Having just spent many hours glued to the couch binging Stranger Things season four, a trip out of the house sounded like a fantastic idea—so when io9 was invited to check out “Stranger Things: The Experience,” which just opened in San Francisco, we didn’t even have to roll a multi-sided die to help us decide. Bring on the Upside Down!
“The Best Small Town in America”
Housed within the Skylight at the Armory, a cavernous brick building in San Francisco’s Mission District that was once a National Guard outpost (and which, incidentally, was until recently the headquarters of Kink.com), it’s an interactive event that its producers describe as taking Stranger Things fans “inside some of its most iconic settings on an intimate guided new adventure alongside their favorite characters before the chance to hang out and explore all the major locations from the show.” A similar experience opened in New York last month, with more cities to follow, and the whole thing builds on “Stranger Things: The Drive Into Experience,” a pandemic-friendly iteration that was held in Los Angeles last year.
This thing ain’t cheap (tickets start at $54 per person; for info on booking in San Francisco, check out this link), and it lasts about an hour—longer if you stick around to play the free arcade games in the “Mix-Tape” lounge area. However, if you’re a big fan of the show with a few extra bucks burning a hole in your Members Only jacket pocket, it’s a reasonably fun way to spend an evening. The set-up is that you’re a willing participant in a “sleep study”—really an excuse to get you into Hawkins Lab, where it’s discovered that you (and all the other visitors) have secret superpowers. The experience guides you to use these powers as part of its main story, which involves helping the Stranger Things kids free Max and Eleven from the Upside Down. Along the way you move through various rooms throughout the lab (clever special effects make it seem as if you’re being menaced by Demodogs, contacted telepathically by Eleven, chatting with Dustin and company over the lab’s closed-circuit TV system, receiving instructions from Dr. Brenner, etc.), and the whole thing ends in the Upside Down, brought to life though some rather nifty 3D effects (the glasses are provided).
You’ll believe a Demogorgon can fly!
Unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed inside the actual experience, though Netflix did provide a few for press use. The 3D effects are pretty awesome and this image definitely captures them well. Note “Eleven” in the background, a role played both on a giant screen by Millie Bobbie Brown and a live actor who popped up for a portion of the presentation. (There were a few live actors peppered throughout the experience, and all of them were excellent.)
Once you “escape” both Hawkins Lab and the Upside Down, the experience guides you into the “Mix-Tape,” a big room containing a bar and a couple of food joints, all themed appropriately, as well as a small arcade, a few recreations of iconic Stranger Things locations, and several kiosks hawking all the Stranger Things merch you could ever want or need. The above promo image gives you a good idea of the layout, and if you want to see more detailed snaps from the San Francisco event, keep on clicking.
Stranger Things pinball
All the arcade games, including this pinball machine (has anyone seen one of these out in the wild? Just curious), were free to play.
Be kind, rewind
Unfortunately, no sightings of Robin or Steve at the counter. However, the retro candy wrappers were a nice touch.
Hey, Ghostbusters is out on VHS finally!
In case you need to make a quick getaway...
... Argyle’s van awaits, ready for action (though mostly it was just serving slices).
Eleven’s costume from season 3
The shoes were so tiny.
Barb’s costume from season 1
One of season four’s best callback moments was Vecna reminding Nancy of her lingering guilt over Barb’s death. We never forgot, Nancy, and neither should you!
These are not 1986 prices
“The Hopper” cocktail was just about the only Hopper representation in the entire “Stranger Things: The Experience.” There was also very little of Joyce to be found, in case any Winona fans had their hopes up.
You knew this was coming
Maybe the most obvious Stranger Things photo op, but fans would probably riot if they didn’t provide this one.
“Have you seen me?”
Call Joyce. She’s waiting by the phone! Unless she’s out buying a new phone.
“Hell can wait”
The Hellfire Club was well-represented. Also, Eggos.
More Hellfire gear
As seen on the show!
Even more Hellfire gear
Calendars, puzzles, vinyl, Magic 8 Balls, blankets...
It actually rang, but we didn’t dare pick up.
Note the (thematically very on-brand) movie posters, too.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Victor Creel
Heard something about a sleep study, thought he’d drop by and check it out.
“You want a selfie?”
Sort your Christmas card photo early by posing with this friendly fellow!
Learn more about “Stranger Things: The Experience” here; the rest of Stranger Things’ fourth season arrives July 1 on Netflix.
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