While walking past Pier 45 at Fisherman's Wharf some might think they are passing an insane asylum as a loud, eerie laugh pierces the darkness and leaves a sense of horror in the air. As you approach Taylor Street an "Ahahahahaha" maniacally reverberates from a six-foot mechanical red-headed, freckled doll that falls forward then straightens back up. Whether Laffing Sal was made to annoy adults, frighten children, or just lure them to the amusement park is unclear but either way, Laffing Sal, the gatekeeper of the Musee Mecanique, still does her job, enticing adults of all ages to what is possibly one of San Francisco's quirkiest hidden treasures.
The Musee Mecanique, or mechanical museum, harkens back to San Francisco's Coney Island-- Playland-By-the-Sea. When Playland started out in the 1880's, "mechanical" was almost synonymous with "magical." In an era where candlelight and horses still were main sources of visibility and power, the new science of using mechanics bordered on witchcraft to some. So, Laffing Sal drew tourists into play games of chance and skill, ride carousels and roller coasters for a mere penny.
Playland-by-the-Sea is gone now. High Rise buildings have taken its place. But thanks to a man named Edward Zalensky who began collecting these perpetual motion machines, and Dan Zalensky who now runs the free museum which show cases them, visitors can step back in time and be just as awed as those who first saw these mechanical shows. Don't be fooled by the word "free", however. While there is no admission, visitors will find themselves plunking quarters in to operate the (usually) well-maintained machines at a higher rate than they anticipated. By pumping quarters into the machines, you'll get more amusement than you bargained for.
In addition to circuses, ball rooms, and monkey bands all moving in miniature, the museum houses a 1912 steam motorcycle, the only one in existence, as well as self-playing organs, moving photo shows, strength testers and other old-time carnival games. Rows and rows of classic arcade video games, and pinball machines also line the interior. From Ms. Pacman to Star Wars, Robotron to Death Race, the museum offers a veritable trip back to the 1980's as well as the 1880's, and every decade in between.
- Monday through Friday: 10am to 7pm
- Saturday and Sunday: 10am to 8pm
- Holidays: 10am to 8pm
- Muni Stop:
- F-Market Streetcar, Powell-Mason Cable Car, 9X San Bruno, 10 Townsend, 19 Polk, 30 Stockton, 39 Coit, 47 Van Ness
- Location: Pier 45 at the end of Taylor Street, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA
- Phone: 415-346-2000
- Website: www.museemecaniquesf.com/visit.php