Pinball Wizards rejoice at Playland Not-at-the-Beach


The weather outside may or may not be frightful, as only time will tell if the purported El Niño due to deluge the Bay Area starting in January will be a boon or a bust, but the weather inside Playland Not-at-the-Beach is always delightfully room temperature year round. Paying homage to San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach, which closed in 1972, the Not-at-the-Beach version is a museum in El Cerrito featuring about three dozen pinball machines always set on free play, arcade games, video games, carnival games, penny arcades, historic exhibits with artifacts from both the Sutro Baths and the original Playland, and more.
Every nook and cranny of the 9,000 square foot museum is filled to the brim. Stop in The World of Charles Dickens where there are villages of Victorian England depicting scenes from The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol. Circus World features a miniature circus display complete with a big top, side show acts, dressing rooms, cook house, dining tent and horse farm. Santa’s Village features 200 trained elves in several detailed vignettes.
If you’re a pinball wizard, or aspire to be one, you can get hours of playtime in at Playland. The Coney Island room includes machines dating from the 1930s to the 1970s. Move forward in time to Pinball Alley where you’ll find games from Star Wars, White Water, Cirqus Voltaire, Lord of the Rings and the like. If carnival games are more your style, you’ll be happy to find skeeball and bowler roller.
Magic shows that will delight little ones are scheduled for 1 and 3pm Saturdays and Sundays. Check the online calendar for fun, upcoming events. January events include a birthday party for J.R.R. Tolkien, an adults only after dark anniversary party honoring the premier of Batman (the TV version with Adam West and Burt Ward) and an American Folk Heroes weekend.
Playland Not-at-the-Beach has a couple of vending machines, but you’re better off bringing in your own food (there are a couple of party rooms that you can use to sit and enjoy a meal) or taking a break from play to visit one of the neighborhood restaurants. In and out privileges are granted so you can come and go at your leisure.
If you go: Find Playland Not-at-the-Beach at 10979 San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito. There is a parking lot behind the museum and street parking in the area. It’s walking distance to the El Cerrito Del Norté BART station. Open Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 5pm and most holidays. Check the website to confirm dates and times. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and youth (up to 14). Multiple day discount passes are available. The museum is wheelchair accessible. Playland Not-at-the-Beach isn’t shiny and new. If that’s important to you, skip this trip. For more info, visit or call 510.592.3002.