How to See San Francisco's Unique Japantown

How to Spend a Day or a Weekend in Japantown San Francisco

Peace Pavilion in San Francisco's Japantown
••• Peace Pavilion in San Francisco's Japantown. Albert Huynh/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Japantown San Francisco is a tiny bit of concentrated Japanese culture in San Francisco. It's a small area dominated by shops and restaurants where you could spend a few hours or stay overnight.

Japanese settlement began in this part of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake forced people to move out of residences in Chinatown and south of Market Street. Settling in the area called the Western Addition, they built churches and shrines and soon, the neighborhood's Japanese shops and restaurants became a miniature Ginza known as Nihonmachi or Japantown.

Why Should You Go? Will You Like Japantown?

San Francisco's Japantown is a unique cultural opportunity. In fact, it's one of only three official Japantowns in the continental United States (the others are Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and Japantown in San Jose).

If you enjoy shopping for unusual things, you'll find plenty of them in any one of the Japantown shops. You might come home with Hello Kitty-themed fingernails, a cast iron teapot, all the supplies you need to make an ikebana flower arrangement, or a Daruma wishing doll.

Best Time to Go to Japantown

San Francisco weather is best in April and October, but most any time is fine, especially since many of its attractions are indoors. It's extra festive, lively, and fun during the annual events listed below.

5 Great Things to Do in Japantown San Francisco

Take a Tour: San Francisco City Guides offers free walking tours of Japantown, an excellent way to learn more about the place.

Go to the Movies: I wouldn't usually recommend going to the movies as a weekend getaway activity, and the only thing Japanese about it is the name, but the AMC Kabuki Theatre offers an extraordinarily pleasant film-going experience that's far beyond your local multiplex.

Come Clean: Kabuki Hot Springs & Spa offers a rare opportunity to experience a Japanese-style bath, a very relaxing process that comes with an incredibly reasonable price tag.

They also offer massages and other spa services at a good price.

Go Shopping: Shops in Japantown Center offer a wide range of Japanese products, including books, ikebana flower-arranging supplies, and housewares. Pika-Pika is always a hit with the girls, who like to use the Japanese photo booths to make silly stickers and photo stamps. Daiso is also a fun shopping stop. Think of it as a Japanese bargain shop, where you can find all kinds of fun and kitschy stuff for very affordable prices.

Explore the Fillmore Neighborhood: It's just a short walk to Fillmore Street, where things are decidedly less Japanese but where you'll find plenty of local boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops.

Annual Events You Should Know About

  • April: The Cherry Blossom Festival celebration includes a chance to enjoy Japanese food, watch cultural and martial arts performances, listen to live bands, and see the Grand Parade.
  • July: Japan Day Festival is a family friendly event that features performances in taiko, martial arts, koto and more.
  • August: The Nihonmachi Street Fair features music on two stages, food, and handmade artisan crafts.
  • September: J-Pop is held at the Fort Mason Center but is well worth checking out for the latest Japanese music, fashion, film, art, games, tech-innovations, anime, and food.

    Best Bites in Japantown San Francisco

    You'll find lots of Japanese restaurants in Japantown Center, serving Japanese food styles that go way beyond sushi and ramen noodles. Check reviews of them at Yelp.com to help you decide which one is best for you.

    If you'd like someone to introduce you to what's available, try Gourmet Walks' Japantown Tour.

    Where to Stay in Japantown San Francisco

    If you want to stay with the Japanese theme, the Hotel Kabuki offers a laid-back, traditional Japanese style experience, with deep soaking tubs and sliding panel walls.

    Also nearby is the Kimpton Buchanan. For help getting the best possible deal on these places or others, read about how to find a good place to stay, cheap.

    Where Is Japantown San Francisco?

    Japantown San Francisco is located west of San Francisco's Union Square, just off Geary Blvd.

    at Fillmore Street.

    One of the best things about Japantown San Francisco is that you can get there by public transportation or park your car in the Japantown Center Garage and just leave it there until you're ready to go home.