10 Fun Things To Do In San Francisco’s Japantown

San Francisco Japantown is the oldest and largest of three remaining Japantowns in the nation — meaning it’s historical, cultural, and hard to find anywhere else in the world.

San Francisco was the main entry point into America for Japanese immigrants in the 1800s. After the devastation of the 1906 earthquake and fires, the Japanese community was segregated to the Western Addition, where they created a community of residents and business owners spanning 40 blocks.

Over the years, they’ve been displaced twice: first in 1942 due to the WWII incarceration and again, in the 1960-70s for San Francisco’s redevelopment program. Even after all that, the community still exists and thrives today!

A visit to San Francisco’s Japantown is practically a visit to Japan itself. You’ll be able to experience Japanese culture and even taste all the same flavors you’d be able to in Japan! As locals, this is one neighborhood we find ourselves going back to whenever we can.

Here is our guide to the best things to do in the area to fully experience San Francisco’s fun and festive Japantown.

Explore the Japan Center Malls

The Japan Center Malls are essentially three different buildings interconnected to make one whole mall. There’s the East Mall, West Mall, and the Kinokuniya Building.

When you step into the Japan Center Malls, it’s like entering a regular mall filled with shops and food. Except this one’s got nothing but Japanese businesses!

From traditional Japanese tea shops to stationery / paper stores, ramen joints to little udon shops and everything in between, there sure is a lot to see.

Within the malls, you’ll find a Daiso, an iconic Japanese bookstore chain, Japanese skincare shops, antique folk art shops, gift shops selling the latest cosplay fashions, anime/manga shops, and more.

There’s also a ton of food options in here! Some of our favorite casual eateries within the mall are Marufuku Ramen and Udon Mugizo. The mentaiko udon at Udon Mugizo is one of my favorite meals when I miss Japan!

Read cool books at Kinokuniya Bookstore

Books Kinokuniya
So many Japanese-themed books!

Whenever we find ourselves in Japantown, we always like spending an hour browsing through all the cool books in Kinokuniya San Francisco.

I avoided going inside the shop for years because I was never interested in buying books while exploring the city. But wow was I missing out for years. This is not just a place to buy books; it’s an experience in itself.

As you walk through the doors, you’re greeted by rows upon rows of books ranging from manga and anime to literature and cookbooks.

They’ve got LOADS of books related to Japanese culture (cookbooks, ikigai/overall wellness, Marie Kondo, Yayoi Kusama), as well as a pretty sizeable gifts/pop culture section (Sanrio characters, Studio Ghibli things, etc.), a massive manga section, and even books written in actual Japanese.

Dine at a Japanese restaurant

Japan Center Restaurant Row In Japantown San Fransciso

When in Japantown, you’ve gotta eat Japanese food, right? Well, there’s no shortage of options when it comes to restaurants.

There are two Michelin Star restaurants in the neighborhood (An Japanese Restaurant and OMA San Francisco Station), as well as a number of casual food stalls that offer snacks and even full bento meals. You’ll even find a conveyor belt sushi restaurant and a Benihana here.

While you could certainly grab a meal inside the mall, don’t forget there are lots of good restaurants outside on neighboring streets too!

You’ll also find a couple of boba shops and creperies throughout the neighborhood.

Hang out at Peace Plaza

San Francisco Japantown

Peace Plaza is the beating heart of Japantown. It’s home to the grand pagoda, the perfect photo opp to commemorate your visit to Japantown!

During March/April, the plaza is surrounded by blooming cherry blossom trees which makes it a super cute place to hang out and sit for a while.

If you’re lucky, you might even catch a cultural performance or festival happening on the plaza stage!

Eat matcha desserts at Match Cafe Maiko

Matcha Cafe Maiko is a must-visit for anyone with a sweet tooth and a deep love for all things matcha. From creamy matcha soft-serve to delicate matcha parfaits with red bean and cornflakes, every dessert is a work of art that’s almost too cute to eat.

If you can’t really handle the taste of matcha, be careful because the flavors are super rich and heavy on the matcha taste (which is a plus in my book), with just the right balance of sweetness and bitterness.

If you missed it while you were in Japantown, there’s also a location in Chinatown.

Do the Japantown History Walk

Japanese Heritage Walk San Francisco Japantown

The self-guided Japantown History Walk will take you on a journey through time and catch you up on all things Japantown history.

The San Francisco Japantown History Walk is marked by interpretive signs. You’ll be able to trace the neighborhood’s evolution from its early days as Nihonmachi to the bustling Japan Center of today.

Learn about the resilient community of Japanese immigrants who built a tight-knit neighborhood amidst adversity, including their unjust internment during WWII.

While you’re on this walk, you’ll be able to explore historic sites and cultural landmarks, such as the Pagoda and origami sculptures by local artist Ruth Asawa.

Enjoy a workshop at The Center

Japantown San Fransciso Cultural Center

The Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, affectionately known as The Center, is where you can dive deeper into Japanese culture through workshops and classes.

Whether you’re interested in learning traditional Japanese calligraphy, practicing the art of origami, playing the ukulele, or mastering the art of Japanese floral arrangement, there are workshops taking place almost every week.

The instructors are passionate and knowledgeable, making each class not only educational but also incredibly fun!

If you live in the area, there are weekly classes you can attend with a monthly membership. If you’re just visiting, they have drop-in classes you could participate in too!

Attend one of Japantown’s festive events

SF Japantown Festival
Courtesy of SF Japantown

Throughout the year, Japantown holds tons of cool events that aim to showcase and celebrate Japanese culture.

In the spring, you’ll find the Cherry Blossom Festival (held over two weekends) with drumming, sword displays, workshops, dancing, and delicious food. Summer brings the Nihonmachi Street Fair, as well as festivals that celebrate Anime and Japanese Obon (honoring ancestors).

There’s also Japan Week in mid-July, celebrating Japanese cultural arts with origami, shodo (Japanese calligraphy), taiko drumming, odori, and more.

I’ve even been to a tofu festival in Japantown! There’s a lot going on here, so be sure to keep tabs on their events calendar because these events are always so fun to witness.

Get really affordable ice cream at Miyako Ice Cream

Miyako Ice Cream San Francisco

Head over to Miyako Ice Cream for some of the best and most affordable ice cream in town (it’s Mitchell’s ice cream, aka an iconic brand in SF).

Located just on the outskirts of Japantown on Fillmore Street, this hidden gem offers a massive variety of retro candy and dessert options that are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth without breaking the bank.

Sure, there are classic favorites like vanilla and chocolate, but why get that when you get opt for unique flavors like avocado, Mexican chocolate, green tea, coconut, and lucuma?

For the last 28 years, Miyako Ice Cream has been a community hub for the Fillmore District, with owner Tom and his daughter serving generations of families with nostalgic sweets and lunchtime bargains.

I mean, you can still get a hot deli sandwich with potato salad and nachos for $3.95 — this is arguably the cheapest lunch deal in San Francisco. You can even get Coney Island hot dogs here!

Get pastries at Jane The Bakery

Jane The Bakery SF

While Jane The Bakery isn’t actually in Japantown, it’s close enough on foot that I decided to include it in this post.

Jane The Bakery brings freshly baked delectable pastries and artisanal bread to multiple areas of SF, with this location being the biggest (with the largest assortment of pastry choices).

Everything is made in house – pastries, breads, cookies – if it’s baked, they’ve baked it themselves.

We really like this bakery because they work with local suppliers and source as many ingredients as they can directly from farmers. Their offerings change all the time depending on what ingredients are in season, so while you’ll never really know what you’ll find there, there are high chances that everything will be delicious!

Some of my favorite pastries here are the banana bread and the croissants.

Jane The Bakery San Francisco
The post-lunch selection. Show up earlier in the day for even more goodness!

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Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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