By Leila N’Amara
Usually, we stick to guided minibus and electric bike tours through San Francisco. But we also love to partner with Urbanist, a page dedicated to explore the world’s cities. And by “partner with”, we mean “takeover their live stream walking tours”!
We’ll be exploring something hidden in one of San Francisco’s most popular neighborhoods — Fisherman’s Wharf. While the Wharf is one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of California, it’s surprisingly home to one of the most authentic experiences San Francisco has to offer, the Musée Mécanique (open daily 10am – 8pm).
A HUNDRED YEARS OF ARCADE GAMES
Over 300 coin operated antique arcade games in working conditions makes this penny arcade one of the biggest privately owned collections of its kind. But what really sets Musée Mécanique apart? This iconic site in San Francisco is one of the only museums where you are ENCOURAGED to touch the exhibits! How else are you suppose to play an arcade game??
This essential San Francisco site can seem overwhelming with hundreds of attractions to choose from. You really can’t go wrong wandering around with a pocket full of quarters. But, for reference, here are some of the best (and best of the worst) at the Musee Mecanique in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf!
Most Terrifying Attraction: Laughing Sal
Terrifying the denizens of San Francisco since the original days of Musee Mecanique at the now defunct Playland at the Beach. This towering, six foot/two meter tall, gapped tooth ginger simply tosses herself back and forth while a laugh track plays. We still haven’t figured out what makes her so creepy. But you can always spot the local San Franciscans — because they always steer clear of Laughing Sal.
Don’t Waste Your Quarter: End of Trail
Seriously. All this machine has is a fan. That’s it. A fan that blows some fabric. The owner, and son of original collector, Dave had to install wooden panels at the base of this machine since so many people were kicking it in frustration.
Can’t Get Enough Of: The Carnival
With over 100 individual moving parts you just might need to watch this one a few times to catch them all! Bonus points if you show up to the museum after dark, this one looks incredible after dusk.
Most Famous Attraction: Arm Wrestler
During filming for the “The Princess Diaries” Julie Andrews blew away co-star Anne Hatheaway and the entire film crew when the British dame won this mechanical match. Owner ____ ___ says “[the director] thought I made it easier for her”, but he swears , “I didn’t”.
Totally Worth the Extra Quarters: Photo Booth
Old school black and white photo booth strip? Totally worth it!
Wow, That’s Really Inappropriate: French Execution. No, the English Execution. Or maybe it’s the Chinese Opium Den. Yup, it’s the Opium Den.
Fair warning: this museum has some pieces that definitely aren’t appropriate for a 21st century viewing. But honestly, what good museum doesn’t??
More Than Meets the Eye: Cry Baby Machine
This is an easy one to pass right by without thinking twice. But this is life imitating art. The original track for this crying baby was damaged. So, the current owner, and son of the man who began the collection displayed at Musee Mecanique, recorded his own infant son crying at 3am to replace the missing audio track.
BEST PLACES TO EAT NEAR FISHERMAN’S WHARF
The Classic Option: Boudin’s Bakery
You know how champagne is really only champagne if it’s from the Champagne region of France? San Francisco sourdough is kinda the same way. You haven’t really tried sourdough bread until you’ve tried Boudin’s. Superlatives aside, there is a lactid acid found only in sourdough bread called lactobacillus san francisco. This city is serious about sourdough because Isidore Boudin created the first batch of sourdough bread during the Gold Rush. And that original “mother dough” that Isidore Boudin made, has been their secret ingredient for almost 200 years. Every new batch of sourdough is made with portions of that mother dough, so you can literally taste that original batch Boudin made during the Gold Rush.
Make it A Date: Fog Harbor Fishhouse
Looking for some waterside dining with unbeatable views of the Golden Gate Bridge? Be sure to grab some reservations at Fog Harbor Fish House! This Pier 39 staple is also a true family run restaurant, with three generations of the Simmons serving up sustainable seafood. Check what time the sunsets, and make your reservation about 30 minutes before for the best views!
Liquid Lunch: The Buena Vista
It use to be the only place you could get an Irish Coffee was — you guessed — Ireland. Specifically the Shannon Airport. This coffee and whiskey cocktail is topped with floating cream. Which is harder to reproduce than you think! Even with countless trips to Ireland the original owner of The Buena Vista couldn’t crack the code behind the floating cream. It took the help of a San Francisco diary farmer turned mayor to finally figure out the secret to this cocktail.
GETTING TO FISHERMAN’S WHARF
Exploring the Musee Mecanique one of the most fun things to do in San Francisco for free! Whether you’re arriving by boat, train or car — here’s how to get to Fisherman’s Wharf to see the Musee Mecanique at Pier 45.
By boat: Sail into Pier 41 or the Ferry Building
If you’re coming from the North Bay or East Bay, this might be the most scenic route available. You can catch ferries from Sausalito, Larkspur, Alameda & Oakland into San Francisco through the day, any time of the year. Pier 41 is right in the middle of Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39. The Ferry Building is farther down the Embarcadero, near the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, but is only a 30 minute walk away. The F Market Streetcar is also an easy way to make it the rest of the way!
By train: Ride the historic F Market Streetcar
Do you know anyone who collects something — maybe comics, coins or stamps? How about historic streetcars? That’s right, the city of San Francisco collects historic streetcars from across the globe. We didn’t have enough of these beautifully restored streetcars to run service everyday. So, we started reaching out to other cities to purchase retired streetcars. If you’re coming from Union Square or any of the downtown BART stops, you can hop on one of these streetcars from Milan, Melbourne or even Philadephia to get into San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf!
By drop off: Catch a pedicab, regular cab or your favorite ride share
On weekends, holidays and (pretty much) all of summer the F Market Streetcar can be so crowded the train won’t even stop — it will just cruise on by. This is where pedicabs comes in. Also, if you thought you didn’t mind walking the 30 minutes from the Ferry Building to Fisherman’s Wharf, but then changed your mind. You can also hail a real cab. Don’t try to flag one down, unless your outside of a hotel it won’t work. You’ll need to call the cab company or open up the app for your favorite ride sharing company.
[Featured Image by Aude Lising via Flickr]