Exploring San Francisco’s Chinatown

Chinatown, San Francisco
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on email
Email

Disclosure: This article may contain links to products/services that I may earn a small commission from- at no extra cost to you.

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.
San Francisco alleyway
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 alleyway
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, San Francisco
The streets of Chinatown 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.

Chinatown shop, San Francisco
There are plenty of goods for tourists to buy…

 

Chinatown, San Francisco
…but Chinatown 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.

Chinese meal, San Francisco
Traditional food at the Pot Sticker Restaurant

 

Mural in San Francisco
A colourful mural on the side of a building

 

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

 

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.

Looking for a hotel in San Francisco? Book here with booking.com or try a vacation rental with Flipkey.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest

30 thoughts on “Exploring San Francisco’s Chinatown”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

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

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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. 🙂

  9. 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! 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Karen

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren. I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 60 countries at the last count). I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica (I still hope to get there one day…), and my current favourite destinations are Italy, Spain and North America. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.

FOLLOW ME

Want a regular dose of inspiration and information from WorldWideWriter?

Sign up to our mailing list now!

Booking.com