San Francisco, California
The Musee Mecanique collection includes over 300 vintage and novel coin operated machines, assembled by the late Edward Galland Zelinsky. Zelinsky's son Daniel continues the tradition. It had once been part of the Cliff House, but has been moved over to the heavy tourist zone near Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. Don't let the French name scare you off. It's American, and it's free!
"Laughing Sal" (shown here) was a beloved resident of Playland at the Beach, a local amusement park, from 1940 to 1972. She now greets visitors from her glass case near the entrance of the Musee Mechanique. The exhibits are occasionally swapped out, but you'll probably find a good cross section of mechanical music makers, twitchy dioramas, strength and love testers, fortune tellers, photo booths and nickelodeons. We saw an animated toothpick ferris wheel made by San Quenton inmates, part of a whole toothpick carnival not currently on display.
Musee Mecanique reminded us of Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Michigan (also free). Our only complaint is that the museum appears to be unattended; visitors just wander around, read the labels, and insert quarters in the machines of their choice. A volunteer who knew and loved the machines would have kept our interest longer...