One of just three official Japantowns in the U.S., San Francisco's hub of Japanese culture is brimming with original restaurants, quirky shops, and unique community vibes.
Beyond the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, which blooms every April, there are a slew of things to do, eat, and see, especially for young people seeking quirky Instagram ops.
Here's where to hang out while you're in the 'hood.
Where to Eat + Drink in SF's Japantown
Slow-cooked octopus with Jaffna curry leaf rub, yogurt, pomelo, mint, and purple radish at Copra.(Chad Santo Tomas)
Japantown's neighbors in Pacific Heights and the Western Addition have long gotten all the attention when it comes to trendy dining—State Bird Provisions and Octavia are within walking distance. But in 2019, chef Pim Techamuanvivit—of downtown's Michelin-starred Kin Khao—put the neighborhood on the culinary map her sophomore restaurant, Nari(1625 Post St.). Inside the Hotel Kabuki, the spot serves traditional Thai recipes with a modern Californian perspective. // Nari has recently been joined by another elevated spin on Asian cuisines: Michelin-starred chef Sri Gopinathan (formerly of Campton Place) is making magic of modern Indian and Sri Lankan fare at his much-buzzed-about Copra(1700 Fillmore St.), where the interior design alone is enough to transport us right out of SF.
Sushi, Noodles + More
Of course, Japantown proper offers plentiful affordable, authentic eats that are well-suited to casual meals before or after a movie at AMC Kabuki or a spa treatment at Kabuki Springs. There's nothing to hate about the fried chicken ramen at Suzu Noodle House(1825 Post St.), a spare yet comfortable eatery for soba noodles and other Japanese delicacies. // Udon Mugizo(1581 Webster St.) is one of the few places that makes its noodles fresh in house. Choose from a variety of udon, ramen, and soba bowls to warm you up on a foggy day. // We love Kui Shin Bo(22 Peace Plaza), a laidback place for simple, homemade Japanese food at super affordable prices. Must try: takoyaki. // For okonomiyaki pizza and 23 types of Japanese pasta, visit On the Bridge(1581 Webster St.), a casual Asian-fusion restaurant situated, you guessed it, on the bridge between Japantown East and West. Featuring an extensive anime collection, the longtime establishment got a bunch of buzz when punk icon Patti Smith raved about it. // Try classic street food at Takoyaki Yama-chan(1737 Post St.). Their savory and steamy, crispy dough balls filled with octopus are worth the wait. // Tucked away in a corner of the Japantown Mall, Oma San Francisco Station(1737 Post St.) offers incredible sushi in a casual setting. While the minimal restaurant appears unassuming—there are only eight bar stools in the entire restaurant—it's known for having one of the best omakase experiences in San Francisco. // Stop by Izumiya(1581 Webster St.) for authentic Japanese comfort food in a chill environment. People rave about their okonomiyaki, which always hits the spot.
Sweets & Snacks
When hanging around Japantown, matcha seems like a must. Matcha Cafe Maiko(1581 Webster St., Ste. 175) serves up a taste of Japan in the form of shaved ice, ice cream, lattes, frappes, and floats—every last one so photogenic that the place is an Instagram darling. // Also sending IGers into a tizzy is Uji Time(22 Peace Plaza, #440), a fusion dessert spot best known for its soft ice cream served in cute fish-shaped taiyaki cones, each one made fresh in about 15 minutes and filled with satisfying swirls of matcha, sesame, or tofu-flavored froyo. // Sophie's Crepes(1581 Webster St.) offers a genius mix of cones and crepes filled with exotic and traditional ice cream flavors and more toppings than you can imagine. // Hidden inside the Super Mira Market, Yusukochi's Sweet Shop(1790 Sutter St.) has been making its beloved coffee crunch cake since 1974 and it still sells out, usually by 11:30 am. In 2023, it was James Beard Award semi-finalist in the Best Bakery category. // Belly Good Coffee & Crepes in the Kintetsu Mall (1737 Post St.) serves up crepes with luscious fillings and loads of personality. // When cocktails are in order, ask for yours in a lucky cat mug at The Bar at Hotel Kabuki(1625 Post St.). Here you'll find a selection of Japanese whiskeys, sake, and beer, as well as light bites—don't miss the spicy hamachi and karaage chicken. // Opened in 2021, Jina Bakes(1581 Webster St.) is making waves with their show-stopping pastries. If you get there early enough, you'll be able to snag a sweet and savory croissant or adorable matcha cream puff. // The treats at Mochill Mochi Donut(2353 E 12th St.) are almost too pretty to eat, but who can resist rings of mochi fried to golden perfection? Plus, they come in more than 20 unique flavors. // Neighborhood staple Miyako Old Fashioned Ice Cream(1470 Fillmore St.) is a blast from the past. Their cozy storefront offers towering cones of hand-dipped ice cream in a variety of flavors such as black walnut, ube, buco, as well as other sweet treats like Halo-Halo, banana splits, and The Grasshopper. They also have an amazing selection of throwback candy bars from back in the day.
Things to Do in Japantown, San Francisco
Find your moment of zen at Peace Plaza in San Francisco's Japantown.
(Courtesy of @hotelkabuki)
A lot goes on inside Japantown's malls. Kitschy stores, coffee shops, jewelry chains, and restaurants are hidden within the Japan Center and Nihonmachi malls. // Makers and creative types love Japantown for its quirky shops filled with unexpected finds. At Kinokuniya Books(1581 Webster St.), you'll enter a world full of Japanese literature, comics, stationery, toys, Maido stationery, lots of gifts. If you don't speak Japanese, you won't be able to read a single word, but the shelves are full of magical illustrations worth the flip time. //Daiso Japan(22 Peace Plaza) is basically a glorious dollar store—browse the aisles for hours and fill your cart with finds under a couple of bucks. // A small slice of Hawaii in the middle of Japantown, Aloha Warehouse(1731 Buchanan St.) is the place to find Hawaiian sweets, hula supplies, apparel, and a huge selection of ukuleles. You know you need one. // Challenge your inner Mr. Miyagi and get yourself a bonsai tree and all necessary accoutrements at Katsura Garden(1825 Post St). Happy pruning! // Pick up some elegant paper for origami, high-end gift wrapping, or classic scrapbooking at Paper Tree(1743 Buchanan St.), which also offers origami classes for everyone interested in the ancient Japanese art. // Kohshi(1737 Post St.) translates to "master of scents" in Japanese, which is apt for their wide array of incense, soaps, perfumes, and candles. Whether you're looking for a gift or just a new scent for your home, Kohshi has you covered. // Homeware enthusiasts need to check out Daikoku by Shiki(1737 Post St.) to marvel at their selection of Japanese ceramics. Beautifully painted pottery and adorable panda teapots are some of the stand-out items, as well as chopsticks, mugs, tea sets, and more.
Every April, the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival blooms in Japantown. It's a quintessential moment to experience the splendid colors and grace of local Japanese culture. // New People(1746 Post St.) is an entertainment complex that highlights Japanese pop culture, fashion, and art—and hosts a range of events. Enjoy afternoon tea at New People's whimsically decorated first story tea room, Crown and Crumpet, then make your way up through the additional floors to an escape room, cinema, and a couple Japanese women's fashion boutiques. // Reserve a seat and grab an adult beverage at the bar before seeing a movie at AMC Kabuki 8(1881 Post St.). // August marks the annual Nihonmachi Street Fair(1581 Webster St.), which has been a tradition for over 40 years. This festival celebrates the beauty and diversity of Asian-Pacific American cultures with live performances, food, music, art, and more. // There's no better way to spend a night on the town than singing some tunes with your closest friends.K Box Karaoke(1660 Geary Blvd.) lets you do just that in a modern space with private rooms. There's even a recording studio if you want to get some last minute practice in before you sing your heart out.
Home to the five-story Peace Pagoda, which was built in the 1960s and given to SF by sister city Osaka, Japan, Peace Plaza(1610 Geary Blvd.) is the center of Japantown and an iconic spot to stop and rest. //A wellness oasis bordering Japantown and Pacific Heights, Kabuki Springs & Spa(1750 Geary Blvd.) is a classic Japanese-style bathhouse with hot tubs, cold plunge, and steam rooms. Go for a communal soak (Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are women-only), but also indulge in the menu of massages, seaweed wraps, facials, and more. // Pearl Spa and Sauna(1654 Post St.) is a women's only Korean health spa offering oil and scrub treatments and massages in a serene space. After a trip to the sauna, jacuzzi, or clay ball room, and a Pearl Special moisturizing treatment, you'll feel relaxed and rejuvenated. // Hands down our favorite facial in town is at Lori Anderson Skincare(1801 Bush St. #113)—a one-woman studio where we receive personalized treatments using lovely natural products.
Where to Stay in Japantown San Francisco
(Courtesy of @hotelkabuki)
The most noticeable change to Japantown in the recent years is the opening of bona fide, fashionable hotels, solidifying the neighborhood as a destination for tourists (and staycationers) who come for the area's Japanese culture as well as for the foodie scene here and in neighboring Fillmore and Western Addition.
Joie de Vivre's Hotel Kabuki(1625 Post St.) is luring locals to the 'hood with posh contemporary design, lofty open spaces that feel inviting for meetings or just a moment of downtime, and a cocktail bar and restaurant serving kitschy drinks and Japanese-inflected fare. Those with keys can enjoy modern-zen-style rooms with poppy art and cascading rain showers. // Kimpton's boutique Hotel Enso (1800 Sutter St.) is a newcomer to neighborhood, filling the shoes of the former Hotel Buchanan. The vibe is wabi-sabi and the amenities are geared toward families with kids and fur babies. Grab a Japanese soda from the vending machine and play some lawn games in the outdoor courtyard.