My first time at the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival was filled with many surprises. For two weekends, San Francisco’s Japantown is transformed into a vibrant culture-fest complete with entertainment, fun, and food! From carefully crafted trinkets to bowls of delicious ramen, Japantown had it all – attracting locals and tourists alike!
Weekend #1 at the festival was spent exploring all the food booths lined up along the streets. I rushed to one of the longest lines I could find that served takoyaki. This dish is a common street food in Japan – It’s a ball of dough filled with some octopus and topped with a savory sauce, dried seaweed, benito (dried-smoked fish flakes), and pickled ginger. The takoyaki at this booth however, was filled with ground beef – equally flavorful and delicious! I could see why people lined up for this treat.
After our food binge, we walked around more of Jtown and browsed along the shops. The indoor mall had much more to offer than I originally expected. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but I was surprised at the vast interior.
Craving for something sweet, we found a small booth that served tea and treats. I ordered the mochi on a stick and salmon onigiri (rice ball). The mochi were like pillows of chewy dough, containing a sweet bean filling. I loved the texture and the fact that it was freshly made – This stand regulary makes these in fresh batches only on the weekends. The salmon onigiri was served warm and packaged in a cleverly wrapped container that kept the seaweed separate from the rice until opening.
Weekend #2 at the festival was just as fun! My friends and I tried more delicious food at the booths – Our first stop being the BBQ booth towards the end of the street, serving up platters of short-ribs. The sweet, smokey scent wafting in the air greeted us as we arrived. The short-ribs were just the perfect combination of salty and sweet, though they were a little tough around the bones.
The imagawa yaki booth was by far the busiest, specializing in mini pancakes stuffed with sweet red bean paste. These were made fresh to order and piping hot! I loved watching the cooks prepare the food in front of the customers. You could see them work meticulously pouring the batter, then adding the bean paste, topping off with more batter, then quickly flipping it over. I couldn’t capture the entire line in this photo (below) but it wrapped behind me and along the sidewalk.
In addition to all this food, the festival was filled with activities and entertainment for the whole family. There was a kids corner that offered games and chances to win Sanrio prizes. Some areas of the event were designated for shopping, containing clusters of vendors offering everythig from handmade pottery to crafty souvenirs. The cherry blossom quad featured traditional dances / performances by local cultural organizations. And a live band played classic rock and pop culture tunes, something I really enjoyed listening to.
And not to forget the reason this whole festival was produced for… the beautiful cherry blossoms! These flowers were a very light shade of pink compared to the ones I viewed in San Diego but just as pretty. When you see the trees in person, it is truly a captivating sight.
Parking Tip: You can park in Japantown’s garage for a fee OR if you’re cheap like me, you can look for free residential parking. We found some available spots in the neighborhood just across the street, around Jtown’s Safeway but be sure not to park in Safeway’s lot since they tow. I suggest arriving before 11AM to secure a spot.