Whether you’re looking for some all-around family fun or needing—er… wanting—to drink the night away with friends, an evening of bowling is the perfect indoor solution to escape the rain, fog, or whatever weather San Francisco’s microclimates throw your way. With synchronized laser nightclub parties, iPad scoring (#soSF), and Food Network-famous burgers, Bay Area bowling is hardly mediocre. If there’s one thing to keep in mind: make reservations. Too many people, not enough lanes.
SF’s best bowling alleys
Finding anything in the Presidio is like finding a needle in a haystack, so who knew there was a quaint little bowling alley tucked into the trees? Although it’s a little hard to get to (and you might have to step out of your game to feed your metered parking spot), this hidden gem has a small-town feel with some serious techy upgrades you didn’t even know you wanted. For the selfie-obsessed, touch-pad screens take three photos of each guest, then copies each face onto animations that do things like cry after an embarrassing streak of gutter balls. With only 12 lanes, reservations are highly recommended. The chicken wings are a must-have, but if you’re lucky, Off the Grid might be hanging out in the parking lot to help you celebrate your turkeys (that’s three strikes in a row, for you newbs!).
If nothing else, the drive to Sea Bowl in Pacifica is worth the gorgeous seaside trip down Highway 1. Retro vibes, a billiards room, lane-side service and an incredible sunset view in the huge western-facing windows make Sea Bowl a classic California hangout. If you can’t catch their after 9pm specials on weekdays, the Astro Bowl on Friday nights is the place to be. Synchronized laser light show to the new Justin Bieber hit with glow-in-the-dark balls? Count us in. Afterwards, let the kids run out their leftover energy on the beach across the street while you catch some live bands at the adjacent Surf Spot Bar & Grill.
Bel Mateo Bowl has had quite the facelift recently. Enjoy the new seating while you play with upgraded table-side monitors. Need to share your every move on Facebook? The touch screen tablets are fully equipped with social media, texting and photo-taking for a personalized scoreboard. Feeling anti-social? Book your lanes online before you even get there. Breaking news: Bel Mateo Bowl has recently added a pinball machine. Actual breaking news: The venue’s giant cardboard cutout bowling pin was stolen in December, but it luckily returned home in time for Christmas. Phew.
This East Bay alleyway has more to do inside than in the entire surrounding area. It’s no surprise that Berkeley students revel in the too-good-to-be-true specials—who can say no to $1.50 games? The food is sub-par, (though the burgers and milkshakes look tempting in their ‘50s-style diner), but that doesn’t matter when the drinks are dirt cheap. Order at Tierney’s sports bar before heading over to the dartboards (because throwing sharp objects at walls is fun) while waiting for one of the 36 lanes to open up on crowded nights.
People can call it old-school all they want, but it’s actually just old. Leave all expectations of a “country club” at the door. Despite this, it’s your typical family-friendly bowling alley in good old Marin County. You can see the giant neon bowling pin in the sky as you exit the 101 freeway, and it’s probably your best bet for a Big Lebowski reenactment. Their new automatic scoring system is the first in California and the second in the whole country. You must arrive hungry, because Villa York Pizza & Grill is not to miss (we’ve heard great things about anything with pesto). Step into the Candlestick Lounge for bargain cocktails, 24 beers on tap and a step back in time with photos from the venue’s rich 58-year history.
The New York Times featured it on its "36 Hours" series—need we say more? This place is so cool, people don’t even come here to bowl. Which might be hard to do anyway, considering it’s only equipped with six lanes. Don’t worry, they have way more dining tables, which is the real reason the line is out the door. Their burger was made (rightfully) famous when the Food Network named it in their Top 5 Burgers in America, and Mission’s unique cocktails are ones to write home about. Under-agers are only allowed through the doors on weekends until 7pm, so if you’ve got small ones in tow, head over for a family brunch on their dog-friendly patio.
If you ever find yourself in Fremont (weirder things have happened), this is the most family-friendly fun you can find. Dubbed “The Friendly 44” (because everyone loves alliteration), the Cloverleaf Family Bowl has cheery staff members, weekend karaoke and the coolest bowl-themed birthday decorations a kid could ask for. For the grown-ups, The Spare Room bar is the best place to hide from the masses of excited children. If you live in the area, Colverleaf’s youth leagues and seniors programs are a great way to keep the pesky loved ones in your life busy for weeks at a time.
This place, well, it’s classic. You’ll rarely have to wait for one of its 60 lanes, but head over to the café for a giant order of nachos sometime during a break. Bored on a Wednesday night? It’s worth the drive down to Daly City and $9 cover charge for dollar games, shoes and food from 9pm to closing. The KO Sports Bar hosts huge TVs, leather couches, a DJ booth and a dance floor just in case you’d prefer to be in a nightclub instead of a bowling alley.
Ice skating or bowling? It’s a hard question, but luckily you can do both in SoMa. Don’t count on great drinks–there’s only a poorly-stocked fridge with bottled-only drinks at the bar—but the food makes up for it (get the waffle fries). Start cutting up your sweaters and teasing a high ponytail, because weekend nights are reserved for serious ‘80s dancers only; be prepared for giant Cyndi Lauper music video projections. And when your arms are tired of throwing 9-pounders, give your legs some exercise in San Francisco’s only year-round ice rink.
Upon arrival, you might think you’ve stumbled into an ultra-modern nightclub. Keep walking—we promise there’s a bowling alley back there somewhere. High ceilings, chic booths and sunburst lighting will make you feel like you’re too cool to be throwing down pins on a Saturday night. In the likely chance you have to wait for one of the 12 lanes, take advantage of happy hour specials with a good selection of draft beer and fish tacos. It’s also a great place to watch the ball game if you couldn’t score Giants tickets from AT&T Park across the street.