What is the difference between streetcars with cables, cable cars, trolleys and trolley tours?

Turns out, a lot.

Whenever John and I travel, we rarely do any of the typical tourist stuff. Mostly because we like the road less traveled, but also because we are not fans of big crowds.

But last week while tagging along with John on a work trip, I decided to go “full tourist” for a couple of days in San Francisco.

We stayed at a self-proclaimed “Elegant Hotel” near Union Square, called StayPineapple. Funny name, right? It is truly elegant and from the moment we arrived the customer service was fantastic.

We occupied a corner room on the top floor, which is the only way to go as most other rooms had windows facing another building.

The Drama Queen

However, having the best room in the house doesn’t mean you will have the best views; but at $280 a night you can’t expect much in the heart of San Francisco.

View from our room

John had to work all day the next two days, and I was on my own to explore the city.

Union Square

I walked the couple blocks from the hotel down to Union Square and bought a ticket on Big Bus Tours and took a seat up top in the cool misty air.

I came prepared for cold weather, as you need to in San Francisco no matter what time of year it is. I had on my wool sweater I bought in Ireland last year and knew it would keep me cozy even with the cool ocean breezes.

Ready to ride!

We toured from Union Square out to the Golden Gate Bridge and I loved hearing about the different districts of the city.

San Francisco City Hall
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge

We made our way back across the bridge and then down to Pier 39 where I got off to walk around and get a bite to eat. I learned that Pier 39 is the second most visited man-made attraction in the U.S. behind Disneyland.

View from the other side
Pier 39

After visiting Fisherman’s Wharf I decided to take the famous trolley back to Union Square instead of the tour bus. I asked someone where to find the Cable Cars and set off to find my new adventure.

Fisherman’s Wharf

What I found instead was a car with cables. I jumped on a vintage streetcar that is part of the electric public transportation, thinking I was on a “cable car”. Okay, I’ll admit I am a dork!

Vintage Streetcar – F-Line

Within two stops, the streetcar got so crowded I decided to get off to find my tour bus back home.

Back on Big Bus Tours
Coit Tower
Transamerica Pyramid
Streets of San Francisco
Check out that steep hill!

On the trip back, I noticed a Trolley bus tour on the street and thought that must be what I was looking for but when I told John that night, he shook his head no.

Trolley tour bus

The historic Trolley Cars/Cable Cars of San Francisco are on rails, not cables or tires. Confused? So was I.

The next day walking back to Union Square and taking a right on Powell, I followed the rails down to Market Street to find a huge line of people waiting to ride the Cable Car/Trolley. I learned (from John) that they are called cable cars because there is a moving cable underneath the streets that the cars hook onto to move forward.

Powell Street Trolleys

There are only 3 lines left of the 23 that were established between 1873 and 1890. It was a fun experience despite the nearly 45-minute wait in line. (I did grab a famous San Francisco treat while waiting, which helped.)

Waiting in line with a hot dog!
Heading up Powell Street
Back down to Fisherman’s Wharf
Ghirardelli Chocolate
A must stop is the Buena Vista for their world famous Irish Coffee

If you ever visit San Francisco I hope you get a chance to ride the Cable Cars/Trolleys, and I highly recommend standing on the edge and hanging on to get the full experience.

Ding Ding Ding Went the Trolley

As for me, I learned two things: one, I like to play tourist; and two, next time bring John with me.