A mostly residential area of San Francisco, Western Addition stretches west from downtown's Civic Center area to Arguello Boulevard north of the Panhandle parkway. Here you'll find some of the more notable examples of Victorian architecture in a city full of them, namely the "Painted Ladies" of Alamo Square, one of the city's most famous landmarks, as well as the historical centers of the city's Japanese and African American communities, with lovely shops and restaurants reflecting the area's heritage.
Nihonmachi, also known as Japantown, the Japan Center, and Little Osaka, is a neighborhood of the Western Addition that is roughly within the confines of Sutter Street to the north, Geary Street to the south, Fillmore to the west and Laguna to the east. It is one of only three Japantowns left in the continental United States — others are in Los Angeles and San Jose. Nihonmachi was formed after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Most Japanese immigrants entered the United States through San Francisco and many settled either south of Market Street or in the Chinatown area. With the 1906 earthquake, Nihonmachi, for a time, became home to the largest Japanese-American community in the United States.
When the U.S. entered World War II, the government took Japanese Americans into custody and interned them in concentration camps. As many large sections of the neighborhood remained vacant, the void was quickly filled by thousands of African Americans who had left the South to find war-time industrial jobs in California. Following the war, some Japanese Americans returned, and the city made efforts to rejuvenate the neighborhood. Most former Japanese-American residents of San Francisco chose not to return after the World War II related relocation, and the largest Japanese-American community in San Francisco today can be found in the Sunset neighborhood.
Japantown was also negatively impacted by redevelopment in the 1950s with the widening of Geary Boulevard resulting in the destruction of dozens of Victorians. During the massive redevelopment initiated by Justin Herman in the Western Addition in the 1960s through the 1980s, large numbers of African Americans were pushed west towards the Fillmore neighborhood, east towards the Tenderloin, or south towards Hunters Point where the majority of the city's African American population resides today. Some Japanese returned, followed by new Japanese immigrants as well as investment from the Japanese government and Japanese companies. Nihonmachi remains a social and shopping center for the city's Japanese-American population.
Hayes Valley is generally considered to be the area around Hayes Street from Fillmore Street on the west to Gough, Franklin, or Van Ness on the east. Northward and southward, it extends a few blocks away from Hayes Street in either direction.
Hayes Valley is getting rapidly gentrified. It has a curious mix of boutiques, high end restaurants, hip stores, condominiums, and Victorians coupled with public housing and some mixed, probably one-time rough, neighborhoods.
At one time the Central Freeway ran though the neighborhood, but it was closed and later demolished after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In 2005, a section of the freeway branch from US 101 was rebuilt to exit at Market Street, with a boulevard running north from the exit at Market Street through the Hayes Valley along Octavia Boulevard to Hayes Street.
This part of town is very accessible by car and public parking lots are abundant compared to the surrounding neighborhoods. When coming by car from U.S. 101 towards the Golden Gate Bridge one gets on Octavia Boulevard after Market street. It is important to escape the main traffic flow by turning east or north. There are also taxis readily available at almost all hours on Fillmore and Geary Streets. Though street parking can be slightly easier to find than many other areas of the city, you should still allot 5 or more likely 10 minutes to your search for a space. There is abundant public paid parking at the Kintetsu Mall garage (discount with validation from mall and Japan Center merchants) - and limited street parking. To park your own car it may be wise to go a few blocks further to the Civic Center just to the north and east, where there some parking garages and lots. A few busy restaurants provide valet parking.
Several bus lines from Downtown run through Western Addition, including the 2-Clement, 3-Jackson, 5-Fulton, 21-Hayes, 31-Balboa and (most frequent of all) the 38-Geary. Running north-south through the neighborhood are the 22-Fillmore, 24-Divisadero, and 43-Masonic lines.
- 1 Alamo Square Park (between Steiner, Scott, Fulton and Hayes Streets). This park is best known for the famous Painted Ladies row of Victorian houses on its east side along Steiner Street, which is often the subject of many a San Francisco postcard. There are also many other pretty Victorians encircling the lovely park. The 21-Hayes bus route goes along its south side, the 5-Fulton bus passes by a block north of the park, or if you enjoy walking and don't mind modest grades you can get there by walking west from Hayes Valley or north from the Haight.
- 2 African American Historical and Cultural Society, 762 Fulton St, ☎ . Th-Sa 1PM-5PM. Displays historical and contemporary African-American arts. Free.
- 3 Japantown. Peace Plaza and shopping mall; Ruth Asawa's incredible wrought and cast bronze origami fountains on the Nihonmachi Pedestrian Mall. At the center entrance to the Japan Center is a five-tiered Peace Pagoda, it was designed by world-famous Japanese architect Yoshiro Taniguchi. The Center opened in 1968.
- 4 Sundance Kabuki 8 Theater, 1881 Post St (between Fillmore and Webster), ☎ . Home to the annual San Francisco Asian American Film Festival, this state of the art theater features foreign and independent films, with beer and wine served in two of the theaters, and a bar with appetizers on the top floor. The Kabuki is at the western most end of the Japan Center mall, and the Kabuki Springs and Spa is at the other end, just a block from the Fillmore Auditorium on the other side of Geary Boulevard. Hotel Kabuki at Post and Laguna has a picturesque Japanese garden.
- 5 Webster Bridge, Webster Street (over Geary Boulevard). The bridge's design was inspired by traditional Japanese pedestrian walkways. In addition to providing a safe passage over the traffic on Geary Boulevard, the arched bridge has views of Japan Center and Western Addition.
- 6 The Panhandle, (between Fell and Oak, Steiner and Baker streets) (on the southwestern edge of the Western Addition). This long narrow park is the main entrance to Golden Gate Park, which goes for another 40+ blocks to the west (and the Pacific Ocean). The Panhandle also includes the most famous bicycle route in the city, the Wiggle, which follows the easy grades of a former creekbed to connect Market Street with the Fillmore, Haight, Golden Gate Park and the Avenues. You'll find a playground, basketball courts, dog walking, weekend barbecues and picnics. It's an easy two block walk to the Haight Street shopping district, or three blocks to the University of San Francisco's hilltop campus and its imposing St. Ignatius Cathedral.
- 1 Fillmore Auditorium, 1805 Geary Blvd (at Fillmore), ☎ . Hosts concerts and contemporary bands.
- 2 Kabuki Springs & Spa, 1750 Geary Blvd, ☎ . 10AM-9:45PM daily. Traditional Japanese-style onsen with full spa services. Communal baths are co-ed only one day per week, see calendar for details.
- University of San Francisco Dons, University of San Francisco campus, ☎ . Various college sports including baseball, basketball, soccer and volleyball. General admission for any game: $7-10 adults, $5-7 seniors, $3-5 children.
- Fillmore Street Jazz Festival, toll-free: . The jazz festival happens the first weekend in July, with several music stages and a street arts fair to Fillmore Street between Jackson and Eddy.
- Juneteenth Festival, 762 Fulton St, ☎ . San Francisco joins towns and cities across the US in celebrating the arrival of the news of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1863. Juneteenth is a celebration of African-American culture as well as a celebration of freedom from slavery and remembrance of what it is to be free.
- Cherry Blossom Festival. In Japantown in the spring (April) since 1967, this popular festival includes a parade from the Civic Center to the Japantown mall area, a street fair, music and a lot to do. Great event to take kids to.
- Nihonmachi Street Fair. This mid-August street fair has been celebrating San Francisco's Asian cultures and raising funds for community organizations since 1973.
- San Francisco International Film Festival. Many of the screenings are shown at the Sundance Kabuki 8 Theater on Post Street (see above) every April and May.
- 1 Soko Hardware, 1698 Post St (at Buchanan), ☎ . M-Sa 9AM-5:30PM. Has everything from copper rain chains and iron cabinetry findings, fine woodworking tools to bulk nails, porcelain to everyday kitchenware; just what you want in a longstanding hardware store.
- 2 Maido Stationery, 1581 Webster St (at Post), ☎ . 10:30AM-8PM daily. Has a huge collection of washii decorative papers that is only surpassed by their incredible collection of pens, stationery and gift items.
- 3 Kinokuniya Bookstore, 1581 Webster St (at Post), ☎ . 10:30AM-8PM daily. If you're into Japanese books, magazines, or comic books (otherwise known as manga), then this is your place to be. The only San Francisco branch of the famous Japanese chain, Kinokuniya carries thousands of titles, including dozens in English. So a crash course in Japanese is not essential to shop here.
There are many, many noodle shops and restaurants to explore in Japantown. There's also some fabulous BBQ along Fillmore Avenue south of Geary, in this traditionally multicultural part of town. The Japan Center is packed with restaurants, particularly in the Kintetsu Building. More Japanese restaurants can be found along Post St and in the Buchanan Mall, across Post Street.
- 1 Absinthe, 398 Hayes St (at Gough), ☎ . Tu-W 11:30AM-midnight, Th-F 11:30AM-2AM, Sa 11AM-2AM, Su 11AM-10PM. Restyles the rustic foods of southern France into sleek urban classics. Wonderful (expensive) cocktails based on 100-year old recipes. Not the cheapest place in town, but affordable and the quality of the food is an excellent value. A pretty, white-tablecloth setting and excellent service make this a lovely lunch spot. Avoid weekend evenings before 8PM, when crowds from the nearby theater district can mean a wait. And they now serve absinthe.
- 2 Fuku-Sushi Restaurant, 1581 Webster St (at Post), ☎ . Open 11AM-11PM or later. While Fuku can be pricey, the quality of the sushi is excellent and well worth it. This is one of the best sushi restaurants in a city packed with hundreds. The atmosphere is low key and if you can sit at the bar, Nobu is wonderful to chat with. The service is exceptional and more in line with a traditional Japanese sushi house.
- 3 Isobune, 1737 Post St (between Buchanan and Webster, in the Kintetsu Mall), ☎ . 10:30AM-10PM daily. As the floating sushi bars so popular in Japan, the sushi chefs at Isobune prepare food and place it on wooden boats that sail around the inner perimeter of an oval counter. Patrons seated at the counter simply lift the dishes they want off the bobbing boats. Your bill depends on the number of empty dishes you're left with. It's fun, cheap, and delicious.
- 4 Little Star Pizza, 846 Divisadero St (between McAllister and Fulton), ☎ . Su-Th 5PM-10PM, F-Sa 5PM-11PM. The Chicago deep dish here is among the best in the city.
- 5 On the Bridge, 1581 Webster St (at Post), ☎ . 11:30AM-10PM daily. This ultra-cute little eatery, on the bridge connecting the Kintetsu and Kinokuniya Buildings, specializes in an intriguing Euro-Japanese and Indo-Japanese hybrid cuisine called yoshoku, which has been popular in Japan for more than 100 years. Japanese 'pastas' and curried rice plates take on unexpected but delightful flavors.
- 6 Mifune, 1737 Post St (between Buchanan and Webster, in the Kintetsu Mall), ☎ . Su-Th 11AM-9:30PM, F-Sa 11AM-10PM. Wheelchair Accessible. Looking like a '60s movie-set depiction of a Japanese house, Mifune is one of San Francisco's most popular noodle parlors. A mere $5 will set you up with a hearty bowl of udon or soba noodles, either in a bowl of hot broth or served cold with a dipping cup of sauce. Many delicious vegetarian selections are available.
- 7 Sapporo-Ya Japanese Restaurant, 1581 Webster St (at Post, in the Kinokuniya Building), ☎ . M-Sa 11AM-11PM, Su 11AM-10:30PM. Excellent Japanese noodles served dozens of ways. Open very late, and a good place to warm up on a cold foggy day.
- 8 Smitten Ice Cream, 432 Octavia St #1a. Excellent made to order with liquid nitrogen ice cream.
- 9 SPQR, 1911 Fillmore St, ☎ . M-Tu 11:30AM-2:30PM and 5PM-10PM, W-Th 5PM-10PM, F 5PM-11PM, Sa 11:30AM-11PM, Su 11:30AM-10PM. Beautiful European stylized restaurant with a great menu of Italian cuisine and wine, serving walk-ins only - keeping the clientèle local and less stuffy than reservation only dinning.
- 10 Suppenküche, 525 Laguna St (at Hayes), ☎ . M-Sa 5PM-10PM, Su 10AM-2:30PM and 5PM-10PM. For casual German food and service, beer -- of course -- served at shared tables.
- 11 Thai Stick, 2001 Fillmore St (at Pine), ☎ . Affordable and delicious traditional Thai food right at the corner of Fillmore and Pine.
- 12 Sacred Grounds, 2095 Hayes St (at Cole Street, one block north of the Panhandle), ☎ . 9AM-5PM daily; 8AM on weekdays; a few evenings too. This is the oldest remaining coffeeshop cafe in the Haight-Ashbury. Except for the free Wi-Fi, you almost feel like you are back in the 1960s, with low prices, simple food and a low key neighborhood vibe. Good vegetarian soups and chili. Sandwiches, snacks and desserts. And coffees. Check out the original '60s wallpaper in the bathroom.
- 13 Twilight Cafe, 2600 McAllister Street (at Stanyan Street), ☎ . M-F 8AM-6PM. This family deli serves fresh Middle Eastern fare including delicious homemade pastries and desserts. Open for breakfast, lunch, and all afternoon, but not on evenings or weekends. One block from the USF campus and a block from the northeast corner of Golden Gate Park.
- 14 Jannah, 1775 Fulton St (east of Masonic Ave), ☎ . Tu-F 11AM-9PM, Sa-Su noon-9PM. This unique Iraqi restaurant may remind you of Middle Eastern restaurants but it goes quite a bit deeper into the Iraqi cusine. An undiscovered neighborhood gem. Entrees include numerous phyllo dough casseroles with meat or vegetables; lamb shank with a variety of side options; and meat or fish kabobs with five radically different settings and sauces. Try either of the appetizer pizzas -- one has a falafel crust, veggies and goat cheese. Save room for an excellent selection of desserts that you probably haven't seen elsewhere.
- 15 Mel's Drive-In (Mel's Diner), 3355 Geary Blvd (east of Stanyan, west of Parker), ☎ . Su-Th 6AM-1AM, F-Sa 6AM-3AM. This all day, late night diner is a classic bit of Americana, full of shiny stainless steel walls and counters. It's covered in American Graffiti movie posters and outtake photos, since part of the film was shot in this small chain's Lombard St. diner. Good solid comfort food, free parking, with good desserts and ice cream treats. A jukebox control at every table, sucking down your quarters to hear hits from the 1950's.
- Absinthe (see above), Hayes and Gough. Has fine French wines, that can be tasted in its bar or on its sidewalk tables, and also can be purchased next door.
- 1 Biergarten, 424 Octavia St. Do not expect a picturesque Bavarian scene but you will find familiar beer and food.
- 2 Boom Boom Room, 1601 Fillmore St (at Geary). A super fun bar with live blues, rock and funk bands.
- Suppenküche (see above), Hayes and Laguna. Has a busy bar where German beers dominate.
- 3 Yoshi's Jazz Club, 1330 Fillmore St (at Eddy St.), ☎ . The newer version of the famous Oakland club, featuring famous jazz performers as well as hip hop and latin music. Yoshi's restaurant serves excellent though unusually expensive Japanese food in an elegant setting.
- 1 Days Inn, 465 Grove St (between Gough and Octavia), ☎ , fax: . A typical Days Inn with few frills; free breakfast and wireless internet.
- 2 Hotel Tomo, 1800 Sutter St (at Buchanan), ☎ , fax: . Each room has anime-style murals and views of the city. Fun stuff like gaming suites, bean bag chairs and glow-in-the-dark desk blotters.
- 3 Hayes Valley Inn, 417 Gough St (between Ivy and Hayes), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. European Style. Extremely cute, homey, and comfortable. $84–$105.
- 4 Hotel Kabuki, 1625 Post St (at Laguna), ☎ , fax: . A Japanese-style hotel with a calm ambiance.
- 5 Queen Anne Hotel, 1590 Sutter St (at Octavia), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. The Queen Anne provides a real San Francisco experience, being an 1890 Victorian Hotel between Pacific Heights and the Civic Center, and near Japantown. Some rooms have fireplaces, and afternoon tea is served daily.
- 1 San Francisco Public Library - Western Addition Branch, 1550 Scott St (between Post and Geary), ☎ . Su 1PM-5PM, M-Tu 10AM-6PM, W 1PM-8PM, Th 10AM-8PM, F 1PM-6PM, Sa 10AM-6PM.