San Francisco/Bay Area Arcades – A Definitive Guide

Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past decade-plus, one thing I’ve discovered is a trove of locations related to arcade-style gaming.

Whether it be classic amusement attractions, vintage or modern pinball, or arcade gaming, there’s some great stuff out here – both San Francisco arcades and others further afield.  So here goes:

[UPDATE V1.6: April 2015 – lots of misc additions/upgrades – & check out Bay Area Pinball Map for a good list of local pinball machines. Ping me via the contact page with updates or suggestions.]

Brewcade – San Francisco, CA – Fairly new, this barcade has 20+ classic games & 25 brews, ideally to be tried simultaneously! Sounds like the games are 50c a play and in fairly decent condition – in fact, most of them come from the now-closed Starbase Arcade in San Rafael. It’s not spotless like High Scores, but it is the Bay Area’s first ‘proper’ barcade, and for that it must be saluted!

California Extreme – Santa Clara, CA – an event that only happens in the South Bay once a year (tends to be in July!), but MUST be listed here due to the amount and rarity of arcade and pinball titles displayed. Hundreds of games are trucked in to the Hyatt’s ballroom, and I’ve blogged about some of the rarities before. But if you want to see 15-20 vector arcade machines all in a row, or some incredibly rare prototypes (Marble Madness 2?!), you need to make it here for the weekend.

Free Gold Watch – San Francisco, CA – A print shop in the center of SF that also includes a bunch of pinball machinesl (w/optional tournaments!) and a number of arcade games. Their latest pinball line-up – which is arguably the best in the area for ‘all-time great’ machines – should be at the Bay Area Pinball map – which I was unaware of, and is also super useful for mapping random pinball machines in bars/restaurants all over the area!

Golfland Sunnyvale – Sunnyvale, CA – Right down in the South Bay, this minigolf/arcade location was the original test arcade for a number of the U.S. arcade companies, including Capcom. Perhaps not what it used to be, but still has plenty of arcade games and a few pinball machines. (Also don’t miss the three other locations, with variable amount and quality machines, but all worth checking – Golfland San Jose, Golfland Milpitas, and Golfland Castro Valley.)

High Scores Arcade – Alameda, CA – Located in my home town here in the East Bay, and relocated from New Jersey (!), High Scores Arcade opened in July 2013 and has an awesome selection of nearly 30 classic arcade machines, concentrating on the old school (Donkey Kong! Frogger! Star Wars!), and including a bunch of multi-in-1 boards. The business model is ‘all you can eat’ for an hourly or daily fee, and the proprietors are major classic arcade fans who keep the machines super clean and are switching out machines regularly – highly recommended.

Musee Mecanique – San Francisco, CA – nowadays over by Fisherman’s Wharf, this long-standing SF institution has a wonderful selection of early amusement machines from a century or more ago. There’s a super-neat mechanical horse, a plethora of awesome dioramas, and all kinds of other neat vintage coin-operated machines you won’t see anywhere else. Recommended.

Pacific Pinball Museum – Alameda, CA – a grand total of 85 pinball machines in the current storefront East Bay location, with more than 50 machines also recently donated by the co-founder of Rhino Records. $15 gets you unlimited free play, and there’s an awesome collection of ’50s and ’60s pintables in this place – less ’90s and ’00s though. Gets a bit hot in summer, but a blast.

Playland Japan – San Francisco, CA – a tiny arcade in Japantown, in the main mall area. Looks like it has some rare/custom Japanese arcade games, including Taito’s table-tipping game? (You can twin your visit there with some of the other awesome local stores, including a big Kinokuniya bookstore and some fun model/toy stores.)

Playland Not At The Beach – El Cerrito, CA – fairly low-profile and only open on weekends, this East Bay venue (located just north of Berkeley) is actually a lovingly crafted tribute to amusement parks and circuses. It includes skill games, early Musee Mechanique-style dioramas, and a good selection of pinball machines old and new. One price gets you unlimited plays, although its v.kiddie-replete compared to most of the other venues here.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – Santa Cruz, CA – OK, quite a long way away from San Francisco (almost 2 hours, and you’ll need to take Highway 17 across the mountains), but the arcade is open pretty much year-round. In the main area, there’s a retro area with about 15-20 classic machines, and a great deal of other arcade games, many of them big sit-downs. Worth a visit.

SF Game Night – San Francisco, CA – strictly speaking not an arcade venue, but right now, SF Game Night takes over the Folsom St. Foundry twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday) with a bar, fighting game tournaments, Rock Band, and a host of home video games to play solo or against others. It’s an up and coming scene, and good luck to ’em!

One-liners on a few other notables:

Dave & Busters (Milpitas, CA) – located in the Great Mall, this arcade/eating chain has a lot of newer sitdown machines and gun games – obv. less hot on classic games, though.
Rack N Cue (San Francisco, CA) – pool joint at San Francisco State Uni, v.student-y, but 20+ decent arcade games.
Scandia Family Center/Scandia Funland (Fairfax/Rohnert Park, CA) – More suburban mini-golf, arcade, birthday party places along the same lines as Golfland.
Subpar Minigolf (Alameda, CA) – neato place, ft. an adorable 18-hole indoor mini-golf course starring Bay Area landmarks (Golden Gate Bridge, Oakland freeway potholes!) and a good smattering of arcade/pinball machines.

And rounding things out with the list of closed establishments, aw:

[CLOSED: Gamecenter Arcade – San Mateo, CA – the Peninsula ‘Japanese-style arcade’, focused around fighting games. Closed in September 2013; Southtown Arcade – San Francisco, CA, pictured above –  small but v.lovable ‘Japanese arcade experience’. Closed in 2012; Starbase Arcade (San Rafael, CA) – a seriously vintage arcade in the North Bay. Closed in August 2013. Malibu Grand Prix (Redwood City, CA) – your standard go-karting/arcade kind of place – closed 2013.]

[Photo of Southtown Arcade above taken by Xpress Magazine, which did a neat article on the venue.]

5 thoughts on “San Francisco/Bay Area Arcades – A Definitive Guide

  1. Thank you for this……im olde school arcade….my son is ….well a kid ….and arcades are a great way to kill a few hours…..and keep me entertained as well….would enjoy finding a great version of Missile Defense…..miss getting my hand jammed in the control ball

    You made the search easy and informative without being judgmental……well done

  2. Surprised Milpitas Golfland isnt on this list. They have the best miniature golf courses in the bay area, arcade games, snack bar, lazer tag arena and now a lazer maze. One of the best arcades in the bay areathat hasnt gone out of business.

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