Revisiting the Coin-Op Delights of Musée Mécanique

Fisherman’s Wharf is an icon of San Francisco, with both the hustle and bustle of the still active fishing community along side tourists who run in and out of the various restaurants, shops, and museums. Nestled next to the iconic Grotto restaurant is my favorite place in all of San Fransisco, Musée Mécanique, an astounding arcade filled with antique, vintage, and contemporary amusement machines, from games of skill to ones that spring to life to perform a little show to ones that spit out a little card telling you your future. So often items of such age (as there are many machines well over 100 years old here) are locked behind glass, or out of reach beyond a velvet rope, but here at Musée Mécanique you are welcome to put in a quarter and try your luck at a variety of games, or just be entertained by a puppet show or, for the more morbid minded, witness a miniature execution.

I first visited Musée Mécanique back in 2012, and each time I have gone back to San Fransisco I return, because it’s just that much fun. It’s also a prime example of how one person’s passion for something can bring joy to thousands. Edward Galland Zelinsky is the man who made all of this possible when he won a prize of five quarts of oil at a Bingo event at age 11. Being 11 and not having a car, he had no need for the oil, so he sold it to his piano teacher and bought a penny skill game, which entertained his friends and family alike. The pennies added up, providing him with money to spend, allowing him to continue to buy more amusement machines, and thus his collection grew over the decades. Some pieces are from former iconic arcades and places of amusement such as Playland, at the Beach and the Sutro Baths. The collection was available to the public at the iconic Cliff House for many years, before being forced to move as the result of a renovation in 2002, when it found its current home along Fisherman’s Wharf.

Entrance to Musée Mécanique, a red and white front, with red diamond shapes one either side of the door. Text above the door reads Musée Mécanique Entrance Antique Coin Operated Arcade.

A yellow sign tops a wooden machine, which reads "Kiss-O-Meter measure the thrill of your kiss" and features an illustration of a pair of lips kissing and two cupids.

Laughing Sal, a tall woman with golden ringlets, a small hat, and a big smile.

Williams Road=Racer game, a driving style game, with a circular indicator to show how you are as a driver, going from "try again, need practic, fair driver, average driver, good driver, excellent driver, supper driver, expert driver, super expert, perfect driver." Art on the machine features people watching an auto race.

Inside the Road Racer, which features a circular drum that rotates as a car remains stationary above a road in a desert landscape. In the game the drum rotates to simulate driving and the player moves the car to try and stay on the road.

Myself playing the Six Shooter Game which features an old west style gun that the player shoots.

An Olympics themed pinball machine features a female swimmer in a red swimsuit about to dive.

Entertainment style machine featuring a western style town and its citizens have a party. Text on the machine reads "Corn Cob Gulch Festival in the slot put yer dime and see the gulch's gay old time."

A brass plaque atop a wooden machine reads "Rajah Tells All"

A small shooting game that features a western town, the house shaped upper portion features the title in western style letters and a horseshoe, reads "Junior Deputy Sheriff Practice Range"

A vibrant yellow and orange strength game, with a large golden arm. The indicator goes on a scale of "Flower Child, Better Eat Your 'Wheaties,' Banana Crusher, O.K. as a Lover but Stay Away from your Mother-in-Law, Piano Mover, Nobody Better Fool Around with Your Gal" the title is along the bottom which reads "Midway's Golden Arm"

Myself seated on the "Throne of Love" which is painted red and has gold designs around the edge and has various indicator lights reading options such as "Wild Thing, Adorable, Hot Stuff, Sizzling Hot, Hotsy Totsy, Lovable, Passionate, A Sweet Hart, Bombshell"

Painted in blue letters on the lower half of a machine reads "Test Your Love!'

Entertainment style machine of an old western band, including a piano player, and people dancing. Text reads "The Old Barn Dance music by the Mountain Boys"

A viewing machine with artwork of a man in a turban watching two women dancing, text reads "A LOOK In the Sultain's HAREM"

My hand rests on a fortune telling machine that features small full pins that raise and "read" your palm. On my wrist a San Francisco themed charm bracelet, which features a shield reading "San Francisco" and a charm of a cable car is visible.

The French Execution with the curtain raise, a guillotine sits in the middle the the culprit has just had their head chopped off.

Four marionettes hang inside a machine with a sign above reading "The Barber Shop 'Quart'"

A close-up of a portion of a ferris wheel made of toothpicks.

Artwork of a female fortune teller holding a crystal ball and zodiac signs below.

Myself, peeking at a typewriter as it types out my fortune by itself! Instructions above read "1. Set the dial according to your birth sign. 2. Place hand on cabinet to establish mystic contact. 3. Insert coin into slot. Watch Zodi type your personal horoscope. 3. Horoscope delivered at bottom right side of cabinet."

Career choice machine with artwork of a captain at a ship's wheel, text on the wheel reads "Are you the captain of your fate?" and options above reads "Radio Artist, Beautician, Dishwasher, Cashier, Doctor, Nudist, Love Pirate, Movie Star, Lion Tamer, Dictator, Moocher, Stooge"

Ball Walk machine, where a ball exits a small hole and the player moves two rods away from each other attempting to get the ball as far down the walk without falling through the rods, the machine features artwork of a woman in a bikini on the right side.

A colorful love indicating machine reads "Sex Appeal Meter How attractive are you to the opposite sex?" A circular indicator has such options as "Innocent, Tempting, Naughty, Overrated, Fast Worker, Ice Box, No Pep, Teasing, Hart to Get, Hot Stuff, Passionate, Burning" In the background is a wizard hand shake machine.

Artwork atop a vintage pinball machine. Two blond women cheer on an auto race, text reads "Road Race"

Artwork from a game features women in skimpy space outfits.

Artwork from a game features women in skimpy space outfits.

A hobo holding a bottle sits in a cemetery in this spooky vignette machine.

Top of love indicator machine reading "Merry Go Round of Love How Do You Rate? How are You Doing?" and features couples kissing.

Inside a large circus vignette machine shows a wrestling match and a banner reading "Athletic Arena"

Inside a large circus vignette machine a photobooth is set up.

Artwork from a racing machine featuring two grim rippers in hot roads speeding away from a spooky looking house. Text made out of bones reads "Death Race"

A sculpted and painted Uncle Sam machine has a dial in the center to see if you're "Hot Stuff" and features an illustration of a topless woman and indicators such as "moderate, sweet, shy, warm, lovable, gay"

Artwork for a pinball machine which features a woman shooting a target at a carnival, text reads "Funland"

A vignette machine of Santa looking at a book and elves in the background working, gothic script at the top reads "Santa Claus Work Shop"

A gentleman bows from the Cactus Gulch Community Hall inside a small entertainment style machine.

From love testers to pinball machines to strength contests, there is something for everyone at Musée Mécanique. I personally love the fact they still have a good ol’ fashioned photobooth, the non-digital kind! I also love the fact their gift shop is a vending machine. Musée Mécanique is free to visit and there are plenty of change machines and an ATM to get those quarters! Also if pinball is more your thing, stay tuned for a visit to an incredible pinball museum!

Be entertained, enchanted, and amazed at Musée Mécanique at Pier 45 along Fisherman’s Wharf in San Fransisco.

What’s Nearby?

Alcatraz Island

Vertigo Filming Locations

Walt Disney Family Museum

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