CHINATOWN, San Francisco
Old Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church is the city's first cathedral, completed in 1854. The church building survived the 1906 earthquake only to be gutted by the ensuing fires that engulfed the city. All the remained of this landmark cathedral were a few walls and the bell tower. In 1909 reconstruction of the cathedral began, and the church underwent a major expansion in 1929 to enable a capacity of 2,000 people.
Next to the church is St. Mary's Square which is home to a 12-foot statue of Sun Yat Sen, founder of the Chinese Republic. Sun spent some time in San Francisco in th elate 1890s.
Portsmouth Square is a small, one-block square between Chinatown and the Financial District surrounded by Kearny Street, Washington Street, Clay Street, and Walter Lum Place. The square was established as the central plaza of the Mexican pueblo of Yerba Buena in the 1830s. It's modern name comes from the USS Portsmouth, the command ship that seized San Francisco in 1846 and whose captain raised the first US flag in the city on this site. Nearby Montgomery Street was named after the ship's commander, Captain John B. Montgomery.
The park has various markers and statues, including a landmark for the first public school in California, a marker for the Eastern Terminus of Clay Street Hill Railroad Company, a monument of the hoisting of the American flag, a memorial for Robert Louis Stevenson, and a statue of the Goddess of Democracy. The democracy statue is my favorite, as it is a replica of the democracy statue constructed by students at the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 in Beijing.
After its $3.9 million renovation in 2001, the park has become a center of daily Chinatown life. On any given day you will see dozens if not hundreds of local Chinese-Americans playing Chinese chess, cards, or just chatting away the day.
Under Portsmouth Square is a 500-space, four-story parking garage operated by the city.
In 2005 the Project for Public Spaces named Portsmouth Square the 8th best public square in America and Canada.
Favorite thing: Chinese New Year is usually during February, normally the rainiest month of the year in San Francisco. Although there's a low chance of a heavy downpour on the Chinese New Year celebrations and parade, parade participants often plan for the worst by wearing clear plastic rain gear, having weather proof canopies where possible, and then the streets become overly crowded with umbrellas. Actually, along narrow Grant Avenue, the main thoroughfare in Chinatown, can be navigated without an umbrella much of the time because of the overhanging canopies of the shopkeepers. A hooded jacket is more practical than an umbrella for the street faire activities, but an umbrella will serve nicely to watch the parade, which goes along the broader avenue of Kearny Street.
Favorite thing: I stayed in Chinatown while here. What a great place to just walk around. The sights and smells (some good, some bad) The people in Portsmouth Square playing checkers or doing Tai Chi, the architecture..it's almost overwhelming. Go here, spend much time, and take in the culture.
Apparently San Francisco has the largest population of Asian people outside of Asia itself.
So the China town to me was exactly what I'd would expect it to be.
The only problem is many tourists stay on Grant Street, where all the tourist tat can be found, my advice is at one block west onto Stockton here you will see a more authentic China Town.
Unlike in Asia, you are expected to give a 10-15% tip at Chinese restaurants in San Francisco Chinatown and in USA. Unless, it is a quick take-away (to go).
Try these popular Americanized Chinese food:
1) Gong Pu Chicken
2) Mushi Pork (wrapping shredded meat and vegetables)
3) Chop Sui Yee (mixed leftover, recooked)
4) Lemon Sherbet (poor man's choice for ice cream)
5) Fortune cookies
Go for dim-sum too, just do not forget to tip when the bill comes to avoid angry faces.
There is convenient underground public parking near Chinatown.
You can find the official entrance to Chinatown at the intersection of Grant and Bush streets. Its just a short walk from Union Square, so if you're staying in this area, its best to walk over, especially since the traffic is so bad. Several bus lines also run to the area.
Chinatown is a sprawling area that extends to the sidestreets bordering Grant Street. Here you will find a population of mostly Asians but also tourists and locals as well. There are tons of shops selling everything from touisty items to herbs and Asian statues. There are also numerous restaurants in the area, some of which are supposed to be pretty good and reasonable as well.
Despite the near grid lock of the pedestrian streets, I enjoyed Chinatown and would recommend at least a brief walk through of the area. Its great for window shopping and for finding interesting items to bring home, such as teas and herbs designed to cure all ailments, even those you don't know that you have.
Favorite thing: Visit Chinatown. Here you can see beautiful Chinese buildings and buy exotic Chinese products. See more at the travelogue.
A place I always wanted to see. It was like I had expected it, all Asia stores (not only Chinese) and restaurants and bars and newspapers and signs and street lights and all that.
But somehow I didn't really get to love it, I didn't get to the heart of Chinatown. I felt more like an observer, watching locals and tourists buzzing around, day at night, always busy, always full of light and action and voices. A strange atmosphere. Different from all other streets and blocks in San Francisco.
So the city wouldn't be the same without these streets and buildings and people!
The Chinatown gate.
I've seen some Chinatowns in the world but I must say I like this one.
It is not too crowded, and many fancy shops coloured the area.
It is very close to Union Square, just a couple of blocks away.
This is where I bought alle the accessories for my camera. From a typical chinese who was actually half-italian and whose son is married to a 100% italian woman too. Her name is Silvia (useful tip!)
While walking through Grant street at Chinatown, you can find a colourful street, ok it is shops, and souvenir shops (even worst lol) or it is just maybe that after visiting London or New York Chinatowns, for my first time I was impressed…
Favorite thing: What Little Havana is to Miami, Chinatown is to the City By The Bay---a large, exotic ethnic district. This place has had a long history in San Francisco---some of it, alas, quite shameful---Chinese laborers were brought to the not-so-Golden State for virtural slavery---and Chinatown began as a 19th century verson of Soweto, South Africa. But Asians in general, despite instances of "Yellow Peril" white racism, have built a realitively good life---and Chinatown has long been the biggest one in America---although in recent decades it has been overtaken by New York City.
Fondest memory: San Francisco's Chinatown, the largest outside of Asia, is for the most part similar to other Chinatowns in other cities. But this Chinatown is the most exciting and festive I believe. Stores after stores, restaurants after restaurants, the hustle and bustle. Local people come and go, doing their grocery shopping, living their lives. There are a lot of activities to do here. There are even official attractions like museums here too. There are a lot of lights at night. And I'm sure Chinatown is the most festive during the celebration of the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival).
Median Household Income: $21,930
Median Age: 42.6
Average Household Size: 1.92
White Population: 5,017
Black Population: 279
Hispanic Population: 243
Asian, Pacific Islander Population: 8,846
Male Population: 6,723
Female Population: 7,507
Speaks Asian or Pacific Island Language: 8,038
Start from Broadway and Columbus, then work you way down Stockton, toward downtown, then downhill to Kearny and Portsmouth Square, then go back up to Grant and finally through the Chinatown gate and end up on Bush.
Chinatown is in its present day location because the then city hall wanted to put "Chinaman" out in a corner of the city, forgotten. The worst neighborhood in the city then is the corner of Columbus and Broadway, known as "The Barbary Coast", full of nude dance, brothels, and opium dens. Chinatown was placed "behind" that section of town to be forgotten. You can still see the night clubs and adult theaters and such on that corner. They've cleaned up a bit, but you can imagine what it was like back then...
Walk down Stockton and look at all the shops. Make your way down Jackson and go through the first alley. You'll discover the original Chinatown fortune cookie factory, and they STILL make fortune cookies there. In the old Chinatown days, these alleyways are considered turf territory by the local gangs known as the Tongs.
One of these alleyways used to have a bar named Rickshaws. When Beatles came to town, they had a nightcap there. Really.
Head down to Portsmouth Square and explore the various plaques and monuments there. This is where discovery of gold was announced, the location of first school, and much more. It's now a public square with Chinese chess players and more. On weekends, they have a night market there.
Walk back up to Grant and head toward the old St. Mary's Church. Admire the uber-Chinese style on the houses and lamp-posts and such. Pickup some souvenirs if you wish (prices aren't that bad).
Continue on Grant (opposite the traffic flow) and you'll reach the Chinatown gate, with the four words written by Sun Yat-Seng, founder of Republic of China (reverred by both China and Taiwan).
There's far more to Chinatown than just dim sum and Chinese signs.
Fondest memory: Oh, there are plenty of fond memories to be had within Chinatown.
Trying various types of dim sum (most of them you can't even pronounce and many of them you wouldn't want to know the ingredients involved) would be a lot of fun. For large selections, try Asia on Pacific and Stockton, or Gold Mountain on Broadway between Stockton and Grant.
Check out the various markets selling everything from VCD's and CD's to vegetables and meat.
There are several Buddhist and related temples in Chinatown that is worth a visit if you can actually find them, and most do not permit cameras (the flash disturbs the deities).
You can take the cable car on California/Grant or Powell / Clay (going in slightly different directions) to continue your journey.