When I was a kid, it seemed like there were arcades everywhere. I spent plenty of allowance money on playing games like X-Men, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Gradius III, Wing Wars, The Simpsons and 1942 at local arcades. Video game arcades have not been especially popular for years, which is a shame for people like me that don’t invest much time or money into home video game consoles.
Fortunately for me, I live in San Francisco. The Bay Area, along with New York and Austin, has a few great spots for people who enjoy the social and competitive aspects of arcade gaming. This article will introduce you to three of these places and explain exactly why they’re worth your time if you’re one of those people (like me) who never quite grew out of the magic of video game arcades.
Named after the fictional city that serves as a setting for many of SNK’s classic games, Southtown Arcade is located at 447 Stockton Street in San Francisco. It’s a small and often crowded space to be sure, but it serves as a central hub for the city’s fighting game community. Once you’re situated and actually playing a game, Southtown is a friendly and comfortable spot—but make sure you’re prepared for stiff competition if you’re there during a tournament. Southtown features game such as Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Super Streetfighter IV (one of the first places in America, if not the only place, to get the board upgrade to ‘Super’), Chaos Code and my personal favorite—Macross II! Southtown also sells an array of cool hoodies and t-shirts.
The owners put it best, “Southtown Arcade is a lifestyle/apparel company inspired by Arcade Video Game culture, independent skateboarding apparel of the 1990′s and modern streetwear. We firmly believe that there is a place for Arcade Video Games and Street Culture in the modern era, and that place is Southtown.”
Musée Mécanique is a museum just as much as it is an arcade. Located at Pier 45 on Fisherman’s Wharf, it is something of a tourist destination—but there’s a very good reason for that. It hosts a variety of coin-fed attractions from the 20s and 30s, such as machines that recreate executions and show off mechanical horses running in place. There’s even a coin-fed opium den simulator. There are plenty of actual arcade games from yesteryear as well, such as boxing, baseball and bowling. They’ve got on array of retro and vintage arcade games and pinball machines (some with the ‘not for minors’ stickers still on them!) so you can soak up the nostalgia from any era. I enjoy that I can still play Sunset Riders there any time I want to, because it’s just better on an arcade machine than it is on Sega Genesis. Travelers and visitors should be warned, however, that the Wharf is sometimes a haven for people who prey on tourists—never leave your bags unattended while playing games here.
Gamecenter is located at 47 S B Street in San Mateo, a mere 20 miles away from San Francisco. It’s super easy to access from the Caltrain is in a pretty much central location downtown, so there’s no reason not to visit even if San Mateo is not a regular destination for you. Gamecenter is closer in feel and size to Southtown than it is to Musée Mécanique, but there are a ton of great gaming options here. The owner himself is super friendly and will take an active interest in whatever you’re playing, so be prepared to make a new friend. Gamecenter uses a prepaid card system for its games and is extremely affordable. Their traditional arcade games include Puzzle Bobble, Metal Slug 3, Virtua Cop 3 and Street Fighter III. They also feature several PS3 cabinets, which can include Tekken 6, Gran Turismo 5 and Gundam Extreme Vs (I’m a sucker for giant robot games, especially of the 4 player variety).
Video game arcades still give us the unique opportunity of leaving the house and socializing while we play games, instead of staying glued to our couches in a darkened room. All three of these arcades are very friendly and welcoming to visitors, travelers and city residents. Though there aren’t too many options for video game arcades in the Bay Area, the ones we do have are keeping the culture alive in a big way. Play in a tournament, play casually or just watch your friends play—but whatever you do, make sure you budget enough quarters for Macross II Score Attack!
Wesley McDonald is a proud San Franciscan who enjoys blogging about travel, culture, the hospitality industry and life in the city. He’s an avid traveler and music fan. He is an online publisher for experts San Francisco hotel experts sanfranciscohotelguides.com.