Looking for the perfect group challenge? Chances are you may have come across escape rooms.
An escape room is a game where players work together to find clues and solve puzzles to achieve a particular goal within a limited period of time. The concept originated from first-person action video games where players could interact with their surroundings and use a mouse to navigate through different scenarios. Escape rooms began in Asia and entered the US in the early 2010s.
Escape rooms have boomed in popularity in part because they are ideal for birthday parties, school activities, and corporate events, building teamwork and leadership skills.
Here are a few of the top escape rooms in the Bay Area that we'd recommend checking out:
Hailing from Southeast Asia, where escape rooms initially took off, Monica Schafer brings a background in hospitality from companies like Hilton, Marriott, and Westin Hotels & Resorts to her escape room located in Downtown San Francisco. She and her partner, Taisiya Paltseva, launched ClockWise, where groups can solve high-tech challenges around four exciting storylines that appeal to diverse audiences. Shafer explained, "We think escape rooms are more than just nerdy puzzle rooms... They really can be made into a live-action, immersive experience that takes you to another time and place and quirky challenges that take you along for the story."
ClockWise Escape Room's themes take you inside a machine abounding in gears and gizmos, a paranormal experiment in a dark dungeon, a nightmarish bachelor party in Vegas, and an asylum disguised as a government experiment gone wrong. Taisiya comes from Russia, so the Asylum escape room features handiwork and inspiration from Russian designers. With an Oakland escape room, this power couple's goal is to expand to other locations in the Bay Area.
"What are you cooking, Mommy?" Dr. Ashie Bhandiwad started StemChef based on her own experience dabbling in the kitchen with her inquisitive three-year-old daughter. Through experimenting with ingredients and working on recipes, her daughter began to grasp foundational math and science skills. Through StemChef, Ashie helps other children develop a love of learning through food-based science.
Located in BlackHawk Plaza in Danville, StemChef is a cross between an escape room and an interactive science museum, where kids work as a team to solve puzzles and uncover hands-on science concepts that culminate in a delicious dessert or beverage related to a rotating monthly science theme.
Ashie hopes to solve the gender and diversity inequality in STEM fields by finding ways to make learning fun for kids. StemChef was recently featured in Mercury News as one of the coolest activities in the Bay Area.
A designer by trade, Wendy's curiosity was piqued when she and her college-aged son took a tour-de-force of the escape room landscape in San Francisco and noted a lack of truly immersive and creative theming. Hailing from a family of gamers, she felt up to the challenge of designing an alternative.
Founded in 2017 in Dublin, Exit2Escape offers three different themed rooms with different intensity and difficulty levels: a royal quest for the crown, a search for magicians' secrets, and a Wild West jail escape. It's a family-run business where everything is created in-house. Wendy designs all the interior artwork and her husband, a woodcraft magician and machinist by trade, builds the sets. Wendy loves providing social experiences and bringing people together to form lifelong memories.
The Escape Game - Part of a larger nationwide chain started by James Murrell, Jonathan Murrell, and Mark Flint in Berry Hill, Tennessee that has entertained 1.7 million guests since 2014, the Escape Room in San Francisco features more light-hearted themes than some of its competitors. Jonathan and James grew up with the entrepreneurial bug, running shoe shine and lemonade stands as kids and eventually a bulk candy store as an adult. Once Mark pitched the idea of The Escape Game, the team and version were born.
Guests can choose their 60-minute adventure and decide whether they'd rather recover a priceless painting, make the grade in an indoor school playground, escape from prison, hunt for gold or solve a marketplace mystery.
All of The Escape Game's rooms are built from scratch from Nashville with robotics and an extensive prop warehouse. There are many surprise twists to delight all your senses and each visitor plays a key role in solving the challenges. James, who now serves as COO, attributes their growth to the level of hospitality and truly investing in the guest experience.
No matter your age or preferences - whether you're in the mood for something spooky, funny or educational - there is sure to be an escape room for you in the Bay Area. Choose your own adventure and solve a puzzle with old friends or make new ones. Then report back and let us know whether you were able to escape and whether you'd do it again.