History

Since its establishment in 1848, San Francisco's' Chinatown it has been highly important and influential in the history and culture of ethnic Chinese immigrants in North America. Chinatown is an enclave that continues to retain its own customs, languages, places of worship, social clubs, and identity. There are two hospitals, several parks and squares, numerous churches, a post office, and other infrastructure. Recent immigrants, many of whom are elderly, opt to live in Chinatown because of the availability of affordable housing and their familiarity with the culture. San Francisco's Chinatown is also renowned as a major tourist attraction This thriving neighborhood is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese enclave outside Asia. It is also the oldest and largest of the four notable Chinatowns within the City.

san francisco chinatown lantern
san francisco chinatown lantern

Today

Despite the early and pervasive discrimination against those of Chinese descent, the Chinese-American community has thrived in San Francisco. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinese community on the West Coast and features a thriving community culture. Don’t miss the Dragon’s Gate located at the intersection of Grant Avenue and Bush Street. The gate consists of a jade-colored three-tier roof, on top of which rests two dragons facing each other. This marks the entrance to the eight-block Chinatown. Visitors can wander into novelty shops selling Buddha figurines, Chinese medicine balls, boxes containing fake chirping crickets, noise poppers, and more. Purchase tea sets, fans, incense, and other imported items from Hong Kong and China. Chinatown ends at Broadway Street, but the fun doesn’t end there! Explore beyond the boundaries of Grant Street Chinatown for an authentic experience off the beaten track.

chinatown colorful paper lanterns
chinatown colorful paper lanterns

Chinatown is home to the world-famous Chinese New Year Festival and Parade, which draws thousands of spectators and caps off two weeks of festivities that celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year. While the original parade was held in Chinatown on Grant Street, an increasing spectatorship eventually required a new route. Today’s route begins on Market Street and then goes up Geary and down Post before moving up Kearny and terminating at Columbus Street.

The parade began in the 1860’s as a way to share Chinese culture with the public and has grown into the vibrant celebration we see today. The parade consists of 100 floats, hundreds of performers, firecrackers, and ends with the Golden Dragon. Made in China from bamboo and rattan, this dragon requires 100 men and women to carry it. The dragon is a truly an impressive sight, inspiring awe and delight in spectators of all ages.

chinatown shop food sf
chinatown shop food sf
https://www.flickr.com/photos/39908901@N06/

The Wider Chinatown Area

The authentic Chinatown spreads out from Grant Avenue and consists of Chinese language schools, temples, cultural centers, Mom ‘n Pop stores, and the largest Asian community on the West Coast. Visitors will notice elderly Chinese residents practicing Tai Chi in the park, or engaging in a game of Chinese chess that lasts for a couple of hours and draws friendly spectators.

Visitors can also stop by the local Farmer’s Market. Located on Stockton Street, the Farmer’s Market is a colorful riot of produce, cuts of meat, and live animals for sale. Here, patrons haggle over the price of items, creating a loud din that is a unique experience in itself. This kind of authenticity cannot be manufactured; it is genuine and a true glimpse into the daily lives of the residents of San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Interested in architecture? Visit the following buildings, which feature Chinese-inspired architecture.

  • Bank of China, 1001 Grant Ave

  • Sing Chong Building corner of Grant Ave and Sacramento St.

  • Sing Fat Building corner of Grant Ave and California St.

Not To Be Missed

Dragon Gate: Traditional stone archway greeting visitors to Chinatown since 1970. Grant Avenue at Bush St.

Chinatown Gateway known as the Dragon Gate
Chinatown Gateway known as the Dragon Gate
Chinatown Gateway known as the Dragon Gate photo by: Chensiyuan [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory: Take a free tour of the factory and sample fresh fortune cookies that are handmade daily. 56 Ross Alley off Jackson St.

Portsmouth Square: “Heart of Chinatown” This one-block plaza has historical markers and statues, as well as two playgrounds and a 4-story underground parking garage. Kearny St. between Clay St. and Washington St.

Chinatown Evening Grant Street San Francisco
Chinatown Evening Grant Street San Francisco
Chinatown Evening Grant Street San Francisco Photo: GPS zoxcleb Flickr

Nearby Points of Interest

Union Square: This outdoor plaza offers hours of shopping, dining, and more! Located two blocks from Chinatown, visitors can sit down in Union Square for people watching, or can skip into one of the stores along the way.

Cable Car Museum: Just a few blocks (but some steep hills) west on Mason Street.

North Beach - Little Italy North Beach has retained much of its Italian flavor, especially in terms of the restaurants, cafes, and bakeries which attract residents and tourists far and wide

Lombard Street Lombard Street’s 8 world-famous hairpin turns have earned it the nickname the crookedest street in the world

Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco’s #1 tourist destination! Fisherman’s Wharf is a bustling hub of activity from morning until after dark. Check out Crab Stands and the picturesque fishing harbor

Chinatown is featured on:

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    Zip around beautiful San Francisco in cozy, electric Tuk Tuk! Explore more than 15 neighborhoods in this modern-day rickshaw with a fully narrated, guided tour.

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    With a Lucky Tuk Tuk Ultimate City Tour + Alcatraz Combination Package you get a full day of fun! Explore the City in a cozy Tuk Tuk then learn the history of Alcatraz as you visit "the rock".

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