For those of us who grew up in the 1980s and '90s, arcades were an integral part of our childhood and adolescence. They existed inside malls and in shopping centers, waiting for us to fill up the storefronts after school and on weekends. Occasionally, we would have to stand in line waiting behind players who were genuinely skilled at the hot game of the moment. We challenged our friends to games like true fighters. Sometimes we were actually good. Other times, we proudly sucked. Either way, we vented out our teenage frustrations with joysticks and attack buttons and, in the end, we left exhilarated and broke.
The era of the arcade has long since passed, and some today face hard times — in fact, two of the great stops on this list are set to close by year's end. For right now, though, they still exist, so take the time to enjoy them while they're here. And even when they go, there are plenty of other places where you can watch the best-of-the-best compete in tournaments hear friends screaming “Don't shoot the food!” during games of Gauntlet
Below are ten of the best places to play games in the L.A. area. We tried to make the list all-inclusive, so there are spots here that specialize in retro video games, others for fighting and rhythm games, and a few good Skee-Ball joints.
10. Playland Arcade
Located inside Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier, Playland Arcade isn't the sort of arcade that you'll want to visit every day. Traffic can be a bit of a mess around here and parking is often pricey. If you are planning on a day at the beach, though, it's a solid, diverse arcade to visit. There are a handful of redemption games here. I'm partial Skee-Ball. There are also a handful of classic and relatively recent arcade games. This is by far the busiest arcade I saw while crisscrossing the county in search of video games. With its mix of locals and tourists, it's a good place for people-watching. 350 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica.
9. Shatto 39 Lanes
Last year, Shatto 39 Lanes on 4th Street and Vermont got a shout out in L.A. Weekly's Best of L.A. issue for its mid-20th century design and good times. As far as the bowling alley's small arcade is concerned, it has one game that you would be hard pressed to find at most contemporary venues. That's Jr. Pac-Man, which is a bit of an oddball in the Pac-Man series in that the mazes are wider than those in its predecessors, so it scrolls from side to side as you're playing. If you're the sort of person, like me, who still plays Ms. Pac-Man, it will take a couple quarters to get used to the visual differences. Other than that, it's still essentially the same game.
Jr. Pac-Man seemed to be one of the more popular games at Shatto 39 Lanes, which gets pretty busy on Saturday nights. The bowling alley is close to both Family Arcade on Vermont and Blipsy Bar on Western, so you can hit up all three in one evening. I did. 3255 W. 4th Street, Koreatown.
8. Family Arcade
Family Arcade on Vermont is an L.A. fixture with decades of history inside its walls. This large arcade has all of the tried and true entertainment center staples, including claw machines, racing games, pool tables and more. They have a nice selection of pinball machines, perhaps better than of the other arcades on this list. The South Park pinball game quickly became my favorite here. Family Arcade is near Los Angeles City College, so it's good for a quick fighting game match in between classes. It's also easily accessible by public transportation, as it's only a short walk from the Vermont/Santa Monica Red Line stop. 876 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz.
7. Redondo Fun Factory
If you're looking for a quirkier game experience, head down to the Fun Factory in Redondo Beach. This large arcade features a mish-mash of mostly vintage games and attractions. The Pong machine is only the beginning of the odd, and incredibly fun, time warp here. Fun Factory has vintage attractions like an automated puppet show that operates on quarters and tons of classic games like Space Invaders and Ms. Pac-Man. They have obscure games like Panic Park, a fun series of short, goofy battles that are great for two players. They also have Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, an arcade game where you fight and dance to the sounds of “Smooth Criminal.”
There are a lot of redemption games here, where you can win prizes like a lighter in the shape of a buck or a Dennis Miller doll. If you want to get a little dizzy before you hop into game mode, there's a Tilt-a-Whirl in the middle of the arcade that's kind of intense. Go on a rainy day and you can ride it for only 50 cents. 531 N. Francisca Ave., Redondo Beach.
6. Super Arcade
Located right next to Mount San Antonio College and not too far from Cal Poly Pomona, Super Arcade can get pretty busy. We stopped by early in the evening one Saturday, when a good-sized group had gathered to play Persona 4, a role playing game from Japan. Super Arcade does a great job of fostering a sense of community. You can communicate with the arcade's staff, and sign up for events, on Twitter. Plus, its mix of casual and tournament events encourages gamers to interact with each other in person.
1211 N. Grand Ave., Walnut.
5. Blipsy Bar
Blipsy Bar is one of my favorite watering holes in Los Angeles. This Western Ave. bar is decorated in a style best described as '80s toy chest and is chock full of classic arcade games. Ms. Pac-Man always seems to be the most popular game at the bar. If you want a shot to gobble ghosts, you might have to hover around the tabletop for a bit. I usually play either Ms. Pac-Man or Gauntlet when I'm here, but there are plenty of games in this tiny bar to love, including Donkey Kong, Galaga, several vintage pinball machines and many more. 369 Western Ave., East Hlywd.
4. James Games
We crossed the county line to check out James Games based on the recommendation of a friend and almost missed the place. Hidden in the back of a small, Foothill Blvd. strip mall, this is a small space crammed with games old and new. When we stopped by James Games, a small group had turned up for serious rhythm gaming in the form of a Technika 3 tournament. The young players worked with their heads down, lightly tapping the music notes that floated down the screen. James Games appears to have tournaments regularly, so follow them on Facebook to keep up with the schedule.
364 W. Foothill Blvd., Upland.
3. Family Fun Arcade
Not to be confused with Family Arcade on Vermont, Family Fun Arcade has been a go-to destination for casual and hardcore gamers in the north San Fernando Valley for ages. In fact, it's the spot that my friends and I occasionally hit up after school back when Street Fighter II was all the rage. This is primarily a fighting game outlet, home to many different incarnations of Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom as well as newer genre games like BlazBlue: Continuum Shift.
I've been here on the weekends and, while it's not as packed as it was in the early 1990s, it still draws a really good crowd. FFA hosts casual gaming nights and tournaments, as well as special events like a Q/A session with Skullgirls co-creator Mike Z. Sadly, FFA is set to close at the end of this year. Valley residents, stop by with a roll of quarters before it's too late.
10363 Balboa Blvd., Granada Hills.
2. Japan Arcade
Japan Arcade lives up to it's name. There are a lot of great, sometimes hard-to-find Japanese games here. Most of the Yelp reviews I read mentioned one called Typing of the Dead, which I tried immediately. This is an odd offshoot of the arcade staple House of the Dead, where you obliterate zombies by typing out Japanese words in English characters very quickly. I haven't had that much fun playing a video game in years, maybe even decades.
This Little Tokyo arcade is also home to lots of cool rhythm games. While I was pouring quarters into Typing of the Dead, my boyfriend was getting serious about Mambo a Go Go, a Konami game that revolves around congo drums. I tried Mambo a Go Go too, but it turns out that I'm more of a typist than a drummer. Japan Arcade is owned by the same man who owns Family Fun Arcade and Super Arcade.
According to the website Arcade Relief, this amazing little spot is set to close along with FFA at the end of the year. I need to go back and get in a few more games of Typing of the Dead before it does. 333 S. Alameda St., Little Tokyo.
1. Round 1
Round 1 is a large entertainment complex at the Puente Hills Mall, complete with a bowling alley, karaoke rooms, ping-pong tables and the glitziest arcade I've seen in recent years. When you walk into the arcade, the first thing you'll see are the claw machines, which are filled with large Sanrio and San-X plushies and other cool toys. There are racing games, fighting games, rhythm games and shooting games, all of which sparkle with state of the art graphics. They also have purikura machines, the Japanese photo booths where you can embellish your pictures with all sorts of cute doodads. Paying for games at Round 1 is where it gets complicated. You have to purchase a membership card, which you can refill through the day at one of the machines in the arcade. If you want to play a game that operates on tokens, you still have to get a card and swipe it at one of the token machines.
Round 1 stands out because there's so much here. It's a good spot for a party, as there is something for everyone at this venue. This is a kid-friendly spot during the day, but the venue goes 18+ after 10 p.m. and 21+ after midnight. Plan accordingly. (Note: For those in the Inland Empire, Round 1 recently opened a second outlet in Moreno Valley.) 1600 S. Azusa Ave., #285, Industry.