Sunday, 13 July 2014

Exploring San Francisco’s Chinatown

I always like to wander through the Chinatown area of large cities, enjoying the vibrancy, the bright colours and, of course, the food. So the Chinatown in San Francisco was not to be missed; this is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest in the US.


The Chinatown Alleys


One of the most famous parts of San Francisco Chinatown is the Alleys – a maze of more than 40 tiny paths and alleyways. These date back to the late 19th century when the Chinese population of the city was growing but local laws prevented them from building outside of their allotted area. So they made extra room by building upwards and by squeezing new passages between the existing roads.

Chinatown alleyway, San Francisco
Paths and alleyways run between the main roads
Today the alleys are home to all manner of small businesses including hairdressers, massage parlours and fortunetellers. We heard the sounds of industry coming from tiny workshops and stopped to listen to buskers on the street corners.

Chinatown alleyways, San Francisco
A floor plaque shows the Chinatown alleyways

Exploring Chinatown


In the past Chinatown has suffered from poverty, overcrowding, plague and earthquake. But it has been extensively rebuilt and is now one of San Francisco’s main tourist attractions. The whole area covers 22 blocks, which means that you could spend the whole day exploring.

Red lanterns of San Francisco's Chinatown
The streets are festooned with red lanterns
After we left the alleyways we walked for a while along the main roads which were festooned with banners and red lanterns and full of places to buy jewellery, jade and statues of Buddha. However, this is very much a place where people live, so you could also find shops selling just about anything you might need.

Shop in San Francisco's Chinatown
There are plenty of goods for tourists to buy...

San Francisco's Chinatown
...but it is also a residential area
As you might expect, there are lots of caf├ęs and restaurants. We opted for the Pot Sticker on Waverly Place, where we had traditional Chinese food including my favourite green onion pancakes. Opposite the restaurant was a music school and we spent some time listening to the students practising Chinese songs. And I climbed three sets of stairs to the Tin How Temple, a small peaceful area crammed with colourful artefacts and laden with the smell of incense.

Pot Sticker Restaurant, San Francisco
Traditional food at the Pot Sticker Restaurant
Mural in Chinatown, San Francisco
A colourful mural on the side of a building
We left by the Dragon Gate, a huge archway at the end of Grant Street. This was once the red light district but as we looked back at the bustling street, full of tourists and shoppers, it was hard to imagine the area’s impoverished past.

Dragon Gate, Chinatown, San Francisco
The Dragon Gate at the entrance to Grant Street


52 comments:

  1. Hi Karen,

    Interesting post. I didn't know there was a Chinatown in the U.S. too. An interesting read and nicely written.

    However, some of the images don't show up. Refreshing the browser also doesn't show some of them. I tried a few times. You may want to look at this.

    Coming from today's UBC chain.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Raspal. (Images showing up fine at this end but I think there might be a problem elsewhere as I had problems posting links. I'll keep an eye on it - thanks for alerting me.)

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  2. Gorgeous photos! I visited San Francisco's Chinatown many years ago, and appreciate the reminder of its vibrant beauty. Thank you for sharing your experience!

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    1. Thanks - I was quite overwhelmed by San Francisco generally. I hadn't expected it to be so vibrant.

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  3. Wow!
    I love your selection of pictures, it looks amazing!

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  4. Oh man, that food looks great! I have not been there in years. I feel like I always get lost in there...

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    1. I think it was the best Chinese food I've had outside of Asia. A great place.

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  5. Karen, you're making me hungry. Loved your story and pics.

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    1. Thanks Jill. Lovely place, and lovely food!

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  6. I love the photo of the pink/red paper lanterns. We've been to Chinatown in SF many times and we've always enjoyed our time. There is SO much to see and SO much to eat! Delightfully yummy and the fortune cookie factories are fun to tour as well.

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    1. I didn't get to the fortune cookie factory - something to remember for another time!

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  7. We have visited Chinatowns in many cities, usually in search of Dim Sum, but San Francisco's is the best in our opinion. Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. Yes, I've been to a few Chinatowns, but none of them were anything like the size of the one in SF.

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  8. I love visiting Chinatown. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities. Thanks for the post!

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    1. Even though I only had a few days in SF, I absolutely loved it and it must be up there in my list of favourite places.

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  9. Great photos! I felt like I was walking with you~

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  10. What colorful photos of Chinatown and San Francisco has one of the best. We walked through London's Chinatown last week, but didn't have time to eat some of their famous dishes (darn).

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    1. I always try to get to Chinatown whenever I'm in London. It's not as big as SF but there are lots of great places to eat. You'll have to go back!

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  11. We're recalling the same travels! We too just wrote about San Francisco :-). Anyway, San Fran's Chinatown is a real thriving Chinatown, as you say... Great photos you took!

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    1. I'll have a look at yours Janice, it'll be interesting to compare your experiences with mine.

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  12. I also had a chance to visit San Francisco's Chinatown a few months ago. I was on a walking tour, which also took us to some of the alleys. Most cities on the west coast of the US have Chinatowns---and often a distinct Korea town or pockets housing immigrants from other Asian countries. Actually, east coast cities also have Chinatowns----there are big ones in New York and Washington, D.C. and we even have a decent size one in Philadelphia. I'm glad you had a chance to visit Chinatown in San Francisco. It is definitely an important part of that city's fabric.

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    1. I've never seen a Korea town - that would be interesting.

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  13. Its fascinating the way China towns manage to pop up in so many major cities - Here in Australia we have a very vibrant Chinatown in my state capital Brisbane - and there's a stunning Chinatown I've visited too in Sydney - So why not other nationality towns within cities?

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    1. I've often wondered that. Although there was also a Japantown in SF and Suzanne (in the comment above) says that some US towns also have Korea towns.

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  14. I love the colours in San Francisco's Chinatown. I'm glad the area has been rebuilt. A great place to visit.

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    1. I agree - the colours were vibrant and so was the place!

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  15. Great article Karen. San Francisco is on my bucket list under "cities I would move to" since my teens. :)

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    1. Thanks. Since I visited SF it has moved onto my list of "best cities in the world".

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  16. San Francisco has long been one of my favorite cities in the US to visit. Haven't been through Chinatown for many years but your post and your beautiful photos have inspired me to include a stroll on our next visit in the Fall. Thank you!

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    1. Hope you enjoy your return visit!

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  17. I can never get enough of San Francisco's Chinatown. Thanks for reminding me of how interesting it is. I have a whole section about it on my website that you might enjoy, http://berkeleyandbeyond.com/Northern-California/San-Francisco/Attractions/Historical-Sites/Chinatown/chinatown.html

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    1. Thanks Carole - I'll have a look at your website.

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  18. Great photos, it's always fun to visit chinatown neighbourhoods in different cities. Thanks for sharing.

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  19. I love the jumbled, colorful feeling of SF's Chinatown which you have captured so well with your photos.

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    1. Thanks Mindi, it's a great place for photographs.

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  20. I only spent a few days in SF, way too short! Chinatown looks like another world!!!

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    1. It's certainly another world! I was only there a few days too... will have to go back.

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  21. These photos are great Karen - so many vibrant colours. I think it's funny that China is always the main one of very few nations which always have a town in large cities. Great fun to walk through though!

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    1. I've often wondered why there are so many more Chinese areas than other nationalities. Whatever the reason, I agree that they are great places to wander around.

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  22. I haven't visited the City by the Bay yet but would love to taste my way through the different neighborhoods

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    1. You seem to be able to get food from just about any nationality there...

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  23. I love Chinatowns. Lovely bright place and pictures!

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    1. Yes, I love Chinatown areas too - so bright and vibrant.

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  24. San Francisco's Chinatown is iconic, I'd love to eat there!

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    1. You should try it - it seemed like pretty authentic Chinese food.

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  25. When I was in Chinatown I enjoyed walking around but unfortunately I missed the floor plaque. Maybe I was looking too much up to all the lanterns instead on the pavement. :)

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    1. There is so much to see there, and you can't look up and down at the same time :)

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  26. Great report from an amazing Chinatown..! That's the best when an area is not just a showcase for tourists but when people actually live there and use all the amenities. Damn, now I want to go to SF even more! :)

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    1. It's always good to find a place that isn't just for tourists - apart from anything else it's a more authentic eating experience!

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