If you like shiny things, bells and whistles, and flashing lights, you don’t need to go to Vegas and play the slots. You don’t even have to leave Southern California…OR lose much (if any) money.
For those of us who grew up going to the arcade but haven’t quite adopted a reality that’s either virtual or augmented, there are plenty of places around L.A. and beyond that can fill that retro void and help you feel like a kid again.
Sure, for the over-21 set, there are arcade bars like The One Up in Sherman Oaks, Button Mash in Echo Park, Eighty-Two in the Arts District, Blipsy Bar in Koreatown, and Coin-Op Game Room in San Diego (two locations).
But if you want to give the rollerball a spin sans adult beverages…and make your mark on the high score board without the influence of libations, here are five retro arcades where you can play to your heart’s content without worrying about getting home by curfew.
1. Royce’s Arcade Warehouse, Chatsworth
At Royce's Arcade Warehouse in the San Fernando Valley, you gain admission to a literal warehouse in an industrial park for just $5. All of the games – pinball machines, video game consoles, the basketball game, and "Dance, Dance Revolution" – are on free play at this family-friendly arcade. But some of the games that may be familiar to you – say, Galaga or Centipede – might seem downright prehistoric to your kids. It wouldn’t be unusual for the little ones at Royce's to call out, "How do I make it start?!" And the correct answer, of course, would be somewhere in the ballpark of "Hit the start button!"
Founded in 2013 by film and TV producer Royce D’Orazio, the arcade collection began with the acquisition of a single classic arcade game: Donkey Kong. And an entire business grew from there. During Royce’s current open hours on Friday nights and Saturday and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (check website for updates), you can immerse yourself in the clatter and try out some games that are new to you or that you may have forgotten. You’ll have your choice of over 100 selections.
2. Family Amusement Arcade, Koreatown Los Angeles
Founded in 1971, Family Amusement Corporation is a vending company that specializes in sales and rentals of coin-operated machinery – from arcade games to jukeboxes, claw games, and even pool, foosball, and air hockey tables – to places like pizza parlors, bowling alleys, bars, amusement parks, and arcades. Of course they’ve also provided the large collection of games they’ve amassed for studio and party rentals.
But with that kind of expertise, why not open your own arcade? And that’s what brothers Harry and David Peck have done – right there next to their headquarters in K-Town. For over 40 years, Family Amusement Arcade has provided the community with an all-ages amusement destination that’s open every day of the year from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Its collection, housed in a dark arcade under a ceiling full of mirrors, ranges from retro to brand-new – and they’re always adding the latest releases for the die-hard gamers. Although there’s no admission charge, you’ll need quarters for some of the machines and tokens (available for purchase) for others.
More on SoCal Amusements
3. Redondo Fun Factory, Redondo Beach
At the Redondo Beach Pier (the seventh such iteration since 1892), the Fun Factory has promised “fun and games by the sea” under its current ownership since 1972. There, you can try your hand at racing horses, shooting the clown, knocking down dolls, and playing any number of other games, like Skee-Ball, air hockey, and a baffling crowd-pleaser called “Pogger.” If you win any of them, bring your tickets to the Redemption Center to claim your prize.
Fun Factory is open all year, but only until December 2019. The City of Redondo Beach bought out the business (along with the Fun Fish Market) from Fisherman's Cove Company for $9 million and plans to include it as part of a major remodel of the waterfront and the King Harbor area. For now, you can find Fun Factory on the lower level of one of the parking structures, where it’s been since the 1970s. And just in time for the holidays, parking will be free from December 8, 2018 to New Year’s Day 2019.
4. Looff’s Lite-a-Line, Long Beach
For decades, Looff’s Lite-a-Line was the last vestige left of The Pike amusement park, which the City of Long Beach closed in 1979. Originally located by the Majestic Ballroom, near the Navy landing, the building housed a Looff-manufactured carousel until 1933, before switching to a bingo hall. In 1941, the Lite-a-Line arcade replaced bingo and began drawing players to the game of skill invented by Arthur Looff. At the time, you couldn’t find it anywhere else in the world – and you still can’t. After 60 years, the old carousel building was demolished, forever erasing any trace left of the Pike.
Fortunately, the Lite-a-Line business (so named because the object of the game is to “light up a line”) was spared. It moved to its current location at 2500 Long Beach Boulevard and is now open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Looff’s Lite-a-Line is like a mini casino experience in Long Beach, combining the skill of pinball with the luck of pachinko or even Plinko (therefore, it’s most certainly not gambling.) For a meager investment of $1.25 a game (or $1.00 during happy hours), you might win $15. Go during a slow time, and you’ve got less competition, since your opponents are everyone else in the room. Even if you don’t play the day away, it’s fun to visit California’s oldest gaming establishment and explore its museum of Long Beach amusements, which includes old wooden carousel horses and a restored “Cyclone Racer” car from the rollercoaster that thrilled Pike visitors from 1930 to 1968.
5. Museum of Pinball, Banning
Even if you’re no Pinball Wizard – and the games you do play, you play badly – the Museum of Pinball is worth the trip to the Inland Empire. There, you can experience the earlier days of pinball, before a multi-player function was introduced – with most machines dating back to the 1960s, 70s, 80s and beyond. Many of the machines are from an era when you had to really launch your ball, and not just press a button to do it. The predominant sounds are those of rattling metal, contracting springs, flipping flippers, bumping bumpers and kicking targets. And you can feel the entire box quake. The backboards of the pinball cabinets are works of art – as much as the faces of the tables.
Now, you don't win anything back when you play pinball – except perhaps a sense of satisfaction (or, conversely, frustration) – but luckily, you don't have to invest much in them, and their voices often egg you on. It's as though the pinball machine wants you to win. Just keep the ball moving. And if you play the pinball machines correctly, you’ll walk away exhausted. The Museum of Pinball doesn’t have regular open hours, but it does host a number of special events and tournaments – including the annual Arcade Expo, every March. While the focus is on pinball, there are also a number of classic arcade games available for free play as well, included with your event admission.
Top Image: Sandi Hemmerlein