Unlike San Francisco’s Chinatown, which was conceived as a tourist attraction to draw non-Chinese shoppers before it developed into an authentic Chinese community, the city’s Japantown has been the real deal: an authentic enclave of shops, restaurants and cultural attractions aimed at serving the needs of San Francisco’s Japanese community.

It’s the largest Japanese-American neighborhood in the United States. But that doesn’t mean tourists can’t visit. The fact that it caters to locals just make the sights that much more interesting.

Except for the five-level stupa at the Japan Center’s Peace Pagoda, Japantown doesn’t look very Japanese. If it weren’t for the many signs written in kanji, it would hard to differentiate it from other neighborhoods. But in those storefronts, one can find a wealth of Japanese specialties unavailable anywhere else.

One of the coolest stores is Soko Hardware. Somehow the Japanese make garden and woodworking tools look like pieces of art. They’ve also got a great housewares section with lots of bowls, utensils and other do-dads.

The aforementioned Japan Center mall is great for slow wandering and checking out the many restaurants and retail stores.

Japanese food is of course the cuisine of choice in Japantown. O-Izakaya is an outstanding place for upscale pub food, while Juban Yakiniku is the spot for tempura. As for sushi, Ino caters to serious sushi eaters. Don’t order a California roll here.

The AMC Kabuki 8 Theater was San Francisco’s first multiplex theater and is home to the annual Asian American Film Festival. The theater offers a range of Hollywood blockbusters and independent films.

While it doesn’t have much to do with Japantown, San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium is just down the street on the corner of Geary and Fillmore.

Explore Japantown: Restaurants | Bars and Clubs | Hotels