Chinatown, located in downtown San Francisco, is the oldest Chinatown in North America and has the largest Chinese community outside Asia. It is a prominent tourist attraction, rivaling the foot traffic of the Golden Gate Bridge!

Chinatown occupies about 24 blocks and is one of the most densely populated communities in the Bay area, primarily due to the affordable rent relative to the high cost of living in San Francisco. Established in 1848, Chinatown is the hub of the history and culture of the Chinese community in the U.S. This place allows Chinese immigrants to retain their customs, culture, language, and identity.

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Gastronomic History Of Chinese Food In America

Many people say that the best way to get to know a culture is through its food. The origins of Chinese food in America can be traced back to Chinatown in San Francisco. Chinatown’s history goes back as far as the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. A lot of Chinese immigrants came to the U.S., and with them came their cuisine. Cantonese cuisine has a heavy influence on Chinese food in the U.S.

As Chinese immigrants settled in and introduced their food to the Americans, they adjusted their dishes to cater to the American palate. By far, the quintessential American-style Chinese dish is the chop-suey — a simple dish of stir-fried vegetables.

Best Restaurants In Chinatown

Different restaurants surround Chinatown and its neighboring areas. Notable establishments include Hang Ah Tea Room, the oldest dim sum restaurant in the United States. It’s still in business and continues to serve delicious food. Head over to Vital Tea Leaf for a wide selection of herbal teas. Those who wish to learn about tea culture can sit at one of the tables and listen as Uncle Gee discusses tea preparation and recommendations. Keep in mind that some of the restaurants only accept cash. Make sure to hit the ATM before dining.

Bakeries

  • Eastern Bakery (12:00 pm to 4:00 pm)
  • Good Mong Kok Bakery (7:00 am to 6:00 pm)
  • Golden Gate Bakery (8:00 am to 8:00 pm

Tea Shops

  • Vital Tea Leaf (11:00 am to 6:00 pm)

Dim Sum

  • Hang A Tea Room (10:00 am to 8:00 pm)
  • Dim Sum Bistro (8:00 am to 3:00 pm)
  • City View Restaurant (11:00 am to 2:00 pm, 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm)
  • Sam Wo Restaurant (11:00 am to 8:00 pm; until 6:00 pm on Sundays and Saturdays; closed on Tuesdays)

Full-Service Restaurants

  • Yuet Lee Seafood Restaurant (11:00 am to 1:00 am; until midnight on Mondays; closed on Tuesdays)
  • Z&Y Restaurant (11:30 am to 3:00 pm, 4:30 pm to 9:00 pm; closed on Tuesdays)
  • Hunan Home’s (11:30 am to 9:30 pm; until 10:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays)
  • Chong Qing Xiao Mian (11:30 am to 8:00 pm)
  • R & G Lounge (11:00 am to 9:00 pm; until 9:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays)

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Activities And Events

Aside from eating, visitors go to Chinatown to visit herbal shops and markets. Chinatown is known for having hard-to-find Asian ingredients and bargains for non-food items. Tourists usually head to Grant Avenue for the sights and stores. Those who wish to have a more “authentic” Chinese experience head to Stockton Street. It is less flashy and glamorous, but it is here that one can get a feel for what it’s like to be in China.

Chinatown hosts some of the most unique and unforgettable events:

  • Chinese New Year – a two-week event, which culminates with a Festival and Parade. The New Year occurs sometime between late January to early March.
  • Autumn Moon Festival – marking the end of the autumn harvest season in the lunar calendar. It usually takes place between September to early October.
  • Miss Chinatown U.S.A. Pageant

Significant Landmarks

  • Portsmouth Square
  • Dragon Gate at Grant Avenue
  • Dr. Sun Yat-Sen statue at St Mary’s Square
  • Memorial for Chinese War Veterans
  • Sing Chong and Sing Fat buildings
  • Tin How Temple at Waverly
  • Ma-Tsu Temple at Becket Street
  • Chinese Telephone Exchange at Washington Street
  • Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory at Ross Alley
  • Chinese Historical Society at Clay Street

Movie And television shows

The colorful streets of Chinatown have featured as a backdrop of films and movies, including The Maltese Falcon, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Presidio, and Godzilla.

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Access

Chinatown is a busy neighborhood that is open 24/7. While store and restaurant schedules may vary, most stores open at around 10:00 am and close at around 9:00 pm. Those who wish to visit specific stores should check the store’s website or social media.

Transportation

Chinatown is accessible via public and private transportation. There are various parking spots for cars. The following cable car lines and bus lines have stops within Chinatown:

  • Parking for private vehicles: Portsmouth Garage ($3 per hour), St. Mary’s Square Garage ($3.50-$4.50 per hour)
  • Cable Cars
  • Powell Street lines
  • California Street line
  • Bus 30-Stockton Bus – from Fisherman’s Wharf straight into Chinatown

Notable Areas Around Chinatown

When you finish traversing the main streets of Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, try to explore the little alleys in Chinatown. Here, tourists can experience local culture and community life in Chinatown. Don’t be surprised if you find small mahjong parlors and other family-owned shops.

Exploring Chinatown is best done without an itinerary. There is so much to see and plenty of food to taste. You will find something interesting around every corner. If you have time to spare, visit other famous spots in the area, such as the Haight-Ashbury District, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, and North Beach.

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