San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest in North America. It is often described as being home to the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, and I have no problem believing it! Unlike many North American Chinatowns that only seem to keep up appearances to attract tourists, San Francisco's Chinatown is home to a bustling Asian community. Perhaps Grant Avenue is a little more geared towards visitors, but as you walk along some of the side streets you'll find it easy to imagine you've found a secret passageway to China! Between a group of elderly citizens practicing Tai Chi at Portsmouth Square and women seemingly arguing for the price of fish at one of the small markets, the cultural immersion can seem pretty complete :o)
Although I'm not a big fan, we did stop for some Dim Sum at one of the many Chinatown restaurants. I guess it was alright, but it didn't make me change my mind about it - I'm still not a big fan. However, we did go to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie factory for dessert (56 Ross Alley) and that, I liked! As soon as we walked in we were given a free sample fresh from the oven and were invited to take as many pictures as we wanted. We watched the ladies work for a little while and left with a small bag of fortune cookies (only $1) for the road.
Portsmouth Square is the "Heart of Chinatown", a plaza where old Chinese men play Chinese chess, Chinese women sit, sew, and gossip, and children play on the equipment. This is one of the busiest parks in town, and it's not for the lovely landscaping, as their is virtually none. Mostly a concrete patio, with a few Chinese style rooflines for shade, under the few pine trees, individuals meditate, a real spiritual challenge in this noisy place. Below the park is a commercial parking lot, and across Kearney, an arching concrete pedestrian bridge leading to the Chinese Cultural Center building. This is the most historic site in the city, originally the plaza of the Yerba Buena pueblo, where a Mexican customs house was located. It is named after the ship of Captain John B. Montgomery, who on July 9, 1846, hauled down the Mexican flag and raised the Stars and Stripes (see CA historical landmark #81). Historical Landmark #587 marks the site of the first public school building in CA, erected in 1847. Portsmouth Plaza itself is explained on CA historical landmark #119, which includes these events and more:
+ Sam Brannan announced the discovery of GOLD! on May 11, 1848
+ Mass meeting urges election of delegates to Monterey Constitutional Convention on June 12, 1849.
+ Refuge for citizens following fires of 1849, 1850, 1851, and 1906.
+ Assembly on July 16, 1849 organizes against a lawless group called 'The Hounds--First Vigilante.
+ First Admission Day celebration held October 29, 1850, when the steamship Oregon brought the news that California had become the 31st state
+ An oration delivered by Colonel E. D. Baker in 1859, over the body of U. S. Senator David C. Broderick--killed in duel with Chief Justice David S. Terry.
+ Robert Louis Stevenson spent many hours here during his visit to the city in 1879-1880.
Nearby one can order food "to-go", providing a chance to sit and eat at the plaza. Many Chinatown tours start here. Weblink is for parking information.
One of the fun things to do is just wander around Chinatown. There are so many shops, restaurants and businesses. Don't be afraid to go in the markets, tea shops and stores and look around. Who knows you might find a great souvenir.
Here's a shot of your average market.
Tip: You are going to get a glimpse of China as you can see bins of live turtles, frogs and cooked chickens in windows.
If you have never tried Dim Sum before, you should do that before you go back home.
This is a very small shop in China town where you can see them making fortune cookies. They will also let you sample the cookies. You can buy a bag of fortune cookies for $3 or you can get a naughty bag for $4.
I opted for the naughty bag and found the fortunes to be very humorous.
Example: Fu Ling Yu Says: On honeymoon, bride get sleepy. Can't stay awake for a second.
San Francisco's Chinatown lays claim to being the largest Chinatown outside of China, it goes on and on and on for many blocks. I had wanted to do a free guided walking tour here but it didn't work with our plans so I used a couple of printed Chinatown walking guides from SF Gate and Frommer's to get us around this area.
While some parts of Chinatown, like Grant Avenue, are extremely touristy, all you need to do is go a block or so off Grant Street and you will realize that this is a real Chinese community with grocery stores and shops catering to San Francisco's Chinese population. Checkout some of the Chinese grocery stores with their unique stock of live fish, Chinese vegetables, teas and Chinese speciality goods even HUGE bags of MSG! Stop and enjoy a dim sum lunch at one of the many restaurants, some will pack you a box to go, others you can sit and order from the ladies with the carts. Try a delicious egg tart from a Chinese bakery or the unique red bean ice cream drink. Wander down Ross Alley and see the ladies making fortune cookies, 50 cents if you want to take photos, grab a bag of fortune cookies to snack on later.
Photo 1-Chinatown gate, Grant Avenue at Bush Street
Photo 2-Portsmouth Square, my guidebook said these men were playing chess, but it looked a lot more like gambling to me and nary a rook, knight or queen was seen
Photo 3-Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, I dare you to pass by after a whiff of the delicious smelling fortune cookies and not stop for a peek, 56 Ross Alley
Photo 4-Washington Street
Photo 5-the painted balconies of Waverly Place
A visit to San Francisco is not complete without a visit to Chinatown. If you like touristy stuff, visit the shops on Grant Avenue. But the real fun and adventure is to explore the side streets and alleys. Stockton Street is where locals shop. Lots of inexpensive restaurants are located in Chinatown. Explore and try some of the local Chinese pastry shops and bakeries.
San Franciso is known for its very unique and famous neighborhoods. Chinatown is probably one of the best known areas in San Francisco along with The Castro and Haight/Ashbury. Chinatown is actually a city within itself and could exisit without San Francisco surrounding it. Visiting the streets of Chinatown is like entering a differnent world. From the shops, to the markets, to the many restaurants Chinatown is as unique and to itself as any other area of San Francisco. Take some time to walk through some of the shops and talk with the owners. Have a least one dinner in Chinatown from an authentic Chinese quisine. If you are with the guys in hats, Jim, will insist you find a restaurant with ducks hanging in the window for a true Chinese experience. Jim is of Chinese descent and walking through Chinatown was like a homecoming as his ancestors came to the US through San Francisco.
This is the entrance into Chinatown on Grant Street and Bush. Walk up Grant Street and you will first pass by the Old St Mary's Cathedral on California Street.
Once you past here, you will pass by a variety of souvenoir shops. Avoid the restaurants here as they are tourist traps and the food is not that good compared to the restaurants further in.
At that point, after 3 blocks or so, you will begin to hear Chinese Music being played, if you're lucky, you'll hear the Percussion of the Lion Dancers. You may hear little popping paper fire crackers that kids make noise with, and you'll hear crickets, yes crickets, a popular gift sold in the many tourist shops in Chinatown.
Avoid the art galleries as they will try to rip you off. One guy offered me a painting for $120, and without even speaking, he was suddenly marking it down to $40.00!! Be very skeptical of such business man and take 50% off that price if you really want the painting, but, whatever you do, never act like you want something.
The better chinese restaurants are on Broadway Street before the Broadway Tunnel and on Stockton Street. The best Chinese Bakery, Golden Gate Bakery is on Grant Street.
This is also a fun place to walk about at Night time. Sometimes on Stockton Street, you will have the rare pleasure of watching a funeral procession, mostly likely from the Green Street Mortuary.
On Saturdays and Sundays, there are often Chinese Weddings taking place in many of the Banquet Halls.
i wasnt that impressed with chinatown. it was just like walking through a very small scale hong kong neighbourhood. everyone speaks cantonese. but i guess all chinese should at least visit this place once just to have a look. its quite accessible anyway. the food is good and everyone should try the tomato beef noodles! i dont know if its a san fran dish or a common chinese dish in US but i didnt see it anywhere in LA. its damn good!!!!! the shopping is not bad too. the stuff are cheaper than other places in san fran. and its the best place to get all those souvenirs! there are many "3 for $10" shops in chinatown. u can get all sorts of gifts there! key chains, cable car musical boxes, fridge magnets... so dont buy any souvenirs from fisherman's wharf! buy them all here!
The Chinatown gate can be found at the intersection of Bush St. and Grant Avenue. It has three beautifully ornated arches and is guarded by two lions. Its design was inspired after ceremonial entrances of Chinese villages. The materials were provided by the Taiwan government and the design belongs to Clayton Lee. The gate opened in 1970. Once you pass through it, you'll find yourself surrounded by a multitude of shops selling souvenirs, jewelry, electronics, artwork etc.
Grant Avenue, between Bush Street and Broadway is the main tourist street of Chinatown. The avenue is lined with dragon-entwined lamp posts and buildings that borrow elements from Chinese architecture, with towers and curved rooftops. Grant Avenue is an odd mix of souvenir shops for tourists, restaurants, banks etc. The parallel Stockton Street seems to cater more for the local Chinese community.
It’s always interesting to visit the Chinatown in some big US cities. We enjoyed in NY so we did the same in San Francisco. Although there isn’t something specific to see I always love to wonder around districts like this because it is full of life, you can just look at the locals (amazing how many Chinese people live here) doing their daily jobs and shopping and you can visit some of their budhist temples of course. It’s one of the most historic districts in San Francisco anyway as it was cropped up in 1850, just a year of the 1849 Gold Rush. The streets are full of the famous chinoiserie red lamps and pagoda rooftops, definitely you will have many photo opportunities.
We saw two of them, Ching Chung Temple (pic 1) and Kong Chow Temple (pic 2), we entered the first one but no photos allowed inside though so don’t even think to put your camera in front of Bouda statue. I tried to take a pic from outside and an old lady came at the door screaming at us! :) So, at Kong Chow Temple (at 55 Stocktom str, over the post office as you can see at the pic) we knew about it and we just wander around. The Chinese altar is probably the oldest in USA.
After visiting the temples we passed by a funeral (pic 3) at another temple and we stayed there for a while watching the ritual outside, weird to see all those people in black standing still for some moments while the sun was shining and the car traffic at the avenue was so noisy that definitely spoiled their moment…
The Chinatown Gate (pic 4) is probably the entering point for most of the visitors, we entered through there the second day of our visit. If you are interested to learn more about the Chinese community in SF you can visit the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum at 965 Clay Street. It is opened Tuesday to Sundayt 11.00-16.00.
The seemingly delapidated brick cathedral on the corner of Grant and California in Chinatown is actually a historic relic. Paulist Old St. Mary's claims to be the first cathedral in California. The earlier catholic churches, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Patrick and the old Mission Dolores Church were part of the distant Mexican diocese. The brick shell and granite base of Old St. Mary's dates back to the first contruction of 1854, and this has recently been undergoing seismic retrofit. While the original building survived the tremors of the 1906 earthquake, the great fire gutted the building, even melting its stained glass windows and bronze bell. Today, the old brick church appears without distinction within the fine church architecture within the city, but it does sport a clock tower. The French Paulist missionary activity prides itself on serving the needs of Chinatown. Adjacent to the church is Old St. Mary's Square which has a good view of the financial district towers and may be a relatively quiet place within the otherwise chaotic Chinatown to eat a to-go lunch.
Like most of the big cities in the US, San Francisco has its Chinatown.
San Francisco Chinatown is bustling , lively and colourful. Plenty of shops full of souvenirs, chinese restaurants and bars. You can buy there many chinese goods and crafts.
I have been to many chinatowns but I found this one the cutest of all, with a nice gate/entrance and though it's very crowded and bustling, it has an organized atmosphere.
get off the path & streets and walk into the alleys
If you want to know more about it.. ask an expert... not me..
I just wander around blindly like a tourist, listening to the sounds,
peeking thru windows, and digging on the smells of food cooking.
(Check out tiny 10 Old Chinatown Ln across Washington from Spofford St.)
Juanita Lee was @ 10 Old Chinatown Ln. Gone.