Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Travel: Exploring the Japanese San Francisco



Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco


Let's do something a little different today with a travel post that I hope you'll enjoy. Don't worry, we'll talk about beauty too!
I live in San Diego but my in-laws are in Oakland, across the Bay from San Francisco, so I often spend time in the legendary Fog City and the Bay Area. During my last trip I decided to explore the Japanese landmarks to be found in San Francisco, starting with the Japanese Tea Garden in the Golden Gate Park, then heading to Japantown and the fun Japan Center mall. You could easily do both in a half-day if you have a car, but if you're on foot like I was and want to spend a little extra time wandering around in the Golden Gate Park, you can stretch this little itinerary to make it a day trip if you don't start too early.


Japanese Tea Garden


Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
The entrance gate to the Japanese Tea Garden

Situated in the Golden Gate Park, between the Botanical Garden and the De Young museum, the Japanese Tea Garden is easily accessible with the N line of the Muni light rail. Get off at the Judah St & 9th Ave stop and walk North for about 10 minutes to get to the front gate. Entry is $8 per adult ($6 if you live in San Francisco), but you can get in for free if you arrive before 10 am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

This garden is a little gem that's best to visit on a sunny day, although it can get quite busy. Even with a lot of visitors it remains a quiet, peaceful place with beautiful landscapes, spectacular gates, a pagoda, bridges, ponds, stone lanterns, a waterfall, and the famous half-moon bridge (that one is easy to climb but getting down was more challenging for me!). Walking along the shaded paths in the back of the garden is an invitation to meditate and there are several places to stop and sit in contemplation.

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Woodwork details on entrance gate

There is a tea house in the garden which serves a selection of teas and light snacks. I got a cup of HojiCha tea, a roasted variety from Kyoto. It's absolutely delicious with a nutty, slightly smoky flavor. The garden also includes a cute gift shop with tons of teapots, cups and mugs, chopsticks, and trinkets as well as decoration items. They have an interesting collection of little bells in different materials, and origami birds in glass orbs.

Gift shop in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Gift shop in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco


If you take your time and have a cup of tea, you'll spend about 1 hour and a half in the garden. You could also bring a book and enjoy the whole morning there. When you're ready to go, walk towards the De Young museum and stroll around the square that separates it from the Academy of Sciences. There are a lot of pedestrian paths behind that building if you feel like walking a little longer in the Golden Gate Park. On weekdays they can be completely deserted so it's a great spot to feel like you're on your own in the countryside while still in the middle of the bustling city!

To reach Japantown I took the Muni N line back towards downtown and got off at the Duboce & Church stop then walked North for about 30 min. I went up Pierce St and crossed the Alamo Square with its famous row of Painted Ladies (Victorian houses) and a view of Downtown in the background.

Painted Ladies on Alamo Square, San Francisco


Japan Center

Japantown is a neighborhood where a lot of the Japanese Americans living in San Francisco relocated after the tragic 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of the city. Today Japantown only covers about 6 blocks and the main attraction is the Japan Center, a shopping mall situated on Geary blvd. It's really a fun place to go if you're at all interested in Japanese culture! It houses many shops, from bookstores to shops selling fabric, sweets, stationery, decor, art, teapots, auto accessories...

Books at the Japan Center in San Francisco

Fabrics at the Japan Center in San Francisco

Japan Center in San Francisco

Bento boxes at the Japan Center in San Francisco
Fun bento boxes at the Japan Center

Iced Oolong Tea at Japan Center San Francisco
Iced Oolong Tea

There are also many restaurants and even a small arcade. And, of course, a few beauty stores! There's one called Candy Doll that sells a multitude of brands, it's a paradise for BB creams, cushions and sheet masks! There's also a Tony Moly store and The Face Shop, although both brands are actually Korean.

San Francisco Japan Center Candy Doll Beauty Store
The window of Candy Doll beauty store

A $20 haul, with mostly sheet masks!

To finish the day with a good dinner inspired by Japan I headed back to Oakland. The Oakland/Berkeley area has an amazing restaurant scene and there are a lot of options if you like Asian fusion cuisine (kind of Asian-Californian with strong Mexican influence). I like Shimizu on Piedmont Avenue with their huge choice of sushi rolls, my favorite being the completely inauthentic Salmon Ceviche roll with marinated salmon, avocado, jalapeno and cilantro! I also discovered the Noodle Theory on Claremont Avenue and really liked their spicy pork loin ramen in peanut-lime-cilantro broth!

Noodle Theory's Grilled Niman Ranch Spicy Pork Loin Ramen  in a Peanut Lime Cilantro Broth
Noodle Theory's Grilled Niman Ranch Spicy Pork Loin Ramen
in a Peanut Lime Cilantro Broth


Have you ever visited San Francisco? What was your favorite sight in the city?


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