Back in 2012, San Francisco was home to the first escape room in the United States. Today, it’s a destination for innovative tech and brilliant puzzles. Here is our guide to the best escape rooms in San Francisco and Oakland.
If you’re in the area, check out our guides to San Jose and Sacramento as well (coming soon).
The Attraction thoroughly blew my mind, distorted my sense of reality, and set a new and invigoratingly high bar for the future of escape rooms as an experiential art form. This was a world-class escapist experience worth traveling any distance to play.
The Attraction felt like a waking dream. Impressive feats of engineering and Meow Wolf-level immersive artistry converged into something utterly magical. The Attraction perfectly executed certain physical and psychological mechanics that I’ve been eagerly waiting to see an escape room attempt. An impressively diverse range of innovative gameplay and aesthetics yielded a wondrous journey of otherworldly play.
As far as I’m concerned, The Attraction is in strong contention for the best escape room in the world. Palace Games has created something truly breathtaking, and I applaud them for the mountains of creativity, labor, artistry, technical expertise, profound knowledge of the escape room industry, and love that went into creating this experience.
Price: $275 for 4 players, $30 for each additional player, discounted on weekdays
Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock
Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints
Trivium Games’ Ghost Patrol was a spiritual experience. I mean this both punnily — the room was brimming with ghostly interactions — and sincerely — this premium game so beautifully embodied the delight, whimsy, and abundant moments of revelation that I seek in an immersive puzzle-driven experience.
Ghost Patrol had it all: a touching narrative, meticulously clever and satisfying puzzles, loads of magical custom tech, impeccable lighting and sound design, and expertly fabricated props and set pieces. Moreover, Ghost Patrol demonstrated exceptional intentionality and thoughtfulness in every single element of its design.
This comes as no surprise: while Ghost Patrol may be the first brick-and-mortar escape room from Trivium Games, its creators have extensive experience creating long-form events in the puzzle hunt world, as well as professional backgrounds in tech, design, and audiovisual engineering. They are pros, and it showed.
More subtle than showy, Ghost Patrol contained many wondrous little innovations and perfectly designed puzzles that are still at the forefront of my mind days later. Ghost Patrol was unabashedly a puzzle-forward experience, and it will be best appreciated by puzzle lovers with a moderate amount of escape room experience.
Team size: groups of 30 to 125 players with 4-7 players per group; we recommend 4-5 per group
Duration: up to 2 hours
Price: contact Palace Games for pricing
Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock Exit
Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints
We’d really wanted to play Escape The Palace, Palace Games’ large format escape room/ puzzle hunt hybrid, for some time. Since they don’t typically open tickets to small groups, we assembled a large group by bringing our escape room tour to Palace Games.
Not only did Escape The Palace live up to the hype; as a puzzler, it exceeded it in quite a few ways.
Palace Games struck a balance between challenge and fair that we rarely encounter. While Escape The Palace was noticeably more difficult than most escape rooms, it never strayed deep into frustration territory. Some of that was the high quality gamemastering, but most of it was the satisfying way in which the puzzles came together. The puzzle play also felt heavily escape room-inspired, which we enjoyed.
It wasn’t perfect. It fell short of conveying narrative (although the main character was utterly delightful), and the imposing Palace of Fine Arts building didn’t feel that essential to the game.
If you’re looking for a large-group intellectual challenge in San Francisco, this is a fantastic option. This made the very short list of games designed for corporate groups that are legitimately fun in their own right, and not simply “good enough for mandatory fun.”
Who is this for?
Players with at least some experience
Challenging but fair puzzles
Hybrid of puzzle-hunt and tangible inputs
We were assisting a renowned professor with scientific research in the Palace of Fine Arts when the Professor left, locking us in. We needed to solve our way through his experiments to escape the palace.
Escape the Palace took place in the Palace of Fine Arts from the 1915 World’s Fair. It was a large open space with tables in the middle.
The puzzles were spread out around the room, at tables and on the walls, and in an adjacent room with some nifty props. There were multiple identical stations containing each puzzle so different groups could solve simultaneously.
Palace Games’ Escape the Palace was an escape room-style puzzle hunt for groups of 30 to 125 players.
Playing in teams of 4-7 people, groups moved together from station to station, solving the puzzles and collecting answers that resolved to a final metapuzzle.
Escape the Palace had a high level of difficulty relative to escape rooms, but was easier than a typical puzzle hunt.
Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and moving about the large gamespace.
➕ Escape the Palace kept a large number of people engaged throughout the game. There was plenty to solve and the puzzles required teamwork, always engaging multiple players at once. There was room to move between the puzzle stations as a group.
➕ The puzzles varied a lot. We relied on different types of thinking to solve different puzzles. What one person struggled with clicked for someone else.
➕ The puzzles solved cleanly… straight through to the metapuzzle. Palace Games gave us enough to chew on, but nothing took too long to work through. Escape the Palace was challenging, but fair. It rewarded us with satisfying solves.
➕ While many of the puzzles were paper-based, Palace Games included more active solves using tangible inputs and a bit of tech. In this way they blended escape room gameplay with a puzzle-hunt framework. We enjoyed interacting with these props as a group, inputting information to solve puzzles.
➖ The space felt underutilized. Although it was neat to be in the Palace of Fine Arts, it felt like these puzzles could have been placed anywhere.
➖ The story and puzzles didn’t feel connected to Palace Games or The Palace of Fine Arts beyond the science-y theming.
➕ The staff for Escape the Palace were phenomenal. They were engaging characters. They floated around providing hints, as needed. This hint system worked well and kept teams from falling too far behind the others.
Tips For Visiting
Parking: There is parking at Palace Games.
Food: There are lots of good options on Chestnut Street.
Book your hour with Palace Games’ Escape the Palace, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there’s something inherently charming about steampunk. Clockwise Escape Room built an escape room around a really interesting concept in The Incredible Machine. It was cute, fun, and played well.
The core idea of the game – which I won’t spoil – was fantastically clever. I found myself wishing, however, that Clockwise Escape Room did just a little more with it. That’s the core criticism of the room. This was a great game that could have pushed its best ideas, its set design, and its puzzles just a little further.
I absolutely recommend The Incredible Machine for all experience levels. I think that Clockwise Escape Room has something great here, but it could be amazing.
Who is this for?
Any experience level
A fantastic concept
Some wonderful moments
We’d opened our eyes in a strange workshop within a steampunk dimension. With no idea how we’d arrived, we had to find a way back to our reality.
Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine was set within a steampunk workshop and had all of the clockwork gears and mechanical mechanisms that one would expect to find in such a place.
The set was a little uneven, with some incredible setpieces, some blander elements, and one or two elements that were on the bubble as to whether they belonged in the game at all.
Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine’s was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.
➕ There was a good physicality to the steampunk props and interactions that Clockwise Escape Rooms worked into this game world to make it come to life.
➖ Although we liked the aesthetic, much of the space felt bare. We wanted Clockwise Escape Rooms to do more of the same with the look and feel of The Incredible Machine.
➕ We had to power up our brains early on to solve this escape room.
➕ We relied on different senses as we puzzled through The Incredible Machine. This worked well in the context of the game.
➕ Clockwise Escape Rooms created a character as part of The Incredible Machine. As we solved, we became more connected to this character.
➖ The Incredible Machine fizzled in the third act. These late-game puzzles were generally weaker and felt largely random. In this act, we lost the feel, story, and character of The Incredible Machine.
➕ / ❓ The Incredible Machine included substantial audio cluing. This was clear and justified by the game design. It worked well and even added to our experience. Our gamemaster mentioned that not all audio clues could be replayed. We didn’t struggle with this, so we don’t know if this could be severely problematic for some teams.
➕ The Incredible Machine had a phenomenal ending. This was teed up early in the game. We were eagerly anticipating the concluding sequence and it lived up to expectations.
Tips For Visiting
Parking in San Francisco is limited and expensive. Take the subway to Civic Center or take the surface tram (F line).
Book your hour with Clockwise Escape Room’s The Incredible Machine, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.