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What You Need to Know Before Visiting Japantown in San Francisco

I have taken my kids on a few trips to San Francisco and hope to provide tips on visiting the historic city.

Japantown in San Francisco

Japantown in San Francisco

Visiting San Francisco

San Francisco is a beautiful and historic city with lots of attractions. In recent years, the City by the Bay has become a target for headlines describing surges in crime. Headlines like these from the last couple of years are scary for potential tourists.

"Canadian Film Crew Robbed at Gunpoint at San Francisco's Twin Peaks"

"Visitors Staying Cautious Following Recent Robberies, Car Break-Ins in SF"

"Where Not to Bring Your Camera in San Francisco"

"Car break-ins increased 750% in San Francisco’s tourist spots"

"Rampant crime threatens tourism industry in San Francisco"

Signs around the city urge tourists not to leave anything in their cars. This is good advice; the rate of car break-ins is high throughout the city.

When planning where to go for the July 4th weekend, my kids insisted it had to be San Francisco so that they could go to Stranger Things: The Experience. I planned the trip with quite a bit of trepidation. Reading reviews of some hotels didn't help. For one hotel, reviewers complained that they had to walk across a track populated with homeless people to get to their rooms. After lots of research on safe places to stay, I chose Japantown.

Hotel Kabuki

We booked a room in Hotel Kabuki, a 218-room hotel on Post Street. We had no trouble finding parking at the Japan Center Garage, which is under the hotel. There were lots of open spots. The cost is $29 per night. We kept our car in the garage during our visit and used Uber to get around.

Google describes the area as a "compact historic enclave" that offers "an assortment of sushi, ramen, and shabu-shabu restaurants, plus specialty grocery stores, kitschy gift shops, karaoke bars, and Asian-style day spas."

Japantown is one of the largest and oldest ethnic enclaves in the United States. It is approximately six city blocks, but is packed with history and cultural experiences!

View from Hotel Kabuki

View from Hotel Kabuki

Nearby Attractions

The Japantown area is close to many popular tourist destinations. It is approximately 2.65 miles from Fisherman's Wharf. Boats to Alcatraz leave from this location. Golden Gate Park, about three miles away, has several popular tourist spots, including the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco Botanical Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, and de Young Museum.

The Presidio and Fort Point Lighthouse are about five miles away. And if you want to ride a cable car, the Powell/Hyde Cable Car line is just over two miles away. The Powell/Hyde line runs from Union Square to Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf. It passes Lombard Street—the famous street with eight hairpin turns.

Restaurants

We never felt unsafe during our time in Japantown. This includes when we walked the almost empty streets on our way to and from breakfast on the morning of July 4th. We had breakfast at Sweet Maple each morning of our stay. We enjoyed pancakes, eggs, toast, and potato medleys. Even though the line was long the first time we went, it moved fast. We had about a 20 minute wait to be seated. There were a few other breakfast spots within walking distance that we didn't try.

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YakiniQ Korean BBQ across the street from Hotel Kabuki is a tempting place to try. Unfortunately, you can expect up to a two hour wait on busy evenings. Join the waitlist through Yelp to avoid waiting around.

However, not all restaurants in the area were that busy. When we went to Ramen Yamadaya for dinner, we only had to wait a few minutes for a table. San Wang Chinese near YakiniQ always had open tables when we walked by. You can use the Yelp app to determine what restaurants have long wait times.

There are several restaurants within walking distance of Hotel Kabuki

There are several restaurants within walking distance of Hotel Kabuki

Mall

The attraction of focus in the neighborhood is the Japan Center Mall at 1737 Post Street. San Francisco's Peace Pagoda is between the East and West entrances. One entrance to the East mall is next door to Hotel Kabuki's main entrance. The mall has lots of Asian-themed stores, while Restaurant Row has several Asian restaurants.

According to the Japantown website, the stores sell "everything Japanese from silk kimonos and antique folk art to the latest cosplay fashions and manga from Japan. Beyond cliché souvenirs, there are trendy t-shirts and tote bags, porcelain pottery, tea, incense, and the latest in Asian skincare."

My favorite store is the two-level Kinokuniya Bookstore. There is also a huge Daiso in the East Mall. People who enjoy pop culture (manga and anime) and buying collectibles will love browsing the stores in the mall.

The Japantown Peace Pagoda is located between the east and west entrances to the Japan Center Mall

The Japantown Peace Pagoda is located between the east and west entrances to the Japan Center Mall

Be Cautious at All Times

Even though Japantown is safer than other parts of San Francisco, you should always be on alert. The area has a C+ rating for safety on Niche.com, which provides report cards on neighborhoods around the country. Crime is much higher than the national average. We walked around at night, but we stuck to areas around Hotel Kabuki which had lots of foot traffic. We were always aware of our surroundings. We didn't hear any police sirens during our whole stay.

This forum on city-data.com has some helpful posts about safety in Japantown. One piece of advice from the forum we took into consideration was, "the Japantown area is fine, but south of Geary has a lot of housing projects that attract crime, so stay north of Geary."

Unhoused populations in San Francisco tend to bear the brunt of criticism regarding the city's levels of cleanliness and safety. We stayed two nights in Japantown and saw only two unhoused people near our hotel. They minded their business, but if you're nervous, make sure to mind your business as well. On a previous trip to San Francisco a few years ago, more aggressive appearing people wandered the streets near our hotel and scared our kids. Due to that experience, I had been hesitant to go back.

But after this time, I plan to take a longer trip next year and stay in the Japantown area again!

© 2022 LT Wright

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