Chinatown - San Francisco

This historic and lively district offers an eclectic mixture of ornamental houses, exotic shops, restaurants, small museums, temples and food markets. 

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the most densely populated and vibrant urban areas in the United States. These narrow streets have lived through more than 160 years of turf wars, opium dens, bubonic plague, bootleggers, and secret clubs and societies to become one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Like much of San Francisco, the neighborhood was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Start your journey through the landmark pagoda-topped Chinatown Gate at the intersection of Bush Street and Grant Avenue. Ornamental dragons slither across this ceremonial entrance while traditional Fu dogs made of stone stand guard at its sides.

Look out for the many markets along Stockton Street where the locals shop. There are chickens, turtles and many other animals on display.

One of the attractions that also makes Chinatown worth a visit is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. The factory is in a small building in a backstreet known as Ross Alley. As you approach, the sweet aromas will draw you in as fortune cookies of all shapes and sizes are made here. Although there are other fortune-cookie bakeries in the San Fransisco, this is the only place where you can watch them being made the old-school way: by hand. The term factory is misleading as it’s really two or three people folding cookie after cookie behind the shop’s counter. Best of all, fresh bags of cookies are available for purchase.

To get more of a feel for the real Chinatown, rather than the one on show for the tourists, don’t just stick to the main streets with their fancy architecture, dim sum restaurants and souvenir shops. Wander through the labyrinth of back alleys and side streets to immerse yourself in the neighborhood where the residents go about their daily business. Pop into temples, duck into the smaller stores and make a few discoveries of your own.

Chinatown is an easy walk from the downtown area. Streetcars also service the area.


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