When you are longing for those mall-roaming, carefree days of slurping an Orange Julius linked arm-in-arm with your BFF or maybe just wishing you could take the kiddos  somewhere where your toddler can walk but your stroller will still fit—veer that City Mini off of those narrow Fillmore Streets and get thee to the Japan Center mall! Celebrate San Francisco’s Japanese heritage at this kid-friendly and one-of-a-kind indoor mall where Japanese spaghetti and tiny toys await.

The Lay of the Land
Japan Center is divided into three mini-malls. There is the Kinokuniya Building and the West Mall, which are linked by an indoor “bridge” and the East Mall, which is across a wide stone plaza, the Peace Plaza,  from the West Mall. Japan Town itself spreads out for several blocks in each direction here, but we’re going to focus on the indoor bounty of joy that is the Japan Center. Watch for walking history signs throughout.

Walk this Way
Start out at the Kinokuniya Building, located on Post Street just east of the Sundance Kabuki Theater. Strollers can take the elevator to the second floor. There are some cute shops on the lower level, but with with kids and their natural time limits, just head to the upper level first. Check out the Maido stationery store where you’ll find a huge selection of pens, pencils, origami papers, stickers, erasers, and journals. Across from Maido you’ll see the Kinokuniya Bookstore. This bookstore has one of the largest selections of board books in town, plus lots of toys, pop-culture, and Japanese magazines. Grab something for your Little Ones to read while chomping down lunch or dinner.

Eat Here
Head west toward the bridge for fusion food like no other. On the Bridge describes its cuisine as “the latest food craze to hit Japan” known as “Yoshoku” style. This style merges French, Italian, curries, and other European styles of cooking with Japanese ingredients. Pesto udon, anyone?

Stop and Play
Burn some energy at the arcade known as Playland Japan. Located on the southern side of the West Mall, the “claw” game takes on a new twist when you are grabbing for Lucky Bags or Hello Kitty dolls. And speaking of Hello Kitty dolls, the Sanrio store is just a few shops up, as is the hidden-gem of kids’ stores: Amiko. A tricked-out kids shop, Amiko is stacked high with Skip Hop backpacks, plates, and toys, as well as giant sushi pillows, mustache anime bunnies, and more.

Don’t Miss
Across the Peace Plaza in the East Mall, the single most awesome party favor/stocking stuffer store—Daiso Japan. Think of it as the Japanese equivalent of a Dollar Tree.

Good to Know
Changing stations are available in the women’s restrooms on the first floor of the Kinokuniya Building and in the West Mall across from Anderson’s Bakery and Cāko.  Breastfeeding moms can usually find a quiet bench or chair. Try the usually calm area near May’s Coffee shop.

Mommy’s Little Secret
Adjacent to the Japan Center but accessible from Geary Blvd is the outstanding Kabuki Springs and Spa. For the guilt-free price of $25, on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays the traditional Japanese communal baths are women only (co-ed on Tuesdays). Featuring hot and cold pools, a dry sauna and steam room, complimentary polishing sea salts, hot tea, and towels, let Daddy take the kiddos to the arcade while you spend an hour recharging. Additional services like sea-weed wraps, Shiatsu massages, and balancing facials are also available. On women-only days the baths are clothing optional, but no one will judge if you want to sport your silver bandeau.

Park Here
Kinokuniya Mall is located at 123 Post St, San Francisco, Ca and open every day from 11:00am – 6:00pm. Shops and restaurants are open later. Park in the Japan Center Main Garage @1610 Geary Boulevard (enter from Fillmore Street.) Garage is open Mon – Fri: 5:00am – 2:30am,  Sat & Sun: 7:00am – 3:00am.

What are your favorite spots to shop in Japantown?

–Amber Guetebier