The Most Unusual Museums In The SF Bay Area

Winchester Mystery House | © Doug Letterman/Flickr
Winchester Mystery House | © Doug Letterman/Flickr
Photo of Natalie Savio
9 February 2017

Looking for some offbeat attractions for a quick visit to the San Francisco Bay Area or something out of the ordinary for locals to do? Here is a guide to the most unusual museums in the Bay Area, from old arcade games to haunted houses and even banned toys.

Musée Mécanique

From 10:00 in the morning to 8:00 at night, Musée Mécanique is open all 365 days of the year with free admission. With over 200 pieces, Musée Mécanique holds the world’s largest privately owned collection of old arcade games, from coin-operated musical instruments to antique arcade machines that are still operable. There are several change machines throughout the museum so customers can convert their dollars into change to play any of the games, ranging from one cent to one dollar. The arcade games are in their original condition and vary from the classic fortune teller machines to musical puppets and even picture shows.

Musée Mécanique, Pier 45, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 346 2000

Ripley’s Believe It or Not

Ripley’s Believe It or Not San Francisco location has a lot to offer in terms of unusual artifacts on display and jaw-dropping facts on both animals and humans. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium is an ode to what’s odd; with over 10,000 square feet of space, the museum has 17 themed galleries and more than 400 exhibits and artifacts. At the museum, customers can discover an elephant with two trunks, a man with three legs, duct tape art, a mummified foot, and much more. There is also a candy and toy factory, but what makes San Francisco’s location special is the interactive features: the Mirror Maze and Laserace. The Mirror Maze is quite literally a room full of mirrors in which customers need to navigate their way out – search parties are sent every half hour for those who can’t find the exit. Likewise, Laserace is also a maze, but customers can see where they are going as they try to bend and jump over green lasers to obtain a record time.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not, 175 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 202 9850

Winchester Mystery House

Building, Museum
Map View
Winchester Mystery House © Mike Shelby/Flickr
Winchester Mystery House | Mike Shelby / Flickr
The owner of the Winchester Mystery House, Sarah L. Winchester, bought and designed the mansion after the death of her infant daughter in 1866 and her husband in 1881, leaving her with 20 million dollars. Mrs. Winchester believed that she was being haunted, and in an attempt to either cope with that idea or to please the evil spirits, she continued to construct and reconstruct her house for 38 years, up until her death in 1922. Although she paid her workers more than a fair wage, donated to several charities, and even let children play on her front lawn, she also liked her privacy, which is why the gardener’s first job was to plant a tall hedge around the property; it’s also more than likely the reason why she wore a black veil over her face. Mrs. Winchester hired round-the-clock builders to continue work on the complex, turning it into 161 acres of farmland with elaborate fruit gardens and a seven-story mansion. Besides Mrs. Winchester’s bizarre story, the most unusual part about the mansion is its unique architecture: stairs that cut off at ceilings, hallways and doors that lead to nowhere, secret passageways, chimneys that don’t meet the roof, and more. Mrs. Winchester rarely sketched anything out; she just met with her lead builder in the morning to go over any changes she would like done – sometime changing rooms that were just finished; hence, why between 500 and 600 rooms were built but only 160 are present. The most elaborate furnishings and fixtures that Mrs. Winchester could buy were placed into the home – some not even making it to their locations because of the continuous renovations. The most compelling reason to visit though, is that the mansion is supposedly haunted, which is why Mrs. Winchester went to such great lengths to keep construction going – to please the ghosts.

Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia

The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia has every Pez candy dispenser every sold; that’s over 900 unique characters totaling 1,000 pieces starting from 1950. Both modern and vintage Pez dispensers can be purchased in the gift shop, which displays a nearly eight-foot-tall snowman dispenser – the largest in the world. In 2015, LEGO Minifigures were added to the museum, with 1,200 on display and for sale. The company believes LEGO Minifigures, first released in 1978, will outnumber humans in 2019. The Burlingame Pez Museum also has a Classic Toy Museum and a Banned Toy Museum, described below.

Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, 214 California Dr, Burlingame, CA, USA, +1 650 347 2301

Banned Toy Museum

The Banned Toy Museum is an extension of the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia mentioned above. The Banned Toy Museum features toys that were pulled off the market because either they were offensive, received complaints, and/or hazardous. For example, there is a Snacktime Kid Cabbage Patch Doll that had real chewing features and would continue to chew even if a child got his or her hair or finger stuck in the doll’s mouth. There are lawn darts that were also deemed dangerous seeing as they were essentially large metal pointed darts that kids would throw without much aim. Lastly, the Spanish Barbie was recalled because several people wrote to complain that she was wearing a matador costume.

Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, 214 California Dr, Burlingame, CA, USA, +1 650 347 2301

Cartoon Art Museum

The Cartoon Art Museum holds contemporary cartoon pieces from the historical and creative process from designers to preliminary sketches to several cartoon art forms including comics, digital animation, illustration, and video games. With over 6,000 original cartoon and animation pieces, the Cartoon Art Museum is the only museum in the Western United States dedicated to this distinct art form. The museum also has a research library, classroom space, and five galleries. Customers can not only experience the museum but also attend lectures, book signings, cartoon workshops, and talk to professionals in the field.

The Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 227 8666

Beat Museum

Map View
Beat Museum
Beat Museum | © Shubert Ciencia/Flickr
The Beat Museum is less unusual than the museums previously mentioned, but it is still exceptional in the fact that it exhibits memorabilia exclusively from The Beat Generation, which is an era of writers, artists, and thinkers who gathered in San Francisco during the 1950s. The museum includes original letters, manuscripts and first editions, and other artifacts from the time period.
By Natalie Savio

Natalie was born and raised in the south bay, San Jose, and is currently on her senior year studying Architecture and English writing at the University of San Francisco. She is back in San Francisco after studying abroad in London, UK. She enjoys writing, painting, singing, and exploring new places and TV shows.