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The Ultimate Guide to Chinatown San Francisco
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The Ultimate Guide to Chinatown San Francisco

Ready to fill your itinerary with all of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco? Here’s everything you need to know.

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5 min read

November 18, 2021

Chinatowns in California are hugely significant to the state's history and ethnically diverse culture. And Chinatown San Francisco might just be the most remarkable one of them all. Not only is this iconic district the oldest of its kind in North America, but it’s also one of San Francisco’s most visited and photographed landmarks for good reason. 

Chinatown San Francisco boasts some of the city’s best dim sum restaurants, boba shops, galleries, and karaoke bars, and oozes with a rich history and ever-evolving culture. Plus, this ethnic enclave is one of the most walkable areas in the city, so you won’t have an issue spending an entire day exploring it on foot.

Ready to fill your itinerary with all of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco? Here’s everything you need to know.

The Chinatown centered on Grant Avenue and Stockton Street in S.F. is the oldest in North America and the largest Chinese enclave outside Asia.

Chinatown San Francisco History

As one of the oldest and most established ethnic enclaves in the United States, Chinatown San Francisco has a history that dates back to the 1850s when many immigrants came to California in pursuit of riches during the Gold Rush Era. However, it wasn’t a smooth ride from thereon, especially after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882.

For many decades following the exclusion act, Chinatown San Francisco was a bachelor society. It wasn’t until the act was repealed that Chinatown San Francisco got a fresh start and the chance to flourish. Today, it’s one of the most visited Chinatowns in the country and continues to be an area where new immigrants settle. In fact, it’s the most densely populated neighborhood west of New York City.

Spanning 24 city blocks, Chinatown San Francisco is one of the centerpieces of Chinese American history and hosts the largest Chinese New Year parade in the country—that’s a must-add to your San Francisco bucket list

Cool Things to See In Chinatown San Francisco

Established in 1848, Chinatown is highly important and influential in the history and culture of ethnic Chinese immigrants in North America.

Dragon Gate San Francisco

The Dragon Gate was designed and erected by Chinese American architect Clayton Lee in 1970 at the Southern End of Chinatown. Acting as an unofficial entrance to the neighborhood, the postcard-famous Dragon Gate in San Francisco is adorned with gorgeous and intricate details. The stone pillars, green-tiled roofs, and dragon sculptures will catch your eye immediately. Look closer and you’ll notice that the three entryways are guarded by a trio of stone lion statues, which are meant to ward off evil. 

Chinese Culture Center

The Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco is an anchor in Chinatown and a super cool spot to visit. Founded in 1965, this community-based, non-profit organization largely focuses on art exhibitions and interventions, as well as radical social justice and educational initiatives. Visit to see rotating exhibits featuring well-known and emerging contemporary artists and get your dose of art in Chinatown San Francisco at one of the top cultural centers in town.

Chinatown is an enclave that continues to retain its own customs, languages, places of worship, social clubs, and identity.

Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral

Old Saint Mary’s was originally constructed in 1854, making it the oldest cathedral in the state. Made of bricks entirely imported from China and recognized by the distinctive clock on its tower, this Gothic Revival Catholic church is an interesting thing to see in Chinatown San Francisco. 

Fun fact: the city's first English lessons for Chinese immigrants took place under the church's clock tower.

Chinese Historical Society of America Museum

As a small museum exploring the Chinese American experience in the United States, the Chinese Historical Society of America provides great insight into the neighborhood’s culture and history. Housed in a building designed by Julia Morgan—the architect behind the Hearst Castle—the exterior of this museum is almost as incredible as its interior. For a nominal cost, you can tour the museum and see it through a different lens.

There are two hospitals, several parks and squares, numerous churches, a post office, and other infrastructure in the neighborhood.

Kong Chow Temple

Founded in 1849 by the Cantonese people of San Francisco, the Kong Chow Temple is a must-see Chinatown San Francisco landmark. Like many other buildings in the area, the temple was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but the community worked together to rebuild it. Photography is not allowed inside the temple, so visit, admire, and be present, keeping in mind that it’s a religious landmark.

Fun Things to Do In Chinatown San Francisco

Stuff Your Face at China Live

China Live is one of the most popular attractions in Chinatown San Francisco—it spans 30,000 square feet and two levels, and offers multiple ways to eat, drink, and sample the flavors of the Far East. On the ground floor, you’ll find a market-style restaurant and bar, a tea cafe, and a retail space selling spices, condiments, produce, and cookware. The second floor is where the famous Eight Tables is located; founder George Chen’s upscale, reservation-only restaurant you can’t help but love.

Recent immigrants, many of whom are elderly, opt to live in Chinatown due to the availability of affordable housing and familiarity with the culture.

Wash it Down at Red Blossom Tea Company

How can you visit Chinatown San Francisco and leave without drinking a cup of delicious tea? Visit the family-owned Red Blossom Tea Company and you’ll be doing yourself a large favor. Each year, the owners take a trip through the provinces and collect new varieties of black, white, herbal, and rare teas. Don’t shy away from asking questions on the different varieties and be prepared to have a newfound appreciation for Chinese tea culture.

Get a Dim Sum to Go From Good Mong Kok Bakery

Good Mong Kok is a tiny bakery in Chinatown San Francisco that has become one of its most celebrated fixtures. With no indoor seating and a fast-moving counter, the bakery is bound to be a super quick stop on your list of things to do in Chinatown San Francisco. Choose from the wide variety of delicacies and grab a steamy bun to go as you continue your day exploring Chinatown San Francisco.

The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is a landmark bakery preparing homemade fortune cookies in a tiny open kitchen, with tours available.

Tour the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in San Francisco

The famous Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in San Francisco is marked by red lanterns hanging out front. A truly fascinating stop in the neighborhood, this factory began operating in 1962. You’ll see a handful of workers hunched over, folding messages into cookies by hand and making as many as 20,000 cookies a day to provide to hundreds of local restaurants. You’ll also find varieties of fortune cookies available for purchase—from green tea to chocolate-coated—and can even personalize your own fortune for only a dollar apiece.

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