Free Gold Watch is a beloved local arcade that houses the largest selection of pinball machines in SF. Once inside you’ll find yourself lost in a seemingly endless row of classic and modern pinball machines, alongside other arcade classics like Donkeykong Jr, Tetris, and Ms. Pac-Man. All that you need to enjoy this hidden gem is a little time to kill and a pocket full of quarters.
On your first visit, Free Gold Watch can be a little hard to find. It’s tucked away on a residential stretch of Waller Street in the Haight-Ashbury district with little more than a sandwich board to catch your eye. Part of the reason for their minimalist storefront is that their main business is custom t-shirt printing, which pre-dated the pinball machines.
According to Atlas Obscura, the pinball collection started when a few staff members filled the empty print shop space with pinball machines. A surprising number of customers arrived to enjoy the games, which inspired them to add more and more machines. They currently house 57 playable pinball machines which is the largest collection in SF.
The arcade enjoys a dedicated following of neighbors and pinball fans from across the city. It’s an opportunity to step back in time and relive a childhood memory or try your hand at something completely new. If you need a break from pinball, you can shoot hoops, bowl, or race through the street of San Francisco on Rush 2048. It’s unique, funky, and a very easy place to love.
As a nod to pinball history, a side room known as “The Secret Ju-Ju Gallery” houses a rotating collection of rare and vintage pinball machines, all available to play. The collection is on loan from the Pacific Pinball Museum, in nearby Alameda, CA. The current collection features several mid-’70s tables like “Wizard,” and “Royal Flush.”
Free Gold Watch is mostly self-service, with an ATM and numerous change machines available to use. The only food and drinks available onsite come from a simple vending machine or two. It’s closer to the arcade of your youth than one of the hip barcades that have popped up across the city, which is a refreshing change. In a city filled with immersive AR and VR experiences, sometimes it’s nice to enjoy the beeps, blinks, and dings of a good old-fashioned arcade.
Free Gold Watch is open Monday to Friday from 10am-7pm-ish, Saturday and Sunday from 12pm-7pm-ish. Visit them at 1767 Waller St, San Francisco.
Featured image: @rockage via Instagram