Japantown - Peace Pagoda

Japantown is a short bus ride from from Union Square, catching just about any bus on Geary St. will get you there. Arriving earlier in the morning will give you free run of the place, even though it didn’t seem to get very busy. The “town” is based around a couple shopping centers sharing the Peace Plaza, an open area with the unmissable Peace Pagoda. Surrounding blocks house smaller businesses mostly restaurants and eateries, but having just had a big breakfast there was only one thing on our minds… TOYS!

It is definitely one of the best spots in SF for anime and collectible vinyl figures, I will just list the major ones but in general, the place isn’t -that- big and can easily done in a couple hours of slow browsing.

Japan Video and Auto Freak

Japan Video – as the name suggests, lots of dvd movies and animated series, plenty of JDM stuff for sale and rental. Small selection of toys but a healthy range of plush items.

Auto Freak – if you need to “Asian” up your car or if you want it to look like an EKKA showbag exploded on/in it then look no further this is the place with all manner of novelty knick knacks to do just that. Pedals, gauges, neon, covers, stickers, air fresheners, tissue box covers… you get the idea. They also have a range of die cast model cars and sponsored and novelty race/drift inspired shirts.

Amiko

Amiko – complete cuteness overload in this store with a fair portion of it dedicated to child and baby wear. Small range of men’s tees but the rest is all girls or kids. A few plushes but focus more on practical items based on popular characters like Hello Kitty, Doraemon, Domo-Kun etc.

JPNToys

JPNToys – much more along the lines of a traditional collector toys store with all the staples – blind boxes, vinyl figures, action figures (Revoltech, Figma, Transformers), plushes and plenty of themed tee’s. Prices were pretty average, but there was a small clearance section and selected items on sale so resistance was futile when it came to a Gloomy bear wall clock for $18US.

Moritaya

Moritaya – another explosion of plush with extra Rilakkuma and Pickachu and adaption of these characters to accessories like pens and keychains and household items. They also stock a selection of imported make up.

Katachi

Katachi – this store had a lot of different bits and pieces but focused mainly on Japanese ornaments and souvenirs in the way of Kimono wearing dolls, framed artwork, lanterns and replica and full sized Samurai swords. There’s also a good selection of chef knives and pocket/hunting knives. This was also one of the few places we saw in SF that stocked Toki Doki shirts.

Kinokuniya bookstore – is huge. Not just Japanese/Asian related either, there’s plenty of quirky arts and craft and cooking books. Downstairs has Manga galore, a huge range and more than likely the ability to chase after selected titles/issues for you. Ample stationary and a small selection of toys and clothing as well. The website is just as extensive with many country specific variations, Australia included.

Japantown Collectibles

Japantown Collectibles – definitely saving the best for last with this one, easily my fave store in SF. It’s an unfortunately small store crammed wall to wall, floor to ceiling with figures, models and collectibles. With the hoarding style of display it was both exciting to be hunting round for treasure and frustrating that a lot you couldn’t get to and while helpful, asking the staff every time you wanted a price or closer inspection got tiring rather quickly. Never the less the range of model car kits was enough for me to not walk out empty handed, sadly most items went begging due to the size of their packaging and the dwindling size of my luggage space!

Next up, we head to THE bighouse, the Rock… Alcatraz.

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here

Chinatown SF

San Fran’s Chinatown is one of the biggest in the world outside of Asia thanks partly to the early gold rush days. You could easily spend a day traversing the hills sampling cuisine and buying any number of knick knacks and knock offs, though if you’re on a schedule, a few hours in the afternoon is enough to get the jist of it.

Doublepunch

We actually started by overshooting Chinatown by a couple blocks north to check out some toys at Double Punch. This is a well rounded store with a good selection of all the regular pieces you’d expect to see at an art toy store. Most are reasonably priced with a few sale items floating about. While the retail store is pleasant enough, unfortunately I had found the online experience far from it and recommend everyone to stay well clear of it. Service was extremely poor, replies were dragged out and vague at best and little attempt was made to find a solution to simple requests to gain my my business. Sad when all I wanted was to purchase some items and pick them up from the store to save on the horrendous international postage charges. A few of the pieces were getting tough to find so I wanted to make sure I could secure them, of course after a few weeks of toy blocking I gave up and hoped to find them in store. Of course, they were sold out by then. Thanks a lot, bastards :(

Unpleasantries aside, while you’re out that way, pop next door to Recon/Darkside Initiative skate store, a designer skate store in the vein of Supreme or HUF but with a lot friendlier service. They carry the usual designer items of clothing and a small range of sneakers. Being a smaller slightly out of the way store they also had a few older models/colours of items that have been sold out else where, Undefeated caps and tees where the ones that caught my eye.

The bus stop is barely a block away which took us back to Chinatown. If you’re looking for model kits then Sun Entertainment is the way to go. The store is very unassuming from the street with only a small sign, in fact you’re more than likely to walk straight passed it. They stock a large range of model kits, regular vehicles along with Gundam (inc. Master grade) and similar anime favourites. There’s also a small selection of figures and slot cars.

While there are plenty of el cheapo souvenir shops around the place Far East Flea market dwarfs them all. Perched on top of a hill its about the size of a large Crazy Clarks store and with the same mish mash variety of “everything but the kitchen sink”. This is definitely one of the best places to buy cheap souvenirs, either Chinese/Asia or San Fran related. Its not all junk either, there are some quality ornaments, cool Asian toys and retro items like vintage Coke or Star Wars metal lunch boxes along with all manner of household and travel related items. They even have replica weapons like swords and nunchucks, not too sure how you will go trying to get them through customs though!

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

The last stop in Chinatown is a must for the novelty factor alone, the now famous Golden Gate Fortune cookie factory. No more than a little business operating out of a cramped store front in a lane way, but thanks to plenty of online love its grown popular, to the point where you have to pay if you want to take photos! $1 if you can squeeze to the front but def. worth it to see the things being made. Of course there’s plenty of cookies available for purchase, a couple bucks will get you enough to wish you’d never want to see another one again! “Tough cookie not so tough when stuffed with tough cookie”…. or something :p

Chinatown Entrance SF

We keep the Asian theme going next with a cuteness overload in Japantown.

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here

Haight

Haight is one of those suburbs that has a young creative vibe and a slew of quirky shops to match. Sure, you cant swing a stick without knocking the fake glasses or beanie off the -back- of some hipster kid’s head but in general it has the eats of West End and the boutique shopping of the Valley/New Farm in Brisbane. If you’re heading out early (re: before midday) pop into one of the many cafes on Haight St. Most seemed pretty busy so you may be in for a short wait if you’re after a table.

The People’s Café was right near the bus stop so it was an easy choice 😉 Food was quite good, reasonably fast turn around even if the service was a bit average, free WiFi more than likely makes up for it for most people. Judging from recent Yelp reviews this place has since closed, possibly rebirthed under a different guise?

Bellies full it was time to burn some Greenbacks, starting at the Masonic Ave end of Haight st…

Stussy – one of the larger stores we’ve come across but nothing out of the ordinary for the range. They did have a clearance rack with some old school Stussy designs though. Seeing their Stussy “Peace Dollar” vinyl figures on display in all forms of disrepair and missing pieces gave me the warm and fuzzies knowing I had a mint one waiting for me from my LA haul 😉

Super 7

Super 7 – local designers obsessed with Star Wars and Anime, they have a good range of their own shirt designs and a small range of toys and books. Shirts are overpriced but there are some fun original designs like the “Weapons of mass destruction” that has a bunch of space ships and vehicles from movies like Star Wars, Tron, Battlestar Galactica etc. Toys and collectibles also fetch a premium, a few odd pieces may have deserved the extra tax but Kidrobot items not so much since the KR store is just across the road.

Super 7

True Sole

True (Sole) – set up like a clearance store, they had some of the cheapest new release sneakers we saw in California with a good $10-20 less than regular retail prices. They also had older models on clearance, just cross your fingers they have your size. There’s also a small selection of clothing and accessories.

California Surplus

California Surplus – Listed as the sister store to the one in LA, this one was mostly focused on the surplus side of things rather than the work wear. They still had a small selection and thanks to a misjudgment on clothing for the day, a pair of overpriced Dickies pants were a life saver.

Shoe Biz II

Shoebiz II – This second store leans more towards the sneaker niche market. A few rarities along with clearance items on footwear and clothing. This was the only place at the time that I saw the Nike Air Vengeance‘s in “maize”, didn’t have to tell me twice 😉

Shoebiz 1 – Caters more towards women’s shoes and boots, plenty of stock but you will have to battle a thousand other women as it didn’t seem like there was a time it wasn’t packed.

Adidas Originals – up the Willy Wonker glass elevator from Shoebiz 1 is a small selection of Originals gear leaning towards the more outlandish designs and colours. The clearance bin is always a welcoming sign and this one had an out of production Adicolor jacket for $40USD *yoink* along with some sneakers and a few other bits and pieces. If you’re looking for range you’re better off heading to the Adidas store in the Westfield in the city.

Kidrobot – pretty much the same as the LA store apart from a couple older Michael Lau figures. More fuzzies when I notice they were selling for $150-200, 10 times what I paid for mine 😉

Loyal Army

Loyal Army – and then there was one. This is their only retail store left now, not in short due to a decline in their designs from cute and kitschy to trying too hard to be “now”. In saying that there was plenty of multi-buys and clearance items to be had.

FTC skate – renowned for knowledgeable and friendly staff, this is a good sized store with decent range of all things skate related.

Amoeba Music

Amoeba Music – Not having time to make it to the one in LA I was really looking forward to popping in here, and it didn’t disappoint. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling of music. Its what iTunes would look like if it was a real store, just with less thieves and a more user friendly environment 😉 It took well over an hour just to paw through the electronic music and hiphop (with a quick detour through punk) for a yield of about 35 cds, so make sure you put aside the right amount of time proportioned to your musical appetite.
Since these cds were going to be shipped back with the bulk of our haul, I stripped the cases to save some weight. The guys were only too happy to take the empty cases back (:

Downtown

The two major stops for the downtown area were the Westfield and Nike Flagship store. The Westfield was unfortunately a fruitless experience even with Champs, Footlocker, Vans and Lids on the directory save a store exclusive track jacket from the multi-level Adidas store. A couple doors down at Shiekh’s had a much better result with a large range of clearance items and new range footwear and clothing, easily one of their bigger stores too. Jordan Rare Airs were a steal at $60USD.

The Nike Flagship store, while in all intent and purposes was very similar to just about every other one in other cities fell short because of this. If you’ve been to one you’ve been to them all as the stock was almost identical to that in LA.

Next up we head to the two (little)lands of the orient, Japantown and Chinatown.

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here

09.23.2011

Mil-what?
Milpitas is probably an unlikely stop for most travellers with it being over shadowed by San Jose in the south or Oakland in the north for stops on the way to San Francisco but when there’s a place called the “Great Mall” we couldn’t resist taking an overnight detour.

Milpitas

We took the 120 out of Yosemite to the 205 then the 680 which pretty much dropped us right at our hotel, The Marriot TownePlace Suites, which we strategically planned due to it being directly across the road from the Mall.

The day started off with a free continental style breakfast which for me included a portioned cup of the now extinct in AU, Corn Pops. Memories of eating them for dinner at uni came flooding back and it was a sign it was going to be a good day (:

Getting to the centre within the first hour of opening on a weekend day is definitely the way to go. No problems with getting a covered park right near an entrance and it’s a casual stroll for a good hour or two before the crowds start rolling in. It opens from 10am Mon-Sat. so you even get a nice little sleep in.

So to the shopping… with over 200 stores I guess it can lay claim to the “Great”ness but where to start? Since there were so many stores I’m going to refer back to the mall directory to help me remember them all and list them alphabetically.

The Nike factory store is a good place to start, big variety and I must say we bought more here than at Citadel. Cortez’s = $35USD, girls Airmax 90 = $30USD, Omar Salazar SB’s = $35USD *yoink* plus an array of apparel and tee’s at throw away multi-buy prices.

Reebok also has an outlet store and then there are the usual mall suspects, Champs, Converse, Finish Line, Journeys, Shiekh Shoes, Sports Authority and Vans. Footlocker gets a special mention as this one seemed to be one of their few clearance stores. Normal fair up front but at the back it was pile after pile of mismatched boxes, pairs and markdown on top of markdown stickers. For the most part there was a reason why most were reduced but there were some diamonds in that rough, biggest problem was finding how much they were. This thankfully paid off when a pair of Punkrose Retro Hi-Tops purchased, basically the bastard child of Chuck Taylor and Vans. Going by the reduced tickets and percent off markings, the guesstimation came to about $20 down from $100. Not bad at all right? Not even close, the sales guy stumbled back wide eyed before calling his colleagues over. While we were thinking…”Oh great we’re gonna have to put these back”, he turns the register readout around to show… $2.17 inc tax. What??? He even got the manager to check and sure enough that was the price! Free lunch then (: This further enforces my claim that the internet is not the best place for bargains 😉

$2.17 inc tax!

After that, seeing items on sale just wasn’t the same, after all, its no $2.17! But we continued no less. Sanrio and Toys R Us were the only major places for toys though there were a couple places with a limit selection of anime and game related merch. Sears has an appliance outlet store if you’re chasing down some cheap Aldi-esque appliances.

What mall stop for us would be complete without a Wetzel’s Pretzels stop? Yep, just so happens there is one here too 😉 and it has stolen the torch for best pretzel’s ever. The fresh pretzel bites were a cut and a half (no pun intended!) above all the other stores we’ve tried, deeeelicious.

All pretzelled and bargained up we waddle out to the car and hit the road once more for our final USA stop, San Francisco!

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here