Chinatown

Culture / Nightlife Area / Outdoor Activity / Shopping Area
Chinatown Not only is San Francisco's Chinatown the oldest of its kind in North America, it's also the largest Chinese neighborhood outside of Asia, and surpasses even the Golden Gate Bridge as one of the city's top tourist destinations... San Francisco United States 37.794138 -122.407791
3.8 20
Chinatown - Culture | Nightlife Area | Outdoor Activity | Shopping Area in San Francisco.
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Emma

Party Earth Review Not only is San Francisco’s Chinatown the oldest of its kind in North America, it’s also the largest Chinese neighborhood outside of Asia, and surpasses even the Golden Gate Bridge as one of the city’s top tourist destinations... ... read full review

  • Neighborhood:

  • Address:

    Roughly between Columbus Avenue on the east, Jones Street on the west, Broadway
    to north, and Bush Street to the south
    San Francisco, CA 94133

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  • Hours:

    24/7

  • Recommended as:

    • Day Spot

Party Earth Chinatown Review

The Scene

Not only is San Francisco's Chinatown the oldest of its kind in North America, it's also the largest Chinese neighborhood outside of Asia, and surpasses even the Golden Gate Bridge as one of the city's top tourist destinations...

Not only is San Francisco’s Chinatown the oldest of its kind in North America, it’s also the largest Chinese neighborhood outside of Asia, and surpasses even the Golden Gate Bridge as one of the city’s top tourist destinations.

Out-of-towners tend to stick to Grant Avenue, entering through the “Dragon Gate” at the intersection of Bush Street, where the sidewalks overflow with visitors buying up fabric, furniture, and trinkets from a seemingly endless array of kitschy shops. Sculpted dragons peer from street posts as patrons pile in to Asian Renaissance for kimonos or Asian Image for sushi-shaped candles, while China Station satiates everyone’s need for a plastic Buddha.

Further up Grant, kite stores share blocks with antique importers like Old Shanghai, where wealthy types on a decorating kick snag hand-painted cabinets and bronze incense burners that cost more than the average car.

Those craving authentic cuisine head over to Stockton Street, stopping in first at the myriad temples on Waverly Place before stumbling onto a sea of markets peddling live animals – and not for pets, either. If cooking their own frog leg soup doesn’t sound appealing, however, open-minded eaters can always let Yuet Lee Seafood Restaurant do it for them, or take their pick from a plethora of traditional eateries, including the thousand-capacity dim sum paradise New Asia.

Drinking dens in this neighborhood trend on the divey side, normally full of old men playing chess and chain smoking cigarettes at grungy hideaways like Sam Wo’s and Li Po Lounge, so anyone looking for traditionally classy nightlife will usually head elsewhere.

Full of sights, shopping, surprises, and smells, a trip to San Francisco's Chinatown is always an adventure.

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Tip from Emma:

Maybe the coolest part of Chinatown is getting lost down all the side alleys. You never know what you’re going to find: a hidden bar, a fortune cookie factory, even an old tea room will pop up from out of nowhere. When your feet get tired, head on over to Portsmouth Square on the corner of Clay Street and Kearny Street to watch the groups of people practicing their T'ai Chi.

  • Crowd

    Tourists of every ilk, Chinese natives, and San Francisco residents hungry for authentic Chinese food. All ages.

  • Entertainment / Music

    People-watching and window-shopping can easily fill the day, making Chinatown a great place to simply wander.

    Major Festivals:
    Autumn Moon Festival (September) showcases martial artists, acrobats, singers, dance troupes, and more.

    Chinese New Year (mid-January–mid-February) is one of the city’s largest festivals, and includes two weeks of parades, street fairs, pageants, firecracker displays, and a parade featuring a dragon more than 160-feet-long.

    Shopping:
    Many shopping options, though the most notable include Asian Renaissance (662 Grant Avenue) for imports from kimonos to sake sets; Asian Image (800 Grant Avenue) for two floors of books, clothes, and candles; Bonsai Villa (825 Clay Street) for bonsai plants; China Station (456 Grant Avenue) for arts, crafts, and lots of Buddha statues; China Gem Full (910 Stockton Street) for wholesale garments; Chinatown Kite Shop (717 Grant Avenue) for handmade kites; Clarion Music Center (816 Sacramento Street) for an incredible variety of musical instruments; and Old Shanghai (645 Grant Avenue) for pricey antiques.

  • Food / Miscellaneous

    Hundreds of restaurants to choose from, including Great Eastern Restaurant (649 Jackson Street) for fresh seafood and Hong Kong specialties; Green Garden (434 Broadway) and Hing Lung (674 Broadway) for tasty bargain bites; Hang Ah Tea Room (1 Pagoda Place) and the cavernous New Asia (772 Pacific Avenue) for dim sum; Kam Po Kitchen (801 Broadway) for crisp-skinned pork and duck; Y. Ben House (835 Pacific Avenue) for fabulous dumplings; Yuet Lee Seafood Restaurant (1300 Stockton Street) for authentic seafood and specialty fare like frog legs; and Golden Gate Bakery (1029 Grant Avenue) for delectable custard-filled desserts.

  • Prices

    Price range at shops and restaurants runs the gamut from bargain to wallet-busting, but Chinatown has always been a great place for cheap eats and even cheaper souvenirs.

  • What to Wear / Dress Code

    Anything goes.

  • Hot Nights / When to Go

    Anytime, but if possible, visitors should check out the Chinese New Year celebrations in January or February, depending on the lunar calendar.

  • Close By

    The Cable Car Museum (‎1201 Mason Street) offers a wealth of information and displays about San Francisco’s famous cable car history, as well as the huge engines and winding wheels that pull the cables of the cars today.

Chinatown User Reviews

Average rating:
One of the official "places to go" in San Francisco.
Chris C. Mar 31, 2013
San Francisco's historic and famous Chinatown should be at the top (or at least near the top) of your list of "places to go" if you're a first-time visitor to the City by the Bay. Located just east of the Nob Hill district, its most famous entrance is at the corner of Grant and Bush Streets. The "Dragon Gate" here is the only authentic gate of its kind in the US. The main streets are lined with gift and souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, and markets. It's considered by many locals to be a "tourist trap," but so what? A trip to Nashville wouldn't be complete without a visit to "Music Row," right? Prices in the gift and souvenir shops range from pricey to reasonable and many stores offer the same items, so it's a good idea to shop around a bit before settling on a price. Chinatown has a network of back streets and alleys where bargains can be found, so don't be afraid to venture off the beaten path. Of course, most of the items were made in China, but this is a place where that's a good thing. If you're in the market for an authentic item from China without traveling there, this is the next-best place to get it. Practically all the merchants are English-speaking Chinese who are very helpful and knowledgeable about the items they sell. If you're in San Francisco during Chinese New Year (Late-January to early-February, according to the Lunar Calendar) the famous Chinese New Year's Parade is not to be missed. The oldest and largest of its kind in the US, traditional floats, and music are featured to celebrate the rich culture. Performers include traditional dancers, acrobats, martial artists, and the current Miss Chinatown is another of the many beautiful sights to enjoy. As one who's been to China and tasted the real deal, the Chinese food you get in Chinatown is basically authentic, but perhaps "modified" a bit for Western tastes. I'm not saying that it's just the same that you'll get from your local Chinese restaurant back home but the restaurants, like the shops and markets, do cater to mostly Western tourists.
A great time at night; a bust during the day
Grace H. Mar 5, 2013
I've visited SF Chinatown enough times to recognize the value of really great Chinese food and fun trinkets and gadgets to take home... However, the best time to visit SF Chinatown is surely in the evening/night. Although it may seem a little bit unsafe, the area is well-monitored and pretty safe compared to many other SF regions. During the day, especially weekdays, the area is dead. The shops are unoccupied, so I guess if you are looking for good and unattended shopping, this may be the time to go. I don't like being the only one in a shop because I feel like the merchant is paying TOO much attention to the lone customer. Often, I've had three or four unwanted things thrust at me, and because of guilt, I go ahead and buy things I had NO intention of purchasing independently. The area is a great time at night every once in a while. Think firecrackers, fun and vibrant music, and a culture that is welcoming and well-serving to its many visitors.
Interesting, but crowded and...monotonous?
Taylor W. Mar 5, 2013
Having never been to a Chinatown in any major city, I was excited to check out what Chinatown in San Francisco had to offer. It is definitely a cool stop to make, but it is crazy-crowded with other tourists. The shops are interesting and fun to look around in, but they all offer very similar products and the owners really try to hard-sell you on knick-knacks and other products. You definitely get a feel for the area after stopping in at the first few shops. My family didn't visit around mealtime so we didn't get to try a restaurant, but the food definitely smelled good and I've heard good thinks about it. Like I said, it's a cool place to visit and check out, but out of all the things I did in San Francisco it wasn't one of my must-sees.
a neighborhood that parallels neighborhoods in Hong Kong and Macau
Peter C. Feb 21, 2013
Look for the social bonds that create the cohesion in Chinatown. Benevolent Society buildings, Clan association buildings, Temples & Churches. Ask residents what these institutions mean to them. The answers will give a foundation for why Chinatown is the way it is. Walk the hills and the narrow streets and alleys knowing that they mirror neighborhoods in parts of China. Watch the local residents as they go about their daily routines. Commerce in Chinatown is noisy and colorful. Buy some souvenirs, choose a restaurant to try the variety of foods offered. Typically, the food is "americanized" and in general, it is enjoyable. Use your imagination to link the flavors and textures of the food to what you might expect in Hong Kong or Macau where some of the world's best food is found.
Tourist Mobs and Food. Lots of food.
Jessica L. Jan 28, 2013
Ah, Chinatown. The bustle of tourists, the constant chatter of vendors selling their fresh fish and odd trinkets all contribute to the hectic flow that is San Francisco's top tourist destination. Being a local myself, the constant trips to Chinatown are almost nostalgic in a sense. Of course, the small streets are lined with tourists chattering loudly and bustling about in large, mob-like groups, but the overall urgency adds to the flavor of this small corner of San Francisco. It's a no-brainer that San Francisco's Chinatown is one of the oldest and most well-known "Chinatowns" that have popped up within the recent decades. The streets are lined with large, pagoda-esque buildings that tower over the waves of chattering tourists. Of course, many Bay Area locals also frequent this attraction in order to eat cheap, delicious Chinese food, or simply purchase fresh fish and vegetables at a fraction of grocery prices. The shopping in Chinatown is hectic but rewarding. Small, family-owned shops often sell souvenirs of many shapes and sizes, often for very low prices. One could easily pick up a Japanese sword-replica for around a hundred dollars (sharpening not included), or buy a large bag of asian candies for a handful of loose change. Whether it be pricey antiques or small trinkets, Chinatown sells it all. Chinatown food is, quite frankly, easily summarized in two words. Cheap and delicious. Smaller dim-sum shops and treat sellers often sell small sesame balls, doughy breads, or savory meats for a few dollars. Of course, if one desired more extravagant meals, larger restaurants such as Empress of China on Grant Avenue or Golden Dragon on Washington offer more delectable meals at affordable prices. Chinatown is well-worth visiting, and should definitely be on any visiting tourist's must-see list.
Full of Tourists, but fun
Jackie D. Dec 4, 2012
Yes, Chinatown is hectic enough to begin with in its chaotic bustle and the flocks of tourists can add to this madness, but it really is a cool place to check out. As the largest Chinese population outside of Asia, there is a fantastically rich culture thriving there and a lot of places to explore. There are tons of restaurants hidden in alleyways that are divine and are gems to those willing to venture off the beaten path. There's also an interesting intersection between Chinese and contemporary architecture that can be seen as newer buildings continue to get built. I'd recommend wandering around for a few hours to really get lost in the daily frenzy.
Definitely check it out
Jody P. Dec 1, 2012
San Fran is such a unique and fun city and Chinatown is a huge part of that. It is definitely worth spending an afternoon or even just an hour (although once you're there, you'll want to stay longer than an hour) wandering around. You know you're there by the big green "Dragon Gate" and, of course, all of the chinese architecture and signs. If is a no-brainer that you must eat at one of the restaurants in Chinatown, but you can also check out tea shops and other specialty stores in the neighborhood. This should absolutely be on your list of things to do while in SF!
Must See
Kaile K. Nov 29, 2012
Chinatown is a must see if you are visiting San Francisco. There's lots of great of chinese restaurants and novelty stores to explore. Its super touristy but thats kind of the point. Its great to look up and see all the lanterns and balconies above the shops. There's also a bunch of cool tea shops to check out, and they sometimes give out free samples to people walking by. Definitely try to check out Chinatown of you are in San Francisco!
Takes you away
Claire B. Nov 29, 2012
I love Chinatown! The Chinese food and boba options are everything from traditional to Americanized and all good. It is a great place to walk around and look at all the little shops and try some sesame balls and bubble tea! You will completely forget you are just a few blocks from Union Square and feel as though you're walking down a narrow street in Asia. Don't forget to check out all the little alleys, that's where the real treasures lie!
fun
Anna V. Nov 19, 2012
It is a fun place to see if you haven't been there yet. There is a lot of cheap food and it is fun to go in all the stores and see what sorts of crazy things they have. One of the best things in China Town is to go down the small alley ways because you will find so much! There is a small fortune cookie factory there where you can write your own fortune and they will put it in the cookie for you! It is not my favorite part of San Francisco, but it is fun to see and you don't have to spend that much time here.
A favorite!
Emily R. Nov 14, 2012
Yes, it's often cheesy. But it's so fun that the touristy aspect of it all is so worth it! There's an abundance of delicious, cheap food on every block, and with each turn of a corner, you'll be faced with some new and exciting shop or stand to check out. Tea-drinkers, you've found nirvana. There are so many wonderful places to get a great cup, and I've only had excellent service from restaurants and street vendors of all kinds in Chinatown. Check it out, even for a few hours!
Very different!
Rachel G. Nov 13, 2012
Chinatown NO, San Francisco's Chinatown is not like Los Angeles or Orange County's. They are all different from each other. Each Chinatown holds a different kind of history to it. I was in an Asian American Culture class at SFSU and we had a tour of Chinatown. I got to learn so much more about the city and how it turned into these separate districts. There are so much loopholes and various secrets about Chinatown that it makes it such an interesting and unique part of San Francisco. I highly suggest you check it out and check out the fortune cookie factory!
Great Food!
Sunset E. Oct 5, 2012
When you are in San Francisco you need to go to China Town even though it is a tourist destination! They have amazing produce and markets! There are cute little shops as well that are inexpensive... Every time I have eaten in China Town my food has been amazing!!! Pick a restaurant that looks good and try it and I'm sure you won't be disappointed! Ohhhh and if you see a bakery please go in and get Sponge cake!!! It is delicious!!! Again fantastic food that you should go try!
DIM SUM ANYONE?
Chad F. Oct 5, 2012
Chinatown in San Francisco really has its act together. Usually I avoid shopping/tourist-traps like the plague, but I find that Chinatown has so much culture, so many things to see, and so much to eat that it really is a must-see neighborhood when you go to San Fran. It's actually a pretty fun walk and most of it is relatively clean and easy to get around. Golden Gate Bakery is a great place to get desserts to snack on while you wander around and if you like dim sum, the streets are literally lined with great places to eat. If you're lucky enough, you can catch the Chinese New Year Celebration in February.
TOURIST APPROVED PART
Hayley B. Sep 6, 2012
FIRST THING: If you are a tourist, like I was, make sure you go to the TOURIST APPROVED PART of San Fran's Chinatown! Otherwise (like what happened to me) you could find yourself in a very scary area at night surrounded by grimy strip clubs, no food and seriously questionable characters! Once you do make it to the touristy area, Chinatown is wonderful! Great food, and endless nick-nack and nock-off shops. You don't have to be rich to feast here and just walking down any of the streets you can find seriously great deals that compete with each other so just take a few more minutes and find the best deal! The same goes for shopping, you will find the same things in several shops so check out as many places as possible and walk away with awesome finds for even better prices!
So cheap and so tasty!
Paula P. Aug 8, 2012
If you love Dim Sum, GO TO CHINATOWN IMMEDIATELY. There is a dim sum place called Delicious Dim Sum, you seriously feel like you're robbing the place - you can get a full meal for less than 5 dollars. I think I spent about 2 dollars and walked away feeling super full, whereas my boyfriend ate a lot more and only spent like 3 or 4 dollars. Chinatown is also great for tea - there are a bunch of places that offer free tea tastings, but be careful cause other places advertise their tea tastings as free but will charge you if you don't purchase anything. In addition, if you're looking for any nice tea pots or cups then you're in the right place. Chinatown is cheap and always fun to just walk around and people watch - it's one of those places I always have to hit up when I'm in San Francisco.
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