Chinatown San Francisco
Chinatown in San Francisco is an experience for the senses. It's also a simple way to transport yourself to a little piece of Hong Kong.
It's San Francisco's most densely populated, as well as its most visited, neighborhood. Often crowded and bustling with activity, sometimes it's even a bit of a sensory overload.
This page of the San Francisco Travel (Secrets!) Guide, gives you a local's suggestions for how to make the most out of your time here.
Getting There |
About Chinatown |
Local Suggestions |
Fun Shops |
Places of Interest |
Location of Chinatown, San Francisco:
Chinatown is located just north of Union Square, and spans an area roughly 3 blocks wide, and 8 blocks long. It's bordered by the streets Kearny, Bush, Powell and Broadway, and is close to the Financial District, Union Square, North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf.
The two main streets are Grant and Stockton, with Grant Street catering more to tourists, and Stockton being where locals go to do their daily shopping.
Definitely check out both as well as the small alleyways in between.
A good place to start your exploration is at the
Chinatown Gate, which is located at the intersection of Bush and Grant Street.
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Getting to Chinatown, San Francisco:
If you are driving...
Street parking is limited, so you'll want to park at one of the garages listed below. Both offer reasonable rates at about $2-3 per hour.
- Sutter Stockton Garage
It's close to both Union Square and the Chinatown Gate.
- Portsmouth Square Garage
Located below Portsmouth Square - otherwise known as the "heart of Chinatown".
Check out my page on San Francisco Parking for more tips.
If you are taking public transportation...
The California St. cable car stops at the intersection of California and Grant Street.
Bus lines #30 and #45 go directly through Chinatown on Stockton Street.
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About Chinatown, San Francisco:
It's the oldest Chinatown in North America, as well as the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. The Chinese you hear while walking around is mostly Cantonese, and that's because the majority of the residents in Chinatown hail from Hong Kong.
As you walk through Chinatown you'll notice countless brightly-colored, silky robes and accessories peeking out of the tourist gift shops. You may catch a whiff of incense wafting into the street from one of the many temples. You'll view all manner of interesting creatures at the food markets, as well as have the opportunity to sample food from one of the many restaurants and bakeries that are all competing to serve up the best dim sum or moon cakes.
While walking along Grant Street, keep your eyes and ears out for someone sitting on the sidewalk and playing an "ehru". It may not be your favorite sound, but it's a 1000-year-old, 2-stringed traditional Chinese instrument otherwise known as a "Chinese violin" or the "Chinese 2-stringed fiddle".
Stockton Street is full of markets selling vegetables and various types of live seafood and meats. You might even see someone carrying a live chicken home for dinner!
There are herb shops that sell all kinds of interesting items, as well as teas and ointments. You may recognize herbs like ginseng, ginko biloba, reishi mushrooms or goji berries, but you can also find more unusual items like dried sea cucumber, dried seahorse or bird's nests, used to make "bird nest soup", which is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine.
Local Suggestions for Chinatown, San Francisco:
Explore during the day.
Most stores open around 10 or 11am, and close at sundown, so if you go in the evening, there won't be much to see. You could spend an entire day here if you want to explore every nook and cranny, but my recommendation is to keep it to a couple of hours, and then move on.
Grab a snack.
Chinatown restaurants aren't known for serving up the most amazing food, but you should give dim sum a try if you've never had it.
- You's Dim Sum (675 Broadway btwn. Stockton and Grant) sells super cheap dim sum to-go on Broadway.
- Eastern Bakery (720 Grant btwn. Clay and Sacramento), the oldest Chinese bakery in the US, prides themselves on their mooncakes.
- Golden Gate Bakery (1029 Grant btwn. Jackson and Pacific) has a reputation for making the best egg custard tarts in town, and there is almost always a line forming out the door.
Side note! If you have a strong hankering to try some great Chinese dim sum, try Yank Sing (a local favorite) in the SoMa district.
Grab a drink at one of Chinatown's quirky bars.
Although Chinatown pretty much shuts down at night, a pub-crawl in the evening of the (mostly dive) bars, can be a recipe for an off-beat, but fun, evening.
- The Buddha Lounge (901 Grant, corner of Washington) or...
- Li Po's (916 Grant, also at Washington, across the street).
Beware! of the drink in the clay pot at the Buddha Lounge! They claim it's a Chinese aphrodisiac, but it's awful.
Seek out the hole-in-the-wall fortune cookie factory.
This space hardly has enough room to stand in, yet it produces an astounding 20,000 cookies per day. What makes that number especially remarkable is that just two ladies work there. Buy a bag to-go, or eat them flat and hot off the oven.
Address: You'll find it at 56 Ross Alley (between the streets Grant and Stockton, and Washington and Jackson)
Go for a tea tasting.
There are a few different tea shops in San Francisco's Chinatown. The ones that I am familiar with are Vital Tea Leaf, Red Blossom Tea Company and Ten Ren Tea. Here is a quick low-down on each one.
- Vital Tea Leaf (509 Grant St. btwn Washington and Jackson & 1044 Grant St. btwn Jackson and Pacific)
Wide range in prices of teas (from $5-$$$), and very generous with their tastings. Go in, sit down, and learn interesting things about each tea before purchasing anything.
- Red Blossom Tea (831 Grant St. btwn Clay and Washington)
Most appealing interior and ambiance, but not as generous with their tastings. Price range is similar to Vital Tea Leaf.
- Ten Ren Tea (839 Grant St. at the corner of Jackson)
Sells loose leaf teas and boba tea to-go, yum! Served warm or cold, with or without milk, and in a variety of flavors, jelly tapioca "pearls" are added to the bottom of the cup.
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Fun Shops in Chinatown, San Francisco
Address: 717 Grant St. (btwn Clay and Sacramento)
This spot, a family-operated business that has been open since 1969, not only sells a huge selection of colorful kites, but also lion and dragon costumes, as well as traditional Chinese costumes for boys and girls.
Address: 718 Grant St. (btwn Clay and Sacramento)
If you or a friend is a cooking enthusiast, you might consider popping into this small shop, which is covered from ceiling to floor with all manner of cooking utensils and accessories, and yep, you guessed it, woks!
Clarion Music Store
Address: 816 Sacramento (btwn Grant and Stockton)
Located off the main street, this music shop is cool because it has hundreds of instruments from all around the world. It's definitely a worthwhile stop if you are interested in music. Aside from selling instruments they also hold live performances in an intimate setting, offer Chinese music workshops, and provide lessons for the piano and violin.
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Other Places of Interest in Chinatown, San Francisco:
Location: btwn Grant, Stockton, Sacramento and Washington.
Waverly Place is a two-block long alleyway often referred to as the "Street of the Painted Balconies". It's a pretty couple of blocks to walk down, and a nice way to escape the crowds on Grant and Stockton, but you won't find any restaurants or shops there.
Chinese Historical Society of America
Address: 965 Clay (btwn Stockton and Powell)
This organization plays an important role in the collection and presentation of Chinese American history, and is the largest of its kind in the US. It's housed in the YWCA building which was built in 1932. It's a beautiful brick edifice designed by Julia Morgan (a SF native and famous architect best known for her work on Heart Castle). Admission is $3 to see the museum's exhibits.
Address: btwn Keary, Clay and Washington Streets
Portsmouth Square is one of the few open spaces in Chinatown, San Francisco. It's an interesting place to stop and rest for a while if you've spent a lot of time on your feet. If you are there in the earlier hours of the day you might see people practicing Qi Gong or Tai Ji, otherwise you'll most definitely see men and women gathered around playing excited card games or Chinese chess.
East West Bank
Address: 743 Washington Street (btwn Grant and Kearny)
This beautiful building, inspired by traditional Chinese architecture, used to house the Chinese Telephone Exchange. It served as a means for residents of Chinatown in San Francisco to communicate with their families abroad, back when telephones were managed by switchboard and operators. Originally built in 1909, what is particularly remarkable about this place is that the operators who worked here had to speak, in addition to English, 5 dialects of Chinese, as well as know every caller by name, address and occupation! In Chinese culture it was considered rude to refer to people by number, and since many people shared the same name, it was important to also know the address and occupation of people in order to avoid mix-ups.
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More Images of Chinatown, San Francisco:
Lanterns in Chinatown, San Francisco during Chinese New Year
Tea Tasting Counter at Vital Tea Leaf
Mural of Chinese Railroad Workers
Lion Statue at Entrance Gate in Chinatown, San Francisco
Chinatown Shopping - Souvenir Dolls
Chinatown Shopping, 2 Sculptures - Frog and Girl on Bench
Chinatown Shopping - Chess Set
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Enjoy what you see? Read about other attractions near Chinatown, San Francisco:
return to San Francisco Attractions from Chinatown San Francisco
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