5 Unique Locations In San Francisco For Curious Travelers

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco in California is known for the Golden Gate Bridge, its steep hills and Alcatraz, but there are a number of other unique attractions too. Here we look at five of the most unique locations for curious travelers in San Francisco.

1. Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze, San Francisco Bay


Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze
Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze
Hidden away in a nondescript building on Pier 39 is a psychedelic mirror maze, consisting of a disorienting series of columns and mirrors. The maze is lit by blacklight and flashing neon, while its background sound is rave music.

Patrons stumble around with their arms outstretched, often finding themselves smacking straight into their own reflection. On spotting another visitor, they shriek, while asking if they are real or part of the illusion.

According to the founder of Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze, the labyrinth is “one part art, one part science.”

2. Peephole Cinema

Peephole Cinema, San Francisco
Peephole Cinema
Hidden away in the heart of the Mission District is a literal hole-in-the-wall theater. Meanwhile, this is one of three peephole cinemas, with the other two located in Los Angeles and New York. Peeking through a hole in the wall at 280 Orange Alley, people are treated to a constant stream of silent film vignettes.

Moreover, the endless loop of short films and animations runs day and night. However, it is recommended to visit during the daylight hours as the alley does get very dark at night. It is difficult to spot the peephole, but if you look closely, there is a small sign with an eye on it, dangling down from a rust-red wall. Meanwhile, the sign is similar to that pictured below at the Los Angeles Peephole Cinema.

Peephole Cinema, Los Angeles
Peephole Cinema, Los Angeles
This tiny theater is the brainchild of Laurie O’Brien who created the Peephole Cinema in 2013. O’Brien, who originally trained as an animator, wanted a novel way to showcase films. Even better, this silent film experience is free.

3. Musée Mécanique, San Francisco


Musée Mécanique
Musée Mécanique
One of the last remaining links to San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach amusement park, Musée Mécanique is a wonderland for people of all ages. Here, an amazing range of hands-on arcade or vintage coin-operated machines is on display. The collection belongs to Edward Galland Zelinsky and consists of more than 300 mechanical entertainment devices. Meanwhile, the collection includes antique slot machines, mechanical orchestras, fortune tellers and vintage peep shows with flipbooks of hula dancers.

In the center of the room is a massive diorama of a traveling carnival, complete with a Ferris wheel and other rides. Another gem is a steam-powered motorcycle circa 1912 and made in Sacramento.

Zelinsky started his collection at the age of 11 and has been collecting and trading machines ever since. The museum was originally part of the attractions of Playland at the Beach and has moved a couple of times. Meanwhile, these days the collection is housed in the Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco.

4. Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Wild parrots of Telegraph Hill
Wild parrots of Telegraph Hill
Normally, we associate wild parrots with tropical jungles, but surprisingly, there is a flock of green wild parrots living in the heart of urban San Francisco. The flock began in 1990 when a pair of cherry-headed conures escaped, making their home on Telegraph Hill. They were joined by other escaped parrots and the flock continued to grow. Meanwhile, by 2005, it was estimated that there were more than 200 wild parrots.

Nowadays, wild parrots are often spotted elsewhere in San Francisco. However, the best place to spot them is by navigating the Filbert Steps. Residents’ gardens that line the staircase make the perfect urban jungle for the birds.

5. Short Story Vending Machine, San Francisco

A wonderful trend that started in France has now arrived in San Francisco. For those catching a train or plane with nothing to read, the Short Story Vending Machine at 916 Kearny Street has the perfect solution. With just the touch of a button, you can get a free short story. The Distributeur d’Histoires Courtes (Short Story Vending Machine) was invented in France by a publishing business dubbed Short Edition. However, now the machines can be accessed in 32 locations.

By choosing from three buttons, readers can choose the preferred length of the story – either one, three, or five minutes. The story will then be automatically printed out from the dispenser. Moreover, a variety of genres are available, including horror, fairy tales and humor. Meanwhile, the randomness of the stories available makes it part of the fun.

The stories themselves aren’t the work of famous published authors but are rather written by everyday folk. Each story comes from a database of thousands of user-submitted shorts by amateur writers looking for exposure. You can even submit your own story to be shared with others.

The Short Story Vending Machines are located in train stations, airports, city halls and libraries all over France. However, San Francisco’s machine can be found at Café Zoetrope.

Enjoy these and many more unique locations on your next visit to San Francisco.

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Anne Sewell

Freelance writer and travel writer who has lived in Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa, now living happily on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain.

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