Nov 142011

Vintage Streetcars of San Francisco

"Vintage San Francisco streetcar for Milan, Italy"

Milan, Italy – Built in 1928

San Francisco has two types of vintage transportation in operation today. A ride on the city’s famous cable cars is high on the list of most visitors. People love to stand on the running boards as they travel up and over the hills while a gripman rings the familiar bells. But also interesting and fun to experience are the city’s fleet of vintage streetcars from around the world.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Built in 1947

These “museums in motion” run on the F-line along the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf and down Market Street to the Castro District.

Milan, Italy - Built in 1928

In 1892 the first streetcars in San Francisco began operating south on Steuart Street from Market Street. Service reached a peak in the 1920s with 50 lines in operation, but by 1982 the last of the lines went into the subway system and the streetcars were retired.

Louisville, Kentucky - Built in 1948

A resurgence of the streetcar began in 1983 when Mayor Dianne Feinstein and business leaders introduced the Historic Trolley Festival. The festival brought vintage streetcars from around the world to San Francisco. It was supposed to be a one-time event, but was so popular that it was repeated and eventually led to full-time operation of the F-Market streetcar line in 1995. In March 2000, the F-line expanded service along the Embaracdero to Fisherman’s Wharf. Up to 20 of the fleet are in operation every day.

San Francisco - Built in 1948

The San Francisco Railway Museum is a small visitor center that complements the actual experience of riding on one of the streetcars. Inside you’ll find souvenirs, historic information, old railway system artifacts, and a replica of the motorman’s platform of a 1911 streetcar. It’s located at the Steuart Street F-line stop near the Embarcadero, across from the Ferry Building. Admission is free.

Railway Museum

For more information: Market Street Railway

  40 Responses to “Vintage San Francisco Streetcars: The F-line”

  1. If it weren’t for the modern cars or those buildings here and there, the way you isolated those carriages could make one believe these are vintage photos themselves.

  2. I love your description: museums in motion! Wow that sounds so great! I really like your photos 🙂 Thank you for visiting my post 🙂

    • Thanks, Nelieta, but I can’t take credit for “museums in motion” — the Railway Museum refers to them that way. So glad you enjoyed my photos!

  3. What a wonderful post, makes me want to rush to San Francisco and ride a trolley. Beautiful photos you have captured the essence of these machines beautifully. <3

  4. I’ve never ridden one of these in SF. They are great for photo ops though! 🙂

  5. The newer cable cars in SF are awesome, but these vintage ones take it to a whole new level! I really like old stuff, though (maybe I should open an antique store…), so perhaps I’m a little biased in preferring the older trolleys.

    • There’s something wonderful about how they can almost make you feel like you’re in another time. Those old streetcars have so much character & probably plenty of interesting stories to tell.

  6. What a fantastic way to see SF. Great shots.

  7. These are so interesting! I have been to San Francisco twice in the last year or so and never even saw this. I’ll definitely check them out when I go back. Thanks for sharing! I’m going to Stumble and Tweet this post.

    • Thanks for your comment, stumble and tweet! Do check the streetcars out next time. Go to the website to find the stops, fares, etc.

  8. Love these! Hard to believe they still run so well

    • They’ve really done a good job maintaining them. I understand that there are olthers in the fleet that they are working to get operational again, too.

  9. I truly thought these were old photos, until I saw a modern BMW following one of the trams!!! I saw some amazingly modern light rail carriages in Nice recently – do they have those too?

    • Cool that you thought they were old photos at first — thanks! Hard to keep modern vehicles and buildings out of the pics in a busy city!

  10. It’s so good to read a post like this which also shows many of SF’s iconic trams. I never knew they had so many different types! I wonder how many other cities have managed to hang on to their electric tramways?

  11. i love riding the f line…mostly because it brings me to Castro where Kasa Indian Eatery for my Kati Rolls…yummmmmmm 🙂

  12. San Francisco is great for vintage. I loved the cable cars when I was there.

  13. Cable cars are really a great way to get around

  14. What a cool topic to write about….first Michael’s bridge post and now this. Keep em coming, guys….I’m loving it!

  15. This is so interesting… I have always loved taking the trains to the wharf or castro district but had no idea about the history… just thought they were cool!

  16. I had forgotten about these streetcars! I’m pretty sure I’ve ridden in on on Market Street before though. You’re right, everyone knows about the cable cars but the F-line is cool too.

  17. San Francisco’s cable cars really set the city apart, I think. (Although more US cities should have them). These vintage ones looks very appealing. I notice a few are Italian; many of Oslo’s cable cars are Italian, as well. Italians must be good cable car designers.

    • I think you’re right about Italians designing good streetcars — there are three in the SF fleet that are from Italy. But besides the ones from throughout the U.S., there are also cars from Japan, Australia, Portugal, England and Switzerland

  18. Believe it or not, we have some of these in Sacramento! I will have to go back and research this but I think Sacramento had cable cars before San Francisco. Would be awesome if we used these in the city again.

  19. I often visit San Francisco, but believe it or not, I never got to ride one of these famous street cars. You really make me want to do it now. At least next time I’m in San Fran, I won’t pass up the opportunity. And I’m so glad to see older street cars in use, as oppose to making new ones. In Seattle, its basically all new – nice, but still without the character of the old.

  20. Really enjoy San Francisco a great city and the cars are really cool!!!


  21. Great shots, very interesting angle to cover in San Francisco 🙂

  22. Love these old cars. They take me back in time.

  23. Oh my god, those vintage buses look absolutely beautiful! I really like the curved design of the 50’s and 60’s, they are all cool!

  24. How neat! I didn’t even know about this and I’ve been to San Fran a few times!

  25. I really love the phrase “museums in motion” –that’s what they are! Loved the pictures too.

  26. Streetcars are a great way to enjoy San Francisco. In fact, it’s one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of San Francisco. Hopefully it will be in operation for years to come.

  27. Stunning shots! I really like these vintage buses, they look so amazing! That kind of design was pretty much better, those curves look more beautiful than the sharp edges of the modern automobile design.

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