San Francisco has many iconic and ‘must see’ sights and neighborhoods, many familiar from countless TV shows and movies set in the city. But if you’re visiting San Francisco, one of the places every first time tourist should see is Chinatown. Established in the mid 19th century, it’s the oldest and largest such community outside Asia and spending a few hours in this vibrant area is a memorable experience. More people visit Chinatown than the city’s famous Golden Gate Bridge.
Visiting Chinatown is easy; the densely populated neighborhood is located right in the heart of the city, within easy reach of Fisherman’s Wharf, the Financial District and North Beach. The area is well served by tram and bus and if you want to stay within easy reach of this fascinating area, there are plenty of hotels nearby, including some of the city’s best. As with many cities, walking is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience the area, and walking tours are offered by several companies, many with a focus on enjoying the best authentic Chinese food you can find. Walking also lets you discover places for yourself, including hidden temples, secluded courtyards and alleys, decorated gateways and hanging lanterns, and small cafes known only to locals. For a different perspective, take one of the Chinatown night tours offered.
Eating is on many visitors’ lists when visiting San Francisco, and some of the best Asian food outside Asia can be found in Chinatown. Along Stockton Street, Grant Avenue and the surrounding streets, you can find restaurants and cafes in every price range, and specializing in just about every type of regional Chinese cuisine. Although finding your own place to eat can be fun, many tourists head to the House of Nanking, perhaps the area’s best known restaurant and well known for its sesame chicken and fried onion cakes. There’s often a line outside at busy times. If you want to sample the small dumplings known as Dim Sum dozens of places offer this delicacy; one of the oldest and most authentic is the Hang Ah Tea Room.
But there is plenty more to do in Chinatown than eat. Dragon Gate on Bush Street is considered the entrance to Chinatown; the much photographed and lavishly decorated gate was a gift from Taiwan. Shopping is also fun here, and among the souvenir shops and clothing stores, you can find some real gems, especially along Stockton Street. The Great China Herb Company still has its original wooden counters, and is just one of many traditional herbal stores in the area. Portsmouth Square is one of the oldest spots in the city, and today is home to residents practicing tai chi and playing chess. Other must see sights here include the famous Golden Gate fortune cookie factory which is free to enter, and the Chinese Historical Museum, also a cultural center. There are even some great San Francisco rooftop bar options.
If you’re visiting San Francisco for the first time, this fascinating and historic neighborhood is a must, although it’s also somewhere you can enjoy on repeated visits to the city.