Family Fun in San Francisco's Japantown

November 16, 2013

San Francisco JapantownWhen we're in San Francisco, one of our favorite spots for an afternoon of shopping and dining is Japantown. A trip to Japantown, which is located in the city's Western Addition neighborhood, is a great way to take in Japanese culture, and it's certainly less effort than taking the family on a trip to Japan! San Francisco's Japantown is the largest and oldest Japanese neighborhood in the United States.

Japantown, or Nihonmachi, was established in its present location following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, and flourished in the early years of the 20th century. After suffering a downtown during World War II and the internment of Japanese Americans, the area was rejuvenated in the 1950s and '60s. The centerpiece of this six-square-block enclave is the Japan Center Mall. It and the surrounding area are home to numerous Japanese restaurants, shops, and grocery stores.

The Japan Center Mall is a fun place for a family outing, especially if the weather is cold or rainy (not a rarity in San Francisco). The mall is anchored by the large concrete Peace Pagoda in an outdoor plaza, where it also hosts popular local events like the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, held over two weekends in April, and the Nihonmachi Street Fair, which takes place in August.

San Francisco JapantownSan Francisco Japantown

When we visit Japantown, we always try to grab a bite to eat at our favorite restaurant in Japan Center's restaurant row, Mifune. This bustling little restaurant serves up homemade Japanese noodles, like udon, soba, and ramen, prepared in a variety of ways. The kids like to get their Bullet Train children's meal, which is served in a plastic model bullet train and includes tempura and cold soba or udon with a dipping sauce.

Prices at Mifune are really reasonable, portions are generous, and the food is served quickly, which makes it a great choice for families. And who doesn't like noodles? During busy periods there can be a line out the door, but the staff keeps things moving pretty quickly. You can even buy bags of fresh noodles to take home.

San Francisco JapantownSan Francisco Japantown

If noodles aren't your thing, Japantown offers countless other choices, from frozen yogurt, crepes, and baked goods to sushi, okonomiyaki, and yakiniku, There's even a Benihana, in case you feel like splurging.

Japantown also offers plenty of shopping opportunities, especially for Japanese goods. There's a large branch of the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya for books and manga, a Sanrio store that stocks all things Hello Kitty, and numerous shops offering traditional Japanese ceramics and cast-iron ware.

San Francisco JapantownSan Francisco Japantown

We always make sure to pay a visit to Daiso, which is sort of like the Japanese Dollar Tree. Almost everything here costs only $1.50, and it's a great place to stock up on origami paper, school supplies, Japanese ceramics, chopsticks, kitchen goods, and snacks.

If You Go

Japantown is located near San Francisco's Western Addition and Lower Pacific Heights neighborhoods, where its bounded roughly by Geary and Post Streets at the north and south and Webster and Laguna Streets on the west and east. Japan Center Mall is located between Geary and Post Streets at Webster Street.

To get there from Marin, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take Doyle Drive to Lombard Street toward downtown San Francisco. Turn right on Gough Street and follow it to Geary. Turn right on Geary and follow it to Laguna Street and the Japan Center Mall. We've never had any trouble finding metered street parking in the area, but we usually opt to park in the Japan Center Garage, where parking fees range from $1 to $4 an hour, depending on the time of day.

For more information on Japantown visit sfjapantown.org.