Musée Mécanique

A Coin Operated Time Capsule

There is no place on earth quite like San Francisco’s Musée Mécanique. Boasting the largest collection of coin operated musical and arcade machines in the world, it acts as a time capsule to a vanished period, allowing visitors to explore the sort of entertainments available era before computers, televisions, and smartphones.

The Mécanique stems from the collecting passion of one man: Edward Galland Zelinsky. Back in the 1930’s, he bought his first coin-operated machine, and in the decades that followed he continued to buy, trade, and restore his way to over 300 antique arcade pieces, including coin operated pianos, gigantic animated dolls, barbershop quartets, pinball machines, arm wrestlers, fortune tellers, slot machines, orchestrions, a Ferris wheel made out of toothpicks by a prisoner of San Quentin, and a steam-powered motorcycle. Individually, each of these items contains an element of magic—together, they put Hogwarts to shame.

But this museum isn’t just about looking. Every one of the items in the building remains fully functional, and for a few coins visitors can play the games, make the orchestrions sing, and watch the miniature scenes come to life. The point of the Mécanique isn’t just to inform visitors about the history of mechanical machines. It exists to delight us, to make us pause in our hectic days and indulge in a simple version of play. What reason other than laughter makes us put a penny into the Sex Appeal Meter, a few nickels into the Gottlieb Fun Land pinball machine, or a quarter into the animatronic Drinking Man? We want the somewhat pure feeling of joy these forgotten toys bring to us, and they can’t help but satisfy that desire.

A visitor to the Mécanique won’t walk through dimly lit rooms reading plaques and looking at roped-off canvases. Instead, they will find row after row of games, a labyrinth of amusement where the ringing of old bells and the plinking of player pianos provides a constant soundtrack.

Admission is free, and the Mécanique remains open 365 days a year. The price of each game ranges from 1 cent to 1 dollar, and most games are 25 or 50 cents, making this museum one of the most cost friendly in all of San Francisco. Located at Pier 45 on Fisherman’s Wharf, the Musée Mécanique stays open from 10:00am to 7:00pm Monday through Friday, and 10:00am to 8:00pm on Saturday, Sunday, and Holidays. You can find more information at

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