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San Francisco's Old-Fashioned Arcade Museum

"Fun for all ages" isn't a trite expression when describing San Francisco's Musée Mécanique, a truly unique penny arcade museum containing one of the largest privately owned collections of antique coin-operated mechanical musical instruments in the world -- 160 machines dating back from the 1880s through the present (and they still work!). You can pay Grand-Ma Fortune Teller a quarter to see what she has to say about your future, or watch little kids cower in fear as Laughing "Fat Lady" Sal gives her infamous cackle of a greeting. Other yesteryear seaside resort games include antique movie machines, 19th-century music boxes, old-school strength testers, and mechanical cranes. The museum is located at Pier 45 at the end of Taylor Street at Fisherman's Wharf (tel. 415/346-2000; www.museemechanique.org).

Free Culture

To beef up attendance and give indigent folk like us travel writers a break, almost all of San Francisco’s art galleries and museums are open free to the public 1 day of the month, and several never charge admission. You can use the following list to plan your week around the museums’ free-day schedules.

First Tuesday

  • Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
  • de Young Museum
  • Legion of Honor
  • Contemporary Jewish Museum

First Sunday

  • Asian Art Museum

Free Random Days (Check Individual Websites)

  • Exploratorium
  • California Academy of Sciences

Always Free

  • Cable Car Museum
  • Glide Memorial United Methodist Church
  • Museé Mechanique
  • Maritime National Historical Park & Museum ($5 to board ships)
  • Wells Fargo History Museum

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.