A Barrel o’ Laughs at the Musee Mecanique

Creepy icon of the Musee Mecanique
Creepy icon of the Musee Mecanique

Back in the day, San Francisco’s Ocean Beach housed “Playland,” an amusement area like so many beachside fun zones of yester-year. Today, Ocean Beach has some beige clonish condos and apartments where Playland once stood, which may or may not represent progress depending on your attachment to “It’s It” ice cream sandwiches, arcade games, and skeeball.  

You can recapture this golden era of seaside fun at the Musee Mecanique, over at Fisherman’s Wharf.  The museum houses a collection of the penny arcade games that were over at Playland. (Along with some skeeball and more recent arcade games from the 1980s.) The best part is that, unlike a museum, you can still touch and play everything on exhibit!

It is worth a special trip over to the Wharf to see if you’re still good at Millipede, to watch a penny-pantomime called “Opium Den” from the early 20th Century, and of course, to hear the demonic, creepy cackle of the legendary Laughing Sal.

Cruise over to the Musee Mecanique at Pier 45, at the end of Taylor Street. If you want a preview of Sal’s demonic cackle, check out the Musee Mecanique’s site online at http://www.museemechanique.org/

A Fungus Among Us

You have to buy a gift. You want it be as unique, special, and delightful as the person you’re buying it for. A chain store’s gift certificate will not suffice.

If you happen to be passing through San Francisco, the Ferry Building has many exciting offerings, but none that will grow on you as much as the items available at Far West Fungi. For just around $25, you can purchase a log pre-seeded with chanterelles or shitaki mushrooms that will yield multiple harvests.

Even if the recipient is not a foodie, getting to grow fresh (typically, expensive) mushrooms within a very short period of time at home is pretty amazing…and fun!

Taste the difference for yourself at Far West Fungi, 1 Ferry Building, Shop 34. You can check them out online at www.farwestfungi.com as well.

Pittsburgh’s Pub

Grab a cold one at Pittsburgh's
Grab a cold one at Pittsburgh's

There are days when you just want an icy cold beer, some TVs with sports on, along with a few pool tables, dart boards, pinball machines, and video games for good measure.  

Pittsburgh’s Pub will satisfy all these needs, and the jukebox isn’t too shabby either.

Named in honor of the owner’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (adulation which has finally paid off with the Steelers over the past few years), Pittsburgh’s is a good place to get a drink and sit at the bar peacefully solo or with pals.

When you’re sitting at the bar, you’ll generally have an interesting conversation or two with the area residents who frequent the establishment. The management’s also kind enough not to eject you from the premises if you and your friends happen to be wearing random hats when you call on Pittsburgh’s at midnight, a degree of openness which is always good to know about a place.

Sometimes, a brewski while shooting pool is all you need. Especially when wearing funny hats.  

Check Pittsburgh’s out for some day drinking or lates at 4207 Judah (at 47th Avenue).

Scoma’s San Francisco Seafood

Scoma's Seafood Restaurant, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
Scoma's Seafood Restaurant, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

Sometimes, you just want some fresh fish, perfectly cooked, without all the oddball extras some San Francisco hipster joints tend to layer on plates (chamomile chardonnay reduction with fudge nibs on swordfish).  And, if you live in SF and have out of town guests, you’re probably desperate to find a place where you can meet your friends and family at the Wharf, where you won’t feel like you’ve fallen through the looking glass into a tourist circus.

Scoma’s is just the place. With boats still delivering catch straight to Scoma’s, it’s one of the last relics of when the Wharf was a more authentic place: where fishing and crab boats, and not chain restaurants, were justifiably king.

When in season, this is one of the best places in the city to sample locally caught Dungeness. Other times, you can try sand dabs and petrale sole, 2 San Francisco classics. Ask for whatever’s fresh and you won’t be disappointed.

The area outside Scoma’s has one of the best views of the Golden Gate bridge, and the view of the fishing docks from Scoma’s bar is a great place for a pre-dinner cocktail. Great wine list, featuring several of California’s best wines, to complement your meal as well.

As always in life, getting to Scoma’s is half the fun. You take a turn off the main drag– a tourist laden goldmine of gift shops and chain restaurants– and instantly, everything’s bustling in a different way or just quiet. You’re in a working port, where real fishing boats ply their trade, and seagulls swoop over boats to see if there are any scraps.

See it, and taste it, for yourself at Pier 47, Al Scoma Way, SF, CA. Online, check Scoma’s out at: http://www.scomas.com/

The Last Straw – Unique Jewelry & Gifts

If your grandmas were like mine, they had jewelry boxes that looked like treasure chests with multiple drawers stuffed with costume jewels and a few real ones. If you were like me as a kid, whenever you got the chance, you dug into these drawers, festooning yourself with as many beads, pins, rings, bangles, and earrings as your body could support. (Or, until you got yelled at for playing with the good jewels.)

Flash forward to your adulthood. You can now purchase things you admire, but shopping isn’t half as fun as when you pilfered your grandma’s jewel boxes. You go to a place that’s white or beige. Select from some over-hyped, carefully packaged items. Stand in line, as everyone’s items are duly scanned by a computer. Exit through a white or beige doorway.  

If that kind of shopping experience annoys you, visit The Last Straw, in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset. Tucked inside a cozy, adorable cottage is a great shop full of interesting, beautiful jewelry and one-of-a-kind gifts. You get to search through well-organized jewelry boxes and drawers to peruse the well-edited collection of necklaces, earrings, and bangles. Just like my grandmas’ jewel boxes, but with much funkier, contemporary jewelry.  

Gift selections are beautifully displayed throughout the store, making you feel like you’re actually in the home of a great collector. (In a way, you are, as there seems to be a residence behind the cute cottage.) The glass and pottery, in particular, is always beautiful and interesting to look at.   

You can get a necklace at a chain store. You can buy a gift for your friend from another chain store. Or, you can visit a one-of-a-kind shop and select something lovely that has a story behind it, at a place that makes the experience of the search fun again.

Check out The Last Straw at 4540 Irving Street, past 46th Avenue. Open Tuesday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.