One of the many animated actors in The San Francisco Dungeon who brings the city's past back to life — Photo courtesy of The San Francisco Dungeon
The San Francisco Dungeon – Fisherman's Wharf's latest exhibit – transports tourists from the 21st century to the 19th, from the land of Google and smartphones to a land of wooden boats and shackled murderers.
"You won't find this kind of exhibit in any other part of the United States," Dungeon Guide Jesse Russell explains.
But The Dungeon is definitely not for the faint of heart; the convincingly costumed characters really throw themselves into their roles – and sometimes throw themselves quite near you in the dark! (The Dungeon recommends ages 10 and above.)
"We offer a scary-fun, interactive way to learn about San Francisco's past. The audience is definitely part of the show," Russell adds.
"Jack the Ripper" exhibit at The San Francisco Dungeon — Photo courtesy of The San Francisco Dungeon
The current "Jack the Ripper" twist is actually playing worldwide at all The Dungeon's exhibits, which include London, Amsterdam and Berlin. (San Francisco's is the first Dungeon exhibit in all of North America, so it really is a rare experience.)
Since The Ripper was never actually caught, every dungeon location is playing with the possibility that the infamous killer has shown up in different locales all over the world.
Your San Francisco Dungeon tour starts off with prospectors mad with gold fever pouring into 1849 San Francisco. Instead of skyrocketing housing and bumper-to-bumper traffic, the original population boom in San Francisco had to deal with bubonic plague and getting shanghai'd.
The San Francisco Dungeon, right on Fisherman's Wharf — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
The physical space of The San Francisco Dungeon, complete with shaking booths and powerful acoustics, is technologically impressive.
But what gives the exhibit its real life are the actors, all professionally trained and part of various San Francisco groups. Each one tells a unique story of San Francisco's history.
Visitors will learn about the San Francisco Gold Rush, the Lost Mines of Sutter's Creek, the Barbary Coast's infamous saloons, the bubonic plagues that swept through the area and the ghosts of Alcatraz.
With shows lasting about an hour and starting every 15 minutes, it's an easy event to schedule for your whole group. (If you can plan ahead, though, buying tickets online offers a slight discount.)
If the summer fog has swept into Fisherman's Wharf, and you're looking for a different kind of chill, head into The San Francisco Dungeon.
It's a thrilling take on San Francisco history that will definitely not produce any museum-tour yawns.