San Francisco's Chinatown: what to see to immerse yourself in Asian culture

Who I am
Martí Micolau

Author and references

You have surely heard that the San Francisco Chinatown it is the largest Chinese community outside Asia. Well, during a visit to City by the Bay, these 3,5 square kilometers of the east become a destination in itself. You can spend half a day eating dim sum, shopping for souvenirs before leaving, and forgetting for a moment that you are in America.

It was founded in 1848, the year that started a migratory flow from Guangdong and Hong Kong up to the 900s, and is the most densely populated area west of Manhattan. More than 100,000 people live within its borders, many of whom speak only Mandarin Chinese or Cantonese. Between art, temples and tea, the oldest Chinatown in the United States will catapult you into a whole new dimension. Here are the places not to be missed.


  • What to see in San Francisco's Chinatown
    • Dragon gate
    • Sing Chong Building
    • Old St. Mary’s Church
    • Waverly Place
    • The Tin How temple
    • The Chinese Historical Society of America
    • Portsmouth Square
    • Buddha’s Universal Church
    • Fortune Cookie Factory
    • Stockton Street
  • Where to sleep?
  • Where to eat in Chinatown: a few places between tea and dim sum

What to see in San Francisco's Chinatown

Dragon gate

To start your Chinatown tour from Dragon's Gate take as a reference Union Square, just 5 minutes. The neighborhood's most popular entry point is located between Bush Street and Grant Avenue, an ideal starting point. Grant Avenue is in fact the oldest and most important street in Chinatown.

Sing Chong Building

Photos at Ardail Smith

Once you cross the Dragon Gate, leave the United States behind. In this corner of Asia, more or less authentic antiques shops pop up on every street (there is one called Venezia Gallery a few meters from the entrance) and oriental-style buildings. The first is the Sing Chong, located between California Street and Grant Avenue. This yellow palace with a pagoda on top was the first to be rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and is one of the most photographed buildings in San Francisco today.

Old St. Mary’s Church

A few steps from Sing Chong we find another historical pillar of the district. This church is the oldest in California and was built in 1854 under the leadership of Father Henry Ignatius Stark to spread Catholicism in Chinatown. In 1891 it was replaced by a larger cathedral which was almost completely destroyed in the fires that followed the earthquake. Do not expect the churches that we Italians are used to, but it is quite impressive to see such architecture in a Chinese context.

Waverly Place

Proceeding straight on Grant Avenue you will come to the intersection with Clay Street, where you will have a view of the Transamerica pyramid, symbol of the financial district of San Francisco. On a side street off Grant Avenue there is an area called Waverly Place (the name is also that of the street). Its yellow, pink and blue facades are very recognizable and perhaps you will think you have already seen them: Waverly Place has in fact appeared in some films such as The Pursuit of Happiness with Will Smith.

The Tin How temple

Photos at Jim Maurer

As colorful as the buildings on Waverly Place, Tin How is Chinatown's oldest Taoist temple, founded in 1852. The actual temple is located on the fourth floor, reachable by climbing the stairs; you are greeted by a relaxing and peaceful atmosphere as well as by the classic bright red and gold.

The Chinese Historical Society of America

This museum, housed in a historic red brick building at 965 Clay Street, presents the history of the Chinese community in America through various exhibits. It is not very big but it will give you an idea of ​​the difficulties and problems with integration that the Chinese have encountered over the years.

It is open from Wednesday to Sunday (11-16). The ticket costs $ 15 (18-65), $ 10 (65+ and students) and is free for children under 12.

Portsmouth Square

Portsmouth Square is considered the heart of Chinatown and was founded in the early 2001th century. It is a place full of history that saw the birth of the first public school in California, but also celebrations, protests and renovations, the last of which was completed in XNUMX. There are plaques, statues (such as the Goddess of Democracy) and even a playground. called Tot Lot with works of art in concrete and glass. Ideal for resting and taking a break during your visit to Chinatown.

Opposite Portsmouth Square is the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, located precisely on the third floor of the Hilton hotel. Admission is free and here you can consult the active exhibitions. It is open from Thursday to Saturday from 10am to 16pm.

Buddha’s Universal Church

Another first within Chinatown goes to Buddha's Universal Church, il largest Buddhist temple in the United States. Don't be fooled by the exterior, decidedly modern and not at all oriental; inside there are mosaics, gold Buddha images, a bamboo chapel and an altar. The rites are celebrated on the second and fourth Sunday of each month at 10:30 am followed by a lunch and a tour of the temple. At the top there is also a terrace in the shape of a lotus flower with plants and benches.

Other Chinatowns in California You may not know that, but California's other major coastal city also has its own Chinese community - read our article about Los Angeles's Chinatown!

Fortune Cookie Factory

Have you ever wondered how the fortune cookies you open at the end of the meal at the Chinese restaurant are made? Here at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory you can witness their creation (on a smaller scale than industrial ones of course) and buy them as soon as they are made. Prices start at around $ 5 and the products you can buy range from giant fortune cookies to classics to chocolate ones. Do you want to take pictures of this fascinating laboratory? Fifty cents is the price to pay.

Stockton Street

One block from the fortune cookie factory is there shopping street main town in Chinatown. Stockton Street starts at Market Street via Union Square and arrives here where the trendy shops give way to fruit, vegetables, spices and fresh fish. Perhaps too fresh since it is also alive!

Where to sleep?

Chinatown is a good solution for accommodation in San Francisco, and the reasons are at least 3: location, safety ed inexpensiveness. At the link below you will find an article in which we have explored this topic, also giving some targeted advice on some interesting structures in the neighborhood. If Chinatown isn't your thing, also read tips on other neighborhoods.

Advice on where to sleep in Chinatown

Where to eat in Chinatown: a few places between tea and dim sum

Chinatown is spoiled for choice if you love Asian food. I advise you to stop in one of the many restaurants specializing in dim sum without expecting much from the service (or cleaning), in full Chinese style. The oldest is theHang Ah Tea Room (1 Pagoda Place), open since 1920. It is also said to be America's oldest dim sum restaurant.

If, on the other hand, you have something more fashionable in mind, try it China Live (718 California St.) with its large wooden tables in the Market Restaurant or upscale tastings in the restaurant Eight tables. A modern and classy furniture to be exploited even in the evening. In fact, the Cold Drinks Bar for a cocktail (or more). Are you a tea lover? Have a tasting in one of the three outlets in Vital Teal Leaf.

The beauty of San Francisco is its variety of neighborhoods. In this multicultural city diversity reigns supreme: just move a few blocks to find yourself in the 60s, surrounded by rainbow flags (if you are a fan of the genre, don't miss Haight Ashbury), or as in the case of Chinatown, in a factory of fortune cookies.

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