or four times a day; that way, you can get an unlimited-ride passport and be able to get off at the best destinations in San Francisco.

So what should you expect on your trip? There are three possible routes you can take while riding the San Francisco cable cars. The first route runs between Powell at Market and Hyde at Jefferson. Among all the cable car tours you can take in San Francisco, this one is probably the best way to go, as it will take you through some of the interesting places in town, like Union Square, Chinatown, Lombard Street, the Cable Car Museum, and Ghirardelli Square. Its last stop is the waterfront at Hyde. Why should I visit those places, you ask? Read on:

First off, you start at Fisherman’s Wharf, which is just a few blocks from Ghirardelli Square—home of the famous chocolate and a heck of a lot of it. The Wharf is a tourist’s delight, with a boardwalk, music, restaurants, and sea lions basking on the rocks nearby. The best part of starting off from here is the Buena Vista Café, an old joint that serves a mean Irish coffee. It’s pretty darn tasty to wash down all that chocolate!

While traveling with your family, you’ll want to try to find seats together. That’s not an impossible feat; just try and catch the cable car at the turnaround points instead of catching one en route. If you take the front seats, your kids will have a blast throughout the thrilling ride. However, the ride can be chilly, so make sure that everyone has an extra jacket or blanket.

Next stop is Union Square. Unparalleled in the city, this square has incredible shopping (including the enormous flagship Banana Republic and more), restaurants, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Older children will love the gorgeous, thought-provoking work inside.

Another worthwhile trip you can take from Union Square is to the most famous hotel in San Francisco, the Palace Hotel. The Palm Court restaurant at the hotel and its exquisitely beautiful lobby are worth visiting, especially if you enjoy the finer things in life. But don’t linger too long in Union Square — you have a cable car journey to continue!

While hopping between cable car tours, you don’t want to miss Chinatown, just next door to Union Square. Get started at the Chinatown gate, which you can access through Union Square. From there, the first stop is Grant Avenue. While you’re there, be sure to take a gander at all the amazing signboards and decorations that are above eye level! In addition, during your visit to Chinatown, do indulge in some shopping from the Chinese markets. They are a great place to get a unique gift for friends back home and do some incredible people watching. It’s a true cultural adventure for the whole family. And don’t forget to pick up some fortune cookies from Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory — where fortune cookies were invented!

Once you’ve wound down beautiful Lombard Street, the curviest street in the U.S. and home to some pretty stellar urban foliage, you’ll be reaching the end of your cable car journey. If you’re a history buff, you’ll want to hit up the Cable Car Museum. At that point, you’ll find yourself back at the Fisherman’s Wharf. So grab a photo with the sea lions, take a look at the San Francisco Bay from the piers, and relish in the incredible day that the San Francisco cable car transport has offered you.

Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.

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