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August 13, 2014

Alameda: Pacific Pinball Museum; things to do

880 South

Pacific Pinball Museum 1510 Webster St./Haight Ave., 3 mi. from downtown, (510) 205-6959.  Tu-Thur 2-9pm, F 2pm-mid, Sat 11am-mid, Sun 11-9; closed M.  $15, under 17 $7.50.  No pets.

gallery at Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California

This non-profit hands-on museum attracts a variety of people.  Many like to view exhibits and learn more about these intriguing machines, but most also want to play.  Fortunately, admission includes unlimited play on more than 100 of the colorful machines that are spread through a warren of rooms.  Three jukeboxes are also on free play.  It can get noisy.

I toured the museum with founder Michael Schiess, and what a trip it was!  Here’s what I learned.  Though the idea of pinball started in France with rolling a ball up a hill, pinball machines are mostly an American thing.  The first pinball patent in the U.S. was in 1869.  The first coin-operated pinball machine, the Whiffle, came along in 1931.  The World’s Fair Jigsaw is the all-time best seller at almost 80,000; runner up is the newer “Adams Family,” at about 24,000.  When Oakland banned pinball in the 1930s as gambling, many of the machines found their way to Alameda where rules were more lax.  Flippers were added to the machines in 1947, and artwork became more important in the 1960s.  Between the 1950s and 1970s, pinball machines actually made more money than movies!

Captain Fantastic machine at Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California

The machines are still evolving, with TV screens added in 2000 and a “CSI” model added in 2008.  The museum’s collection now is at around 1,000, and the 900 that are warehoused are rotated in and out so you never know for sure what you will see.

More things to do in Alameda.

Things to do in nearby Oakland.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images and video ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers


  1. What an interesting museum. I can imagine it would get quite noisy. It would be fun to play on some of the older machines.

  2. So great to see this cultural site in Alameda of all places. The Bay area is sprinkled with so many little treasures.

  3. Okay, here's where I reveal how truly old I am by saying that some of my favorite dates with an old boyfriend were playing pinball in a Montana bar! I'd love to visit this museum!

  4. I've heard about this place, will have to do this next time I'm visiting Alameda

  5. Fabulous stop! Looks to be lots of fun.

  6. What a fun quirky museum. I would visit here if I was in Alameda. Surprising that pinball used to make more money than the movies.

  7. We've got a similar museum in the Seattle International District and I've always wanted to visit but never find it open. Will enjoy yours through photos instead.

  8. What a quirky museum! Great for a roundup, said the writer~!:-)

  9. Pinball was huge when I was in college (1971-1975). My husband was quite a pinball afficionado. I don't think Millennials even know what a "tilt" is.

  10. Hi Carole,
    I like the concept of pinball machines making more money than movies! Then young people would get on their feet instead of staring at a screen!
    I loved pinball and used to go every Friday night with my boyfriend -- back in the 70s -- and we'd go for dinner afterward. A friend of ours owned the pinball arcade. Good memories!
    Thanks for the reminder,

  11. What a unique museum! I don't do pinball myself because I am, as my husband says, mechanically challenged! But my husband does. It's a pity they are not as common nowadays.

  12. I used to play pinball a lot when I was a student but I haven't seen a machine for years. So I'd love that museum!

  13. Such an interesting topic! I had no idea that pinballs could be so interesting!


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