Kanazawa is an incredibly charming city on the Sea of Japan, in the western prefecture of Ishikawa. Founded in the 14th-century, the historic town is known for its unique samurai and geisha (known as geigi in Kanazawa) traditions, zen monasteries, vibrant fish markets, elegant Japanese gardens, contemporary art, and a fantastic local food and drink scene. Often called “Little Kyoto,” the city offers an easy access peek into ancient traditions, arts, and architecture along with a large dose of modern sensibility and fun. The compact city can be traversed on foot with an occasional short taxi connection, or by bicycle in fine weather. 

HOW TO GET THERE

The shinkansen (“bullet train”) provides daily runs to Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto in under 3 hours. 

WHAT TO DO & SEE:

Kenrokuen Gardenkanazawa kenrokuengarden

A long stroll through Kenrokuen Garden is an absolute must-do. The name reflects six paired qualities–views and water, antiquity and artifice, tranquility and spaciousness, and the grounds display those in spades at every season, a study in minimalist green perfection. Often, you can share a path with residents dressed in yukata, traditional outfits that help recreate the historic Edo period landscape. Be sure to grab an ice cream cone decorated with Kanazawa gold leaf to enjoy (and photograph!) on your way in or out of the garden.

Kanazawa Castlekanazawa castle yukata

Built in 1580 and rebuilt many times over the centuries, Kanazawa Castle now closely resembles how it appeared in the 1850’s. Absorb the history and architecture as you explore the grounds, then partake in a traditional matcha tea ceremony in the adjacent Gyokuseninmaru Garden.

kanazawa Gyokuseninmaru Garden

Nagamachi Samurai District

The Nagamachi Samurai District offers another walk through historic times, this one in the form of well-preserved and beautifully restored homes of wealthy Samurai from the Edo Period. There, visit the Nomura-ke Samurai Residence to view an actual house and its incredible, tranquil private garden. A full suit of Samurai armor is also on display within.

Omicho Marketkanazawa omicho market

Spend a morning at the 300 year old Omicho Market snacking on oysters and sea urchin in the shell, fish balls and unagi skewers, and admiring the perfect vegetable specimens on display. Head to one of the many small restaurants right inside the market to enjoy the freshest rainbow of raw local seafood served in a rice bowl. 

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Artkanazawa 21st century museum

The circular 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art warrants a thorough exploration both inside and out. Opened in 2004, the institution offers iconic architecture and a stunning permanent collection of interactive work, plus frequently changing world class exhibitions. 

National Crafts Museum

Kanazawa and the Ishikawa Prefecture are famous for many local crafts, including ceramics, porcelain teaware, glass, gold leaf, lanterns, textiles, and dolls. The extensive collection at the National Crafts Museum focuses on all genres of crafts from the late 19th century to the present. 

D.T. Suzuki Museum

Plan a short, meditative visit to the tranquil D.T. Suzuki Museum, where the Buddhist philosopher’s life work is presented in an idyllic setting. 

Higashi Chaya Districtkanazawa geigi

Tour the Higashi Chaya District on foot and shop for crafts, tea, sake, and gold leaf products while imagining the Geigi entertaining their guests the same way 200 years ago. Visit Ochaya Shima, a former Geisha house turned museum, to learn about this important facet of Kanazawa’s culture. 

Take a tour of a 400-year-old sake brewery and increase your understanding of Japan’s brewed koji spirits with an English-language guided tasting. 

 

WHAT TO EAT & DRINK:

kanazawa Barrier

Barrier

Barrier represents the balance of old and new traditions you’ll come to love in Kanazawa. Umami stock, warmed in tableside carafes, serves as the base of a meal featuring seasonal vegetables and local seafood. 

kanazawa oriental brewing

Oriental Brewing

Beer lovers can try hyper local craft brews at all three locations of Kanazawa’s own Oriental Brewing. The region’s naturally soft water plus local ingredients like Noto salt and Kaga stick tea combine in unique beers to enjoy in the brewpubs, or to take home. 

Kanazawa Shu Shu offers over 100 sakes and curates pairings with their izakaya-style cuisine.

Check out an example of the modern side of Kanazawa at the Touryanse Kanazawa Foodlabo, where ten elegant spaces offer an ever-changing variety of food and drink venues.

kanazawa bistro escaliers

Bistro Escaliers

Try Bistro Escaliers, a one man show offering multi-course French counter cuisine with deft Japanese touches.

kanazawa lunch Nokabanzai Shi Kurosugetokanazawaten

Nokabanzai Shi Kurosugetokanazawaten

While you wait for your shinkansen, enjoy lunch at Nokabanzai Shi Kurosugetokanazawaten right next to the train station. Local sake flights and seasonal, regional seafood specialties like oden, a warming autumnal stew, are offered in a cozy, contemporary space. kanazawa sushi toro

An evening at Sushi Tora, a fixture in Kanazawa for over 80 years, takes you back to a traditional sushi experience. The pristine fish, selected and served by the owner and family, is presented generously but simply. 

Try A_Restaurant  for an exciting, interactive multi-course dining experience that expands the definition of kaiseki to a global menu. Refined service and elegant international beverage pairings (including Japanese wine from Ishikawa producer Vin de la Bocchi) will make your night special.

kanazawa ohako lemon sour

Day or night you can bar hop on Shintenchi Street, visiting standing bars like Ohako for a quick lemon sour and a tempura bite. If you stay up late, seek out a “snack” bar like Punch for karaoke and more shochu cocktails.

kanazawa goldleaficecream

WHERE TO STAY:

The contemporary art-filled Hyatt Centric Kanazawa, conveniently located just steps from the train station, offers a central jumping-off point with some excellent amenities. Daily breakfast features a massive buffet packed with traditional Japanese items plus Western favorites, allowing guests to sample local soy sauces and other foods of the region. Eclectically furnished rooms are spacious (a surprise in Japan!) and comfortable, and the bar and lobby take on life from their gorgeous paintings and sculptures.

 

Guest Author: Lisa Futterman is a Chicago-based freelance travel, food, and beverage journalist and chef. Her love of cheese, wine, and spirits has taken her all over the world—from the Comté aging rooms in Fort St. Antoine in the Jura to the wild agave fields in the desert outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. Her work has been published by Food & Wine, Chicago Tribune, Eating Well, wttw.com, and many other national and local publications and websites. You can find lots of her favorite cocktail photos, global travel insights, and shellfish shots on Instagram @futtypages.

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