"I will honor Christmas in my heart," vows Ebenezer Scrooge near the end of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, "and try to keep it all the year." For five weekends around Thanksgiving through Christmas, the 750-plus costumed performers at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair honor this declaration.
Lauded as "charmingly over-the-top" by the San Francisco Chronicle and "dazzling" by the San Francisco Examiner, the fest comprises more than three acres of exhibition halls. Inside, the fair's creative team recreates Dickens' Victorian-era London, complete with labyrinthine lanes, scone-scented bakeries, quaint pubs, and a rowdy dockside. In the streets and on seven stages, carolers entertain crowds alongside notable guests, including Queen Victoria and Scrooge himself. yelling that famous catchphrase, "Bah! An icky humbug! Somebody squish it!"
Dart Ops creates a safe indoor battlefield where players vie for victory using toy dart guns loaded with foam ammo propelled by short blasts of air. Neon-colored screens, walls made of mesh netting, and hanging targets pepper the arena space, which transforms into a monsoon of flying foam at the start of each friendly battle. As games progress, players can curl their trigger fingers around more advanced weaponry, including velcro-tipped darts that adhere to targets or the weak spots of enemy sock puppets. A marshall ensures fair play and organizes different types of game play, such as Free for All, Capture the Flag, and Protect the President. Aside from open play, Dart Ops' staff also host birthdays in a party booth and organize monthly Tour of Duty tournaments.
At first glance, Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze looks more funky than befuddling. The black lights that illuminate its columns and archways cycle through neon colors, and ?80s dance music thumps through its various turns. The wonderland-like ambiance prompted SF Weekly to list the maze as "possibly the most psychedelic place one can legally reach within the city limits" in its list of Five Places We Wish Bands Could Play in SF.
Don't let the far-out vibes fool you, though. Even Charles Magowan, the maze's creator, admits to getting lost in its passageways during an ABC 7 feature. Charles constructed the maze to cover 2,000 square feet, aligning 77 mirrors in counterintuitive corners, dead-ends, twists, and halls. His ultimate goal was to build a nostalgic labyrinth that both kids and adults could explore. One ticket grants unlimited admission to the maze throughout the day, encouraging repeat visitors to memorize different escape routes and convince their reflection to go to work tomorrow instead of them.
Quick: talk about river otters. Here are a few facts to get you started: they're members of the weasel family, they can swim at speeds reaching 7 miles per hour, and a group of them is known, tellingly, as a romp. The keepers at Aquarium of the Bay have spent months studying these sorts of facts and figures, studiously preparing for the arrival of their brand-new residents. In Otters: Watershed Ambassadors, these river kings and queens get some well-earned attention, with exhibits tracing everything from their daily habits to their conservation status.
The otters aren't alone, of course. The 50,000 square foot facility houses three main exhibit areas devoted entirely to marine life native to San Francisco Bay. These include Under the Bay, where Moon Jellies float amidst ambient lighting inside a 725-gallon cylinder tank. They share the exhibit with two tunnel tanks, which provide an undersea view of giant Pacific octopuses, spiny dogfish, swirling schools of anchovies, and the sevengill shark, the largest shark native to the bay. Visitors eager to put their other senses to work can head over to the aquarium's touch pools, where their fingertips can graze juvenile bat rays, leopard sharks, and sea stars.
Daily programs enrich visits with interactive presentations in the Bay Lab?the aquarium's land animal area?including feeding shows. And though not included in this Groupon and membership, behind the scenes tours escort guests through all of the aquarium's highlights. Over in the Bay Theater, 3D films and award-winning documentaries examine subjects such as shark species and marine conservation, while magician Timothy Noonan's 75-minute interactive show blends family-friendly comedy with illusions such as pulling a whale out of a hat.
Staff at 7D Experience equip audience members with laser blasters and 3-D glasses before strapping them into neon-yellow moveable seats inside a 20-seat interactive digital theater. Each of the Experience's current rides combines built-in roller-coaster movement with interactive shooting challenges in the XD DarkRide, and immerses players in a computer-generated onscreen experience through surround-sound and 3-D visual effects. Los Banditos surrounds players in a Southwest landscape, in which they defeat robotic cowboys, while Zombies! pits players against waves of undead in a digital apocalypse. At the end of each eight-minute game, the screen displays the winner's photo, allowing others to admire their score or tell them whether they'd look good with a mustache.
The San Francisco Maritime National Park Association welcomes boating enthusiasts and history buffs alike to board antique ships—including a 1930s sloop yacht, an 1890 steamboat, and a nineteenth-century wooden-hulled scow schooner—docked at piers in and around the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The association even lays claim to a pristine World War II submarine, the USS Pampanito, which sees more than 110,000 visitors every year and boasts National Historic Landmark status for its world-class example of maritime preservation. They've even restored and repaired the equipment inside to full operation for an immersive and realistic experience. Another huge draw is the Balclutha, a moored 1886 square-rigged tall ship with three massive masts.
The land-locked Maritime Museum, housed inside a WPA-built structure designed to look like an ocean liner, keeps the seafaring fun going with hands-on activities and exhibits that explore the city's nautical past. In addition to answering questions and helming educational programs, staff members also recruit volunteers to pitch in aboard and around the old ships, where they can learn firsthand how to care for museum pieces, practice public speaking skills, and memorize nautical terms that will help make their stories of pirate heritage way more believable.