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 cafés 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