San Francisco’s Japantown is a significant historical district and a rare sight in the US. There are only 3 remaining Japantowns in the US and SF is home to the oldest and largest of them. The 6-block neighborhood is a cultural hub for the Japanese-American community as well as a destination for delicious food, drinks, and nightlife. There is a lot to see and do in Japantown so here is a little guide to get you started.
The two massive shopping malls are packed with an impressive collection of retail shops, restaurants, cafes, bookstores and so much more. Here are a few spots to check out:
- Oma San Francisco Station – Omakase restaurant
- Daikoku by Shiki – Fine pottery and housewares
- Kinokuniya – Bookstore
- Sophie’s Crepes – Custom dessert crepes
- Suzu Noodle House – Noodles/Ramen
Kabuki Springs has been an SF institution for the past 50 years, nestled in the center of Japantown. This traditional Japanese spa is an oasis from the outside world with soft ambient music, low lighting, and a strict no-talking policy. You’ll find sliced cucumbers for your eyes, salt scrubs, cool face towels, and ample chaise longue to recline on. With a spacious dry sauna, steam room, cold plunge, and hot pool, it checks all the boxes for a day of self-care. Tuesday is the only co-ed day with bathing suits required. Every other day is split evenly between men-only and women-only days, where clothing is optional.
Location: 1750 Geary Blvd
New People is an organization that aims to bring Japanese popular culture to the U.S. They celebrate Japanese film, music, and fashion while playing host to numerous events such as the Japan Film Festival of San Francisco and the J-Pop Summit Festival. The shops and restaurants include:
- SOU・SOU – Unique Japanese clothing shop
- Crown & Crumpet Tea Stop Cafe – The British-inspired tea salon of your dreams.
- BABY, THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT – Specializes in Japanese Lolita fashion
- LashSpot – Lash extension spa
Location: 1746 Post Street
Japantown’s iconic Peace Plaza opened in 1968 and features a large open courtyard and the famed Peace Pagoda, a five-tiered concrete stupa that was inspired by pagodas in Japan’s ancient capital, Nara. The plaza is home to numerous community celebrations such as the SF Cherry Blossom Festival, Nihonmachi Street Fair (early-August), the Summer Obon Festival, and the Year-End Festival.
Cross Post Street to explore the Buchanan Mall, a pedestrian-only street lined with shops, restaurants, and public art including the Origami Fountains, designed by SF artist Ruth Asawa. It’s an excellent place to browse the shops or just sit and enjoy the sunshine.
Location: Buchanan Street between Post and Sutter
The coffee crunch cake at Yasukochi Sweet Shop is legendary. This nearly 50-year-old family-owned bakery is a humble operation located inside Super Mira Market. Don’t let the location fool you, this place is extraordinary and they bake some of the most sought-after cakes in SF. Coffee crunch is their signature cake but everything they produce is worth the visit.
Location: 1790 Sutter Street
6. Sing your heart out at Karaoke
Karaoke was invented and popularized in Japan well before it made its way to your local dive bar. Karaoke culture is huge, so it’s no surprise that Japantown is home to a treasure trove of karaoke options. There are opportunities to sing on stage, from your bar stool, and even book your own private room with a few friends. There’s something for everyone. Here are a few spots to enjoy a little shochu and sing your little heart out.
If you want to bring a little taste of Japantown home with you, be sure to stop at Ninjiya Market. This extraordinary grocery store is packed with a dizzying variety of classic Japanese grocery staples along with fresh sushi, sashimi, and other high-quality prepared foods. This place is absolutely worth a stop if only to grab some mochi for the road.
Location: 1737 Post St. #333
We all love to night in with some casual Netflix-binging, but some films are just too grand to enjoy on the small screen. Luckily, Japantown is also home to one of the best movie theaters in SF, located a few doors down from Japan Center Mall. They have a full bar, which means that you’ll be able to enjoy a cocktail before, during, or after the film.
Location: 1881 Post Street