A Little China in California: Exploring San Francisco’s Chinatown

From food to traditional Chinatown events, Chinatown is a San Francisco stop that should be on everyone’s itinerary for these reasons alone.

Chinatown, located in downtown San Francisco, is the oldest Chinatown in North America and home to the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. It is a top tourist attraction, rivaling the pedestrian traffic of the Golden Gate Bridge!

Chinatown takes up about 24 city blocks and is one of the most densely populated communities in the Bay Area, mainly due to affordable rent compared to the high cost of living in San Francisco. Founded in 1848, Chinatown is the hub of the history and culture of the Chinese community in the United States. This place allows Chinese immigrants to retain their customs, culture, language and identity.

Gastronomic history of Chinese cuisine in America

Many people say that the best way to learn about a culture is through its food. The origins of Chinese cuisine in America can be traced back to Chinatown in San Francisco. Chinatown’s history dates back to the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. Many Chinese immigrants came to the United States, and with them their cuisine. Cantonese cuisine has a strong influence on Chinese cuisine in the United States

As Chinese immigrants settled down and introduced Americans to their food, they adjusted their dishes to suit the American palate. By far, the quintessential Chinese American dish is chop-suey, a simple dish of sautéed vegetables.

Best restaurants in Chinatown

Various restaurants surround Chinatown and its surroundings. Notable establishments include Hang Ah Tea Room, the oldest dim sum restaurant in the United States. It is still in business and continues to serve delicious food. Visit Vital Tea Leaf for a wide selection of herbal teas. Those interested in learning more about tea culture can sit at one of the tables and listen to Uncle Gee discuss tea making and recommendations. Keep in mind that some restaurants only accept cash. Make sure you hit the ATM before eating dinner.


  • Oriental bakery (12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
  • Good Mong Kok Bakery (7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.)
  • Golden Gate Bakery (8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Tea rooms

  • Vital tea leaf (11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.)

Low sum

  • Hang up a tea room (10 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
  • Dim Sum Bistro (8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.)
  • City View Restaurant (11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.)
  • Restaurant Sam Wo (from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; until 6 p.m. on Sundays and Saturdays; closed on Tuesdays)

Full service restaurants

  • Yuet Lee Seafood Restaurant (11:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.; until midnight Monday; closed Tuesday)
  • Restaurant Z&Y (11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., 4:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.; closed Tuesdays)
  • Hunan Home’s (11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays)
  • Chong Qing Xiao Mian (11:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.)
  • R & G Lounge (from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; until 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays)

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Activities and Events

In addition to eating, visitors go to Chinatown to visit herbal shops and markets. Chinatown is known for its hard-to-find Asian ingredients and great deals on non-food items. Tourists generally head to Grant Avenue for the sights and shops. Those who want a more “authentic” Chinese experience head to Stockton Street. It’s less flashy and glamorous, but this is where you can get a feel for what it’s like to be in China.

Chinatown hosts some of the most unique and unforgettable events:

  • Chinese New Year – a two-week event, which ends with a Festival and a Parade. The New Year takes place between the end of January and the beginning of March.
  • Fall moon festival – marking the end of the fall harvest season in the lunar calendar. It usually takes place between September and early October.
  • Miss Chinatown USA Contest

Important landmarks

  • Portsmouth Square
  • Dragon Gate at Grant Avenue
  • Statue of Dr Sun Yat-Sen on Place Sainte-Marie
  • Memorial for Chinese Veterans
  • Sing Chong and Sing Fat buildings
  • Tin How Temple in Waverly
  • Ma-Tsu Temple in Becket Street
  • Chinese telephone exchange in Washington Street
  • Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Ross Alley
  • Chinese Historical Society in Clay Street

Movies & TV Shows

The colorful streets of Chinatown have served as the backdrop for movies and movies, including The Maltese Falcon, The pursuit of Happiness, The Presidio, and Godzilla.

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Chinatown is a lively district open 24/7. Although store and restaurant hours may vary, most stores open around 10:00 am and close around 9:00 pm. Those wishing to visit specific stores should check out the store’s website or social media.


Chinatown is accessible by public and private transportation. There are several parking spaces for cars. The following cable car and bus lines have stops in Chinatown:

  • Private Vehicle Parking: Portsmouth Garage ($ 3 per hour), St. Mary’s Square Garage ($ 3.50 – $ 4.50 per hour)
  • Cable cars
  • Powell Street Lines
  • California Street Line
  • Bus 30-Stockton Bus – from Fisherman’s Wharf direct to Chinatown

Notable areas around Chinatown

When you’re done walking the main streets of Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, try exploring the back alleys of Chinatown. Here, tourists can experience local culture and community life in Chinatown. Don’t be surprised if you find small mahjong lounges and other family owned shops.

It is best to explore Chinatown without an itinerary. There is so much to see and a lot of food to taste. You will find something of interest around every corner. If you have time to spare, visit other famous landmarks in the area, such as the Haight-Ashbury district, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, and North Beach.

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