Dread those tired old tourist traps? Well, snap out of it! Here is a round-up of unusual places in the Bay Area most famous for their sheer uniqueness.
The Wave Organ
It's the new rock music! Behind San Francisco’s famed Exploratorium is an acoustic structure formed on the beach, where coastal winds and ocean waves exert their primal pressure on a strategic network of pipes that run between the tides. The wind, the waves, the pipes and the ancient-looking stone patio collaboratively compose an endless variety of sublime natural melodies. Plagiarism is punishable by God.
On Thursday nights in San Francisco's vibrant SOMA neighborhood, there's no need to miss a fun night out to stay home cooking dinner and doing housework. The Brainwash is a cafe, a laundromat and a comedy club all rolled into one. Yes, you read it right. The back room features coin-operated washers, dryers and video games. The front room is a cafe. On Thursdays they host open mic comedy. That means anyone who signs in can perform. Don't say we didn't warn you. http://www.brainwash.com
San Francisco’s most popular transgender night club featuring delectable Cal Asian cuisine and lovely ladies dancing on the red runway bar against an ironically appropriate backdrop of color-changing Shoji screen walls. The mouth-watering menu offers elegant, classy culinary creations from a talented, experienced chef. So come on in and try some! You know you want to. http://www.asiasf.com
A San Jose sports complex featuring four large skating rinks with plenty of room to move around. Amenities include bleacher seating, cool pro shop, top coaches, and old-style video games. Many people call this the coolest place to skate in the Bay Area. The friendly staff welcomes everyone from future champions to recreational skaters to beginners who just plain suck. http://www.sharksiceatsanjose.com
Hiding just one block away from Berkeley's bustling 4th Street is one of America's largest reptile retailers. This East Bay pet palace features many dozen species of lizards, toads, turtles, fish, snakes, and even a few giant spiders. Some of these creatures you can actually hold in your hand, especially if the employee thinks you might buy one. A caring, competent, well-informed staff is always available to answer your most pressing questions about all things scaly. Reptilian health-care experts are often on hand to nurse the sick. Is it a store or a zoo? No one really knows, but one thing is certain: Steve Irwin would have been proud. They even have giant monitor lizards and ride-sized tortoises for children's parties. http://www.eastbayvivarium.com
Umigo Indoor Kart Racing
The commercially blossoming city of Livermore is home to a FAST (!), fun, safe, spacious, indoor go-kart track. Scheduled activities include timed kart races. The kid-friendly karts are HECKA cool (!!!), and the curved, winding track is lined on all sides with stacked rubber tires. These will prevent you from hurting yourselves as your kids wait in line for their turn. Tell them to go play pinball in the reception area. http://www.umigoracing.com
An authentically medieval English inn at Muir Beach in Marin, just across the street from a pony paddock. Sit at gigantic cherry wood tables in the dining room or out on the patio deck. Swat at the shiny green horse flies that land on your Beef Wellington. The restaurant regulars and serving wenches insist that this added feature only enhances the 16th-century English “flavor” of the place, so get over it. Grossed out? That's okay. Maybe Beef Wellington isn't your cup of tea. Order the Blood Pudding instead. Wash it down with a pint (or three) of strong, dark ale. No extra charge for the flies. http://www.pelicaninn.com
—By Judee Shipman
Judee Shipman authored Top50States.com, prntr.com, countless online articles, and a book called Portable Chess Coach. She's also penned poetry and published crosswords in TV Guide.