America's Coolest Bowling Alleys

Blue bowling ball in center of alley
Photo: Prasit Photo / Getty Iimages

Quick: which sport do the most Americans play? If you guessed football or baseball, guess again. It’s bowling. More than 70 million Americans bowled last year, according to the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America. “People of all ages can do it, from three to 103,” says Bart Burger of the BPAA. “It’s the only activity in which nobody rides the bench—everybody gets to play.” Bowling has become trendy, thanks in part to pioneering chains like Bowlmor Lanes, Lucky Strike, and Splitsville that have kept the nostalgia alive by combining retro-chic details with hip music, flashy lights, and gourmet food and cocktails. As a result, not all customers come to bowl—some gather with friends for drinks or dinner and end up trying it out. (Splitsville calls its mission: “Permission to have fun.”) Plenty of indie bowling alleys offer a similar winning combination, from The Alley in Charleston, SC—with bluegrass music and a 40-foot bar of recycled bowling lane wood—to Brooklyn Bowl, with local brews, 16 lanes, and live performances by the likes of Kanye West and Guns N’ Roses. Even hotels are getting into the act. North Carolina’s Great Wolf Lodge makes bowling kid-friendly at the six-lane Ten Paw Alley. No rental shoes are required (socks or flip-flops will do fine), and balls are small enough even for two-year-olds. There are 5,000 bowling centers across America, from old-school alleys where the pins are reset by an actual pinsetter to flashy multi-use entertainment centers with expanded game rooms. Even the White House has a basement bowling alley (though your handicap doesn’t matter: you get in only if you know a staffer). Here are some of the coolest.

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Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl, New Orleans

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl
Mark Steve Guillory

Live bands play nightly at this legendary Big Easy alley, where food comes with a N’awlins twist—it might be the only bowling alley that grinds its own chuck. Shoes are cheap at a buck a pair, and you keep score the old-fashioned way (no electronic scoreboards). The stage can be seen from all 18 lanes, and dancing in between turns can prove irresistible. Time your visit for zydeco on Thursdays or swing on Wednesdays.

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The Goodnight, Austin, TX

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: The Goodnight
Breck Lewis

Serious bowlers will appreciate the eight vintage bowling lanes with custom balls and a 50-foot hand-painted mural paying tribute to characters from movies like The Big Lebowksi and Kingpin. To keep everyone else happy, this North Austin newcomer provides a huge pet-friendly deck, two elevated lounges, a full dining room that seats 80, custom pool and Ping-Pong tables, a private karaoke room, a state-of-the-art air guitar, a dining room, and live and DJ music.

03 of 23

Indy’s Atomic Duckpin Bowling, Indianapolis

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Indy's Atomic Duckpin Bowling
Fountain Square Theatre Building

In the challenging variation of duckpin bowling, one of Babe Ruth’s favorite games, the pins and balls are much smaller. Try it for yourself at two dedicated bowling floors within Indy’s iconic Fountain Square Theatre Building. Upstairs, eight vintage duckpin lanes are geared to adults and display bowling memorabilia from the early 1900s, while the ground level has seven kid-friendly duckpin lanes with authentic ’50s and ’60s bowling equipment.

04 of 23

Crush Ultra Lounge at The Meritage Resort, Napa, CA

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Crush Ultra Lounge at The Meritage Resort
Rex Gelert, Rystar Productions

Six high-end bowling lanes inside this recently opened Napa resort all operate with the Vollmer system, which makes the game much quieter. During the day, Crush is family-friendly, but after 7 p.m., it’s 21+ only. Beyond bowling, you can keep yourself entertained with billiards, shuffleboard, a dozen giant TVs, a gourmet restaurant, and a full bar with specialty cocktails and wines including the resort’s own vintage, Trinitas Cellars.

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JB’s on 41, Milwaukee

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: JB's on 41
Courtesy of JBs on 41

Professional Bowlers Association members teach newbies how to bowl in a free four-week class, while kids 15 and under bowl two free games daily all summer long at this revamped galactic bowling palace. JB’s now counts 35 bowling lanes and 10 semi-private lanes with custom cherry lanes, strobe lights, blasting music, and large-screen projection TVs. For a change of pace, try your skills outdoors at the sand volleyball area.

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Silver Dollar Saloon Bowling Alley, The Ranch at Rock Creek, Philipsburg, MT

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Silver Dollar Saloon
The Ranch at Rock Creek

An all-inclusive resort in Montana’s Big Sky Country sets the scene for this four-lane bowling alley with silhouettes of cowboys along the entire back wall. Guests can choose from a complimentary selection of shoes and bowling balls. And as befits a saloon, the Silver Dollar also offers a full-service bar, billiard tables, a karaoke machine, darts, poker and chess tables, shuffleboard, board games, and even movie screenings.

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The Alley, Charleston, SC

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: The Alley, Charleston
Jonathan Boncek with Boncek Images

This 6,870-square-foot reclaimed warehouse opened in 2012 as a retro 1970s bowling center and quickly became a local celeb magnet, with eight lanes, vintage arcade games, and a 40-foot bar made from recycled bowling lane wood. Fuel your game with oyster po’boys, braised pork belly, and slow-roasted green-chili chicken—served with a side of southern charm. (On Wednesday nights, kids eat free with a paid adult.) Saturdays call for a barbecue party on the outdoor patio and live bluegrass music.

08 of 23

Brooklyn Bowl, Williamsburg, NY

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Brooklyn Bowl
Adam Macchia

Beer from next-door Brooklyn Brewery and gourmet food from the Blue Ribbon group fuel nights out at hip Brooklyn Bowl, which opened in 2009 in a 19th-century Hecla Iron Works building in Williamsburg. How hip? The world’s first LEED-certified bowling alley—100 percent wind powered—also happens to have a killer sound system and has hosted performances by Guns N’ Roses, Kanye West, M.I.A., and Snoop Dogg.

09 of 23

Mission Bowling Club, San Francisco

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Mission Bowling Club
Alanna Hale

Don’t show up at MBC on a whim with a dozen friends and expect to bowl. With only six lanes and leather couches, this adults-only Mission District hangout has an intimate feel and requires a little advance planning. (Weekend days are reserved for Family Bowl.) During the twice-monthly Soul & Bowl events, you can throw strikes to a DJ-curated playlist of the hottest soul tracks. It’s worth coming here for the deftly made cocktails and comfort food; some say the hamburger is San Francisco’s best.

10 of 23

The Mine Shaft Bowling Alley, One Ski Hill Place, Breckenridge, CO

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: The Mine Shaft
Vail Resorts, Inc

This private two-lane bowling alley plays up its name with old-style mining lanterns, nostalgic black-and-white photos, and wooden planks. Guests at the resort have free use of the two lanes and are also provided with bowling shoes and bowling balls. Another perk: One Ski Hill Place’s hospitality menu, including lamb riblets and the Wagyu burger, can be delivered right to the alley.

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Pinz, Los Angeles

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Pinz
Grettel Cortes

You can spot movie stars, rockers, and other A-listers among the signatures on the Pin Wall of Fame at Pinz in the Hollywood Hills. And the alley certainly creates a scene: each of the 32 lanes has runner lights and pins that glow in the dark, and above are spinning disco balls and a laser light show. Mega-hits blast on the state-of-the-art sound system as your score is auto-computed on 32-inch monitors complete with 3-D graphics.

12 of 23

Timber Lanes Bowling, Chicago

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Timber Lanes
Michael Dougherty

Open since 1945, the family-owned Timber Lanes is a cash-only old-school throwback with eight wooden lanes, manual scoring, a jukebox, and a pile of take-out menus for food. It’s got unpretentious charm and affordability: $2.50 per game during the week, $3 for shoes, and $3 liquor specials at the bar. Evenings are for the 21+ crowd, from cops and lawyers to hipsters and yuppies. Children are welcome during the day and weekend afternoons.

13 of 23

Ten Paw Alley at the Great Wolf Lodge, Concord, NC

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Ten Paw Alley at the Great Wolf Lodge
Ten Paw Alley, Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge knows how to keep kids—and by extension, their parents—happy. Not only does it have an indoor water park, but it also makes bowling accessible at six-lane Ten Paw Alley. No rental shoes are required (socks or flip-flops will do fine); balls are smaller and weigh only five pounds (perfect for little fingers, even two-year-olds); and the lanes are half the length of a regular alley. Look for offshoot locations in Pocono Mountains, PA; Mason, OH; Williamsburg, VA, and Traverse City, MI.

14 of 23

Garage, Seattle

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Garage
Tom Marks

A punk rocker and artist converted this former 1928 Plymouth dealership and garage on Seattle’s Auto Row into a 40,000-square-foot nightspot with 20 bowling lanes, 25 pool tables, six bars, and three private rooms. Hipsters, college kids, and corporate types have followed, hanging out amid the 1950s retro décor, great music, art, and designer furniture.

15 of 23

Red Rock Lanes, Las Vegas

"America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Red Rock Lanes
Courtesy of Station Casinos

There’s something for everyone at this charged club that features lightweight bowling balls and lane training rails for kids, handicap bowling ramps, and cosmic bowling—glow-in-the-dark lanes, pins, and bowling balls complete with dancing lights and fog machines. All 72 lanes have Brunswick pinsetters and Vector Plus scoring systems. You can also expect pool tables, dartboards, shuffleboard, and a cosmic-themed arcade.

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Play at the Broadmoor, Colorado Springs

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Play at the Broadmoor
Courtesy of The Broadmoor

The five-star Broadmoor Resort in the Rockies has long catered to families with outdoorsy activities like horseback riding and rock climbing. Now it has launched a decidedly indoor pursuit—six retro bowling lanes—and you don’t need to be a guest to give them a spin. Hang out in the plush lounge, try the gaming systems on wide-screen TVs, and sample a handcrafted cocktail or milkshake at the bar.

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Uptown Alley, Surprise, AZ

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Uptown Alley
Courtesy of Uptown Alley

Casual bowlers and league members alike come to rock ’n bowl in this 60,000-square-foot entertainment venue with 40 high-tech lanes. Strike away beneath 15-foot projection HDTVs, black-light party bowling, a state-of-the-art scoring system, and gutter bumpers for beginners. And wait, there’s more: two-story laser tag and more than a hundred interactive games.

18 of 23

Sacco’s Bowl Haven, Somerville, MA

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Sacco's Bowl Haven
Brian Stein / Flickr

This nostalgic 10-lane bowling alley dates back to 1939 and has the equipment to prove it. Try the genuine candlepin bowling lanes, where the ball returns are powered by gravity and scoring is done with a pencil and paper. (Kids will appreciate the smaller five-pound candlepin bowling balls.) Flatbread Company took over the space in 2010 and added clay ovens so that bowlers can enjoy wood-fired organic pizza—plus gluten-free desserts and hard cider.

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Sunset Lanes, Beaverton, OR

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Sunset Lanes
Rich Uchytil / Flickr

Kids bowl free through the end of September at this remodeled half-century-old 36-lane bowling center (two free games daily and $2 shoe rental). Saturday is Monte Carlo Night, where if you make a strike and the pins glow with the correct colors, you win cash; once a month, the money shots pay double. Weekends are for Cosmic Bowling, when the white lights go black, laser lights race across the lanes, and balls glow in the dark.

20 of 23

Shenaniganz, Rockwall, TX

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Shenaniganz
Jack Palmer/Courtesy of Shenaniganz

This 24-lane bowling alley attracts families by day, but at 9 p.m. nightly, the Z Lounge transforms into an adult martini lounge. Mellow out between turns on the lane-side leather couches or in your own private room, and savor food from Rozie’s Grill while watching sports and music videos on huge HD screens. Other options for getting your game on include “lazer” combat, indoor electric “go-kartzing,” and black-light mini-golf.

21 of 23

Castle Lanes, Racine, WI

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Castle Lanes
Courtesy of Castle Lanes

It’s southeast by compass, but the vibe is North Woods at this family-friendly center whose log cabin walls are covered with taxidermy. Canadian geese and duck formations hang over the 24 state-of-the-art lanes, and the fragrant scent of pumpkin spice is everywhere. Modern touches include HDTVs, free Wi-Fi, and iPod hookups. A beach bar and four outdoor volleyball courts—made from 1,200 tons of imported sand—will tempt you to head for the action outside.

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Flaherty’s Arden Bowl, St. Paul

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Flaherty's Arden Bowl
Larry Hutchinson/Twin Cities eMedia

The longest continuously running, family-owned bowling business in America dates back to 1938 and offers leagues for all ages as well as Cosmic Bowling on its 36 lanes. Try a specialty brick-oven pizza, then test your skill in “What’s Your Shot?”—a contest for bowlers to try to win prizes while attempting feats. One example: sit in a chair at the foul line and bowl the frame with feet and bumpers up.

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Gable House Bowl, Torrance, CA

America's Coolest Bowling Alleys: Gable House Bowl
Courtesy of Gable House Bowl

One of America’s first green bowling alleys, Gable House Bowl recycles 40 tons of glass bottles yearly. But what really catches the attention of bowlers are the specials: on Monday nights and summer mornings (9 a.m. to noon), food and games cost only 25 cents after the $7 cover charge. Weekends bring a happy hour arcade, glow-in-the-dark laser tagging, and DJs. An Unleague meets here—similar to pickup basketball, with no commitment.

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