Musée Mécanique: Show Your Grandchildren What You Did for Fun When You Were Their Age!

“We will take you on a journey from turn of the century hand cranked music boxes to modern video arcade games. This is a trip down memory lane. It is a chance to show your children or grandchildren what you did for fun when you were their age. Before video games at home, perhaps before television, perhaps what you remember sitting in your grandparent’s parlor.” – Musée Mécanique

free museum in san francisco

musée mécanique

Musée Mécanique (Mechanical Museum) is said to be one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of mechanically operated musical instruments and antique arcade machines.

Masood and I were at the Fisherman’s Wharf doing touristy things and had no prior knowledge about this museum that’s on Pier 45 at the end of Taylor Street. Both of us aren’t into arcade games and such, so I wasn’t really interested until I saw the Free Admission sign. Masood, on the other hand, didn’t care even if it was free. I grabbed his hand and pulled him in, insisting that I needed to blog about this museum.

mechanical museum

display at the mechanical museum

Stepping inside this museum felt like being transported back in time, somewhere eerie and mysterious. This place is home to a large collection of over 300 vintage arcade games, so I’m sure that those who are interested in these types of things would be highly fascinated. My honest opinion? It felt like entering a haunted house.

english executioner

They have the French Execution game too, if I remember correctly. The characters are all so very scary that I did not bother taking their pictures! The collection includes the frightening Laffing Sal, the eerie Corn Cob Gulch Clown, the chilling Opium Den, the spooky Organ Grinder, the creepy Royal Court Yard, amongst others.

Next time your grandparents bemoan the horrendous amount of violence in today’s video games, remind them of this post.

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These machines are all in working condition, by the way. While the museum is free, the games aren’t. Games range between 1¢ to $1, with most typically costing 25¢ to 50¢ so if you’re into 19th and 20th century arcade games, don’t forget to bring lots of quarters with you.

It was around eleven in the morning when we visited and, although it was warm and bright outside, it felt cold inside the museum. It did not help that I felt like constantly being watched, like several pairs of eyes were looking at every move that I made – what with all these creepy dolls and their unearthly smiles, nicely complimented by the sounds of some weird carnival music fading in and out from the activated amusements.

the carnival

I must admit that the details on some of the games are pretty impressive. One of the most impressive machines featured in this museum is this very large mechanized carnival from 1920—complete with running ferris wheel, a brass band, cotton candy maker, midway games, etc.

When you enter, you can use their change dispenser to trade in your dollar bills for coins. The various mechanical games include Stereoscopes, Love-o-Meters, mechanical marionettes, and a myriad of other characters and attractions which also, by the way, include burlesque peep show on varying themes – all of which come to life with a simple drop of a coin.

free museum in san francisco

the magic chair

After taking a few pictures, I started heading out of the building. Masood was feeling uncomfortable with most of the displays and he wanted to leave. I must admit, Laffing Sally was scaring me too.

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I welcomed the fresh air and bright light once we stepped out of the museum, feeling relieved to be back in present time.

While this place can both fascinate and scare you, I suppose the best thing about this museum is that it lets you interact with every piece inside their doors.

Musée Mécanique

Open 365 days a year – Admission is Free – Open from 10 am to 8 pm

Pier 45 at the end of Taylor Street
Fisherman’s Wharf
San Francisco, CA 94133
Tel: (415) 346-2000

All the coin-operated games are available to play. Prices range from 1¢ to $1. Most games cost 25¢ to 50¢. Also, don’t worry if you haven’t brought your own quarters, they have change machines throughout the building.

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