We spent five days in Kanazawa and it was my favorite city that we visited during our seven weeks in the country. Kanazawa sits on the western coast of Honshu and has only been accessible by bullet train since 2015 (it takes just 2½ hours from Tokyo). It's a bustling, busy city for sure, but much quieter, more compact, and easy to explore than Tokyo or Kyoto. The Japan Alps lie to the east of the city and the coast to the west, plus the heart of the city is bordered by two parallel rivers, the Sai and the Asano.
We stayed in an airbnb that we loved, which is managed by Japan Experience. Chris, who met us at the house, is originally from Denver and we were able to grill him about all of the things we couldn't figure out in Japan. We were provided with two bikes, which we rode all around the city. Again, it's the best way to get around! Our house was a 3 minute bike ride from a huge park and playground and we rode bikes to the Omi Cho Market where vendors sell produce, fish, pickled vegetables, noodles, etc., plus you can have fresh sushi and, my favorite, mochi.
We explored the Higashi-Chaya Geisha District, ran the streets of Teramachi where you find temples and shrines at every turn, and wandered through the Kenrokuen Gardens, letting Blythe pick up rocks and smell the flowers.
We had a few memorable meals in Kanazawa as well. Delicious conveyer belt sushi (which kids love) is available at the Omi Cho Market. Awesome Indian and Nepali cuisine and incredibly friendly staff greet you at Aashirwad, and I'm still thinking about our last night's meal at casual Izakaya restaurant Tamaya - specifically, the salad (yes, the salad) and this fish and rice dish cooked in an earthen pot. If you need a break from Japanese food and really good coffee, head to Curio Espresso and Vintage Design (we had a quinoa salad and pulled pork sandwich). We stopped in Oriental Brewing for a beer while Blythe napped in the hiking backpack after touring the geisha district. We instantly felt like we were back in Denver sitting at a craft brewery on a sunny spring day.
I can't put my finger on exactly what felt so right about Kanazawa and have concluded it is a combination of things -- we figured out how great biking is for exploring, we each were able to run most days, we had nice weather, Blythe had plenty of playground time, and we saw a lot of the sights without feeling rushed to squeeze everything in like we were in Tokyo. If you are heading to Japan, make time to spend a few days in Kanazawa. You won't be disappointed.
We found this guide incredibly helpful in choosing places to eat and it never led us astray, nor did the restaurants feel touristy. For more than just restaurant recommendations, check out Kanazawa Underground. And more of the spots recommended to us or that we enjoyed are included on our Japan Google Map.