Given to San Francisco by sister city Osaka in the 1960s, the Peace Pagoda is Japantown's most iconic landmark. (Ei Katsumata)

Modern Guide to Japantown: Kitschy Shops, Stylish Hotels, Photogenic Sweets + All the Noodles

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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

Chef Pim Techamuanvivit's Nari, a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant, is a standout in the neighborhood dominated by fast-casual sushi, noodles, and photogenic Japanese sweets.

(Courtesy of Nari)

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—opened her second SF restaurant, Nari (1625 Post St.), in the Hotel Kabuki, drawing foodies hungry for something other than the neighborhood's sushi and noodles. Her spacious dining room serves traditional Thai recipes with a modern Californian perspective—think grilled Monterey squid and pork jowl with sticky rice and whole branzino tossed with lemongrass, ginger, and peanuts. The unique cocktails are not to be missed.

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. // Opened in 2014, 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. // Mums Home of Shabu Shabu (1800 Sutter St.) remains temporarily closed (at press time) due to Covid-19. Check their website for updates.

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. // Get your hands on mochis of all flavors at Benkyodo Co. (1747 Buchanan St.), including pink habutai, red bean, and peanut butter. // 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. The fluffy dream is filled with buttery cream and coated in candy. Go early before they sell out, usually by 11:30 am. // 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.), inside the recently renovated Joie de Vivre hotel. 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. // New in 2021, Jina Bakes (1581 Webster St.) is already 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

Relax and restore in the Himalayan salt room at the Korean Pearl Spa.

(Courtesy of Pearl Spa)

Shopping

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.

Entertainment

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 new, 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.

Relaxation

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.

Best Hotels in San Francisco's Japantown

The Nicole Hollis–designed lobby at Hotel Buchanan.

(Courtesy of Hotel Buchanan)

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. // Nearby, competitor Kimpton Hotels is raising the stakes at Hotel Buchanan (1800 Sutter St.), where the tchotchke styling of the former anime-inspired Hotel Tomo has given way to sophisticated interiors by SF designer Nicole Hollis. Whiskey is a thing here—perhaps a nod to Japan's love of the stuff—so look for the light fixture made from 3,100 whiskey bottles. All 131 rooms have a curated ambiance including shibori-print pillows and kimono robes.

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