Fun Times from Uncle Sugar

Fifteen fabulous ways to stimulate the local economy.

Are things looking bad inside the deep, empty recesses of your wallet? Well, lucky you: The IRS has your back. Under the federal stimulus plan, we'll all be getting a little extra cash — up to a whopping $400 each in 2009. But Uncle Sam does not want you to spend all of your newfound riches in one place (such as making that monthly car payment), because that would not stimulate the economy. No, you need to go out and have some fun! So, your employer is simply withholding less of your income for taxes — for most of us, about $15 or $20 each pay period. Whoo-hoo!

Can you still actually buy or do anything for $15 or less in or around San Francisco? Yes, you can. Here are 15 suggestions.

Go forth and spend!

Claw your way to the bottom
For $15, you can claw, throw, and shoot yourself silly at the Tilt arcade on the second floor of the Metreon (101 Fourth St. at Mission). In addition to basketball, Skee-Ball, and racing and shooting games, there's an entire room full of claw machines filled with Kung Fu Panda and SpongeBob–like plush toys, Disney characters, bouncy balls, and more. Most of the games cost between $1 and $4. Tilt is open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, and 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. Call 979-9163 or visit www.westfield.com/metreon.

Rent a low rider
On those few and far between fogless summer days, there's nothing quite like scooting around Golden Gate Park on a cool set of wheels. Wheel Fun Rentals (50 Lake at Stow, behind the boathouse) rents out chariots ($5 per hour), mountain bikes ($8 per hour), and three-wheeled handlebar choppers and four-wheeled quad sports ($10 per hour). Call 668-6699 or visit www.wheelfunrentals.com.

See classics on the cheap
This one is worth a trip across the bay. The Paramount Theatre (2025 Broadway at 20th St., Oakland) presents classic movies on selected Fridays at 8 p.m. for $5 (plus whatever it costs to BART over). Imagine classics like Casablanca and An American in Paris on this national landmark theater's beautiful big screen. In keeping with the throwback theme, the curtain rises to reveal an organist, a cartoon, a newsreel, and a prize giveaway — all before the film rolls. Call 510-465-6400 or visit www.paramounttheatre.com/film.html.

Smooches and science
The recently reopened California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park (55 Music Concourse at Tea Garden) hosts a 21-and-over night every Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. with arts performances, lectures, planetarium shows, dance parties, and cocktails, which can cost almost as much as the $10 admission ($8 for academy members). Get there on the early side for a planetarium show, or stroll through the domed rainforest. The parties are a hot spot for singles — and a great date spot for couples — and the roof is open for late-night smooching under the stars. Call 379-8000 or visit www.calacademy.org/events/nightlife.

Immerse yourself in sound
For a more unusual theater experience, visit Audium (1616 Bush at Franklin). A theater of sound-sculpted space, Audium presents shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. for $15. You'll sit in darkness in the intimate 49-seat theater as sounds move past, over, and under you in compositions performed live. Beyond that, it's really hard to explain, so just go find out for yourself. Call 771-1616 or visit www.audium.org.

Recession-proof lunch
Samovar Tea Lounge (locations in the Castro, SOMA, and Hayes Valley) offers a Super Lunch special: Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., for $10 (tax included!), you get soup, salad, and half a sandwich, plus your choice of Ryokucha, Earl Grey, or Ocean of Wisdom tea. The mellow vibe of the space and the staff is an extra bonus for those who are money-stressed. Visit www.samovarlife.com.

Viva la salsa!
If you've recently lost your job, now is the perfect time to learn to dance. Every Saturday at the Red Poppy Art House (2698 Folsom at 23rd St.), from 3 to 4:30 p.m., Nuyorican salsa dancer Andrea Cortes-Juarbe teaches salsa, using music from '50s mambo, '70s classic salsa, and contemporary New York, Puerto Rican, and Cuban rhythms. Newbies can receive an ultrabasics breakdown from 2:30 to 3 p.m. Call 826-2402 or visit www.redpoppyarthouse.org.

Get aural
That's aural, not oral, and this is acupuncture, not ... well, whatever. At the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine's Auricular Drop-in Clinic (555 De Haro at 18th St.), students perform auricular (in the ear) acupuncture to treat PMS, pain, and stress. Hours vary depending on the semester; call 292-9603 for the current schedule. Recommended donation is $5. Visit www.actcm.org.

Y not?
Sure, you could blow a wad of cash on a fancy spa. But why not throw down just $12 for a day pass at the Richmond YMCA (360 18th Ave. at Geary) instead? That includes full use of the weight room, cardio room, hot tub, dry sauna, and an insane variety of daily classes, ranging from standard yoga and Pilates classes to less traditional offerings like Salsa Aerobics and Hip Hop Hussle. Visit www.ymcasf.org/richmond or call 666-9622. (Various YMCAs throughout the city also offer day passes, but you'll need to check each one for specific facility information and fees. See www.ymcasf.org.)

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