fbpx

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown (Approx Top 10)


This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to a day of the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown in San Francisco, California. I’ve been to San Francisco a few times, and I can honestly say that these are two of the greatest neighborhoods in the city. I’m so excited about taking you to my favorite spots around.

We’ll eat a burrito the size of a baby, we’ll shop for cartoon frog earrings, and we’ll get deep into some VFI. (I’ll explain that last part later.) Let’s go!

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

Where to Stay?

Location is so important in San Francisco. That’s why I recommend spending your nights at the Cartwright Hotel. It’s located right by Union Square so it’s in a convenient location where it’s easy to take the bus or walk to get to the Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown, it has free wifi, coffee makers, and an airport shuttle, and it might be haunted! What more could you want?

If you’d like to join me at the Cartwright, just click here. If you want to find deals on hundreds of hotel rooms in San Francisco, just click here. This search engine will help you find the best hotel for your taste and budget.

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

Shopping List

  • An excellent small cell charger so you can keep taking pictures of the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown
  • My favorite guidebook to San Francisco, including the Mission and Japantown
  • My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
  • Want to learn how I saved enough money to travel 16 weeks a year? Check out my top secret How to Afford Travel digital system.
  • I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by a wayward rocket ship during your day of the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown
best things to do in the mission and japantown

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

Morning: Food Tour of the Mission

I always say that a food tour is the best way to see a city. You get delicious snacks, and you get to try more of them than you usually would. That’s because on a food tour, they’re usually able to give smaller portions of everything because you’re with a group. If you were solo, you’d have to each full-sized portions alone.

I recommend starting your day of the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown with a food tour of The Mission. This tour will teach you so much of the history and culture of this famous Latin neighborhood that truly embodies the spirit of San Francisco.

You can book this food tour yourself easily by clicking here. I won’t spoil all the secrets of the food tour, but I will share with you…

Approximately Top 5: Mission Food Tour

best things to do in the mission and japantown
1) Baked Goods!

Our first stop on the food tour was La Reyna Bakery, which specializes in fresh Mexican pastries. It’s a family run business, so our guide, whom I shall call Tony, said that they’re sometimes closed on weekends because of special family events. But lucky for us, I was visiting on a weekday and they were open! When you take the tour, you can try any pastry you wish!

I recommend getting a concha, which you can see in my hand above. It’s a light and fluffy Mexican sweetbread, and it comes in all the colors of the rainbow. Tony said that the taste was the same, no matter the color, but I picked purple, just for funsies.

best things to do in the mission and japantown
2) Mission Burrito!

It’s the most iconic food of the Mission: the Mission Burrito! Coming to the Mission without eating a Mission Burrito is actually the only crime in San Francisco that is punishable by death. (Don’t worry, vegetarians! There’s totally a vegetarian option for the burrito, though I opted for the carnitas.)

We got our Mission Burritos at La Corneta. These burritos used to be a Mission Only thing, but then they got co-opted by the guy who runs Chipotle. The burritos in the real mission are spicier and much fresher and full of flavor. For my money, these are about a million times more delicious than Chipotle.

Also, can you believe this is the small size for a burrito? What does large even look like? O.o

best things to do in the mission and japantown
3) Cuban Food!

The Mission isn’t exactly known for Cuban food. In fact, Media Noche might be the only Cuban restaurant in the Mission. But that’s why it was such an interesting place to check out! We snacked on plantains with their special secret tangy green sauce.

Tony told us that he had taken a young aspiring chef on this tour, and after the tour the nice owners of Media Noche allowed her to come back to the kitchen and taste the sauce to see if she could figure out what was in it. I would actually watch a Netflix series about one girl’s quest to recreate this sauce. It could be called The Queen’s Gambit.

best things to do in the mission and japantown
4) Oysters!

San Francisco is famous for many culinary delights, but definitely don’t sleep on its seafood. It’s right on the Bay and has a plethora of wonderful fruits of the sea to offer. The most famous San Francisco seafood dish is the seafood stew known as cioppino. But we don’t have time for a bowl of stew on a food tour!

Instead, you get to slurp down on two wonderful oysters of your choice–depending on what is available that day–at the Mission Street Oyster Bar. (If you don’t eat shellfish, they have substitutes.) I opted to go with the West Coast flavor and get the Miyagi and Steamboat oysters. These oysters were on the small size and had a succulent, creamy quality. 10/10, would eat again.

best things to do in the mission and japantown
5) Dessert!

And now we’ve come to our end of the Mission part of our day of the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown. Normally, the final stop on this tour is chocolate, but the chocolate shop was closed for a special event this day. That’s why we went to the nearby bakery called Craftsman and Wolves. They have a beautiful selection of pastries that changes daily.

Once again, we could choose whatever we wanted, so I selected the banana bread because I was feeling like something a bit healthy. It was full of banana taste, but not too sweet or heavy, just like a pastry should be.

That’s all the food for the food tour, but I didn’t tell you even one quarter of the beautiful street art or fun facts that we learned. So you’ll just have to book the tour yourself right here to find out what they are!

best things to do in the mission and japantown

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

Afternoon: Self-Guided Japantown Tour

Our day of the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown continues in Japantown. Many cities in the United States have Chinatowns or Little Italies. But there’s only about three cities in the entire country that have a Japantown, even though they used to exist all over the West Coast. Fortunately, San Francisco’s Japantown, though small, is absolutely fantastic, and we’re going to explore it this afternoon.

I strongly recommend taking this audio tour of Japantown, by a Japanese-American woman named Kristin Eriko Posner. It is so affordable, and it will give you a ton of local information I couldn’t possibly have found on my own.

You can get the audioguide for yourself here. I won’t tell you even a fraction of what the tour told me, but I will share a bit with you in the form of…

Three Facts: Japantown

best things to do in the mission and japantown
1) Why Aren’t There More Japantowns?

The reason there aren’t more Japantowns in the United States is because of Japanese internment. After the Japanese government attacked America’s Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii, the United States entered World War II as Japan’s enemy. President Franklin D Roosevelt feared another attack, so he took horrible action against his own people.

The American government rounded up all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast, even if they had been born in the United States and had no connection to Japan, and forced them to leave their homes. They were sent to prisons in the middle of deserted areas and were forced to remain there for most of the war.

When they returned to their homes, many of them had lost their businesses as well as their sense of community and belonging. Many people didn’t want to live in Japantown anymore. And of course, not a single case of spying was ever found among the Japanese-Americans who were interred.

best things to do in the mission and japantown
2) Did Only Japanese People Live in Japantown?

Not at all! There were other groups of people who settled in this community. In the photo above, you can see an old age facility for elderly Japanese-Americans called Kokoro. (Kokoro is the Japanese word for heart.) But it’s right next to a synagogue because Japantown was one of the few neighborhoods in San Francisco where Jewish people were allowed to live.

best things to do in the mission and japantown

Japantown is also right next to Fillmore Street, which was called the Harlem of the West. This blue and white building used to be home to a jazz club where greats like Miles Davis played. Now it’s home to a hair salon, which doesn’t seem like progress to me.

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown (Approx Top 10) 1
3) What’s the Best Thing to do in Japantown Today?

The best thing to do in Japantown today is shop! Actually, the best things to do are shop and eat, but I think you’ll be too full from the Mission Food Tour to do much eating. Come back another day and try Kristin’s food suggestions.

In terms of shops, don’t miss Benkyodo, which is one of only three businesses in the United States that make the special Japanese pastry known as manju. Buy one now and eat it for breakfast tomorrow. You’ll thank me later.

best things to do in the mission and japantown

Be sure to head into the Japantown Mall and check out the stores there. No day of the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown is complete without a visit to this mall, where I bought some amazing Japanese earrings that look like cartoon frogs. Kristin recommends the tea shop Asakichi, which sells ceremonial grade tea that is highly coveted by experts.

There’s tons more secrets from the audio guide I didn’t share, about Kristin’s friend’s origami shop and all her favorite eating spots. You’ll have to get the audio guide yourself right here to learn about them!

best things to do in the mission and japantown

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

Evening: Dinner at Acquerello

If you love fine dining, San Francisco is surely the city for you. There’s more Michelin-starred restaurants than you can shake a stick at. That’s why we’re heading to one tonight: Acquerello, which is arguably the best Italian restaurant in the city. Even though this is a day of the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown, Acquerello isn’t in either neighborhood, but just trust me.

Acquerello is a tasting menu restaurant, which means you get what you get and you don’t get upset. But who wants to order off an a la carte menu when all the dishes are this exquisite? You won’t have the same things to eat when you go because the menu changes all the time. But I’ll be happy to show you my dinner as an example.

best things to do in the mission and japantown

My first course was lobster with green tomato, almond, and Stracciatella. The theme for tonight is VFI, or Very Fancy Italian, and this course goes perfectly with that theme. Lobster makes everything fancy, and Stracciatella is a gorgeous Italian cheese made by mixing pulled mozzarella curds and cream. Yes, that’s as decadent as it sounds.

Some people say we shouldn’t mix seafood and dairy, but I say it’s fun to break the rules.

best things to do in the mission and japantown

Our next appetizer was poached black cod with zucchini, sunflower seeds, and black garlic. VFI strikes once more! The zucchini and sunflower seeds are both perfectly Italian summer ingredients, but the poached black cod, which is so rich that it’s sometimes called butterfish, adds the very fancy decadence.

best things to do in the mission and japantown

Nothing says fancy like a whole bunch of ingredients you have never eaten before. Here we have a pasta called maltagliati, which is Italian for badly cut, served with whey-braised tripe, peas, chili, garlic, and mint. Both the pasta shape and the tripe, which is cow stomach, seem like something you’d find in a peasant dish. But somehow this managed to hold on to the funky taste of the tripe while still remaining elegant.

best things to do in the mission and japantown

Our first main course was the quail with sumac, chicory, tamarind, and elderflower. The quail is a delicate bird, but the tamarind and chicory added some potent sweet, sour, and bitter tastes that made the dish memorable. Quail is an extremely Italian food, by the way, Italians have been eating quail since ancient Rome.

best things to do in the mission and japantown

Of course, we can’t have a VFI meal without some very fancy pasta. And this is just about the fanciest pasta dish I could imagine. Want to know why? It’s served with faux foie gras, black truffle, and Marsala wine. I have no idea what faux foie is, and frankly I’m not sure I want to know.

But I’ll never forget the pure truffle flavor of this pasta, with just a hint of sweetness from the Marsala wine. This and the tripe were my two favorite dishes.

best things to do in the mission and japantown

And now it’s time for the very fanciest of meats: lamb! (OK, maybe veal could give a run for its money.) This lamb was from the West Coast, which I assume means it’s constantly feuding with biggie. And it was served with this most Italian sides: Porcini mushrooms, sunchokes, and roasted grapes. The lamb was prepared extremely simply, so the flavor of the meat could shine through. A perfect VFI main course!

best things to do in the mission and japantown

There are a few extra courses you can order, and I decided to go with this beautiful Italian cheese course. As is proper in any cheese course, there was a range of textures from soft to hard, and a range of flavors from mild to funktacular. But my favorite part was the unusual Italian condiments and flowery honey that were served with the cheese. It was fun to mix and match the cheese with an assortment of pickled fruits.

best things to do in the mission and japantown

Next up, we have multiple desserts. The first was a palate cleanser of lemon balm sherbet with honeydew melon. After all those decadent fishes and meats, it was refreshing to have something mild like this, to give our stomach a break.

best things to do in the mission and japantown

And finally, we have fresh peaches with lemon verbena and coconut sorbet. This was probably the prettiest dish of the night, thanks to the flowers and the little coconut fingers. It was also the most California dish–I always associate fresh fruit for dessert with Chez Panisse and California cuisine.

And there you have it! The perfect end to our day of the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown. (I do acknowledge that Acquerello is not in either neighborhood, but we wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on that experience, would we?)

best things to do in the mission and japantown

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

How to Get There?

By Car: This is an easy way to get to your day of the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown, if you are coming from somewhere else in Northern California. However, I don’t know how to drive, so this wasn’t an option for me. Fortunately Uber is widely available in San Francisco. If you need to rent a car, you can use the search engine Expedia to find the best price from the available car rental companies.

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

By Plane: Fortunately, there is an airport in San Francisco! Since I live in New York City and don’t know how to drive, I found that flying was one of the easiest ways to get to the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown. (Again, I recommend using a search engine like Expedia to search for the best prices on flights.)

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

By Bus or Train: You can use Flixbus to get to San Francisco from nearby cities like Las Vegas. It’s a pretty cheap ride–if you are car-free and coming from a fairly nearby destination, this might be the way for you. I have never gotten to San Francisco any way other than by car.

Amtrak also has a train that goes to San Francisco from Chicago, which sounds like it might be fun! Check it out if you’re up for a train adventure.

Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

That’s the Best Things to Do in the Mission and Japantown

What do you think are the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown? Are you feeling that Very Fancy Italian vibe? And do you think my idea for The Queen’s Gambit would make a successful series? Email me at [email protected] and let me know.

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend one day in SF. Once you have finished seeing all the best things to do in the Mission and Japantown, there’s still so much to explore.

Recent Posts