The first picture you get in your mind while you think of San Francisco is its giant orange bridge – the Golden Gate Bridge. But this Golden City with Golden Bridge and golden sunset is certainly beyond this. and one of the most notable destinations to head to here is obviously its Chinatown. Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest enclave of Chinese people and culture outside Asia. Getting established in the mid-1800s due to the large Chinese immigration in the US, It has been one of the most important parts of Chinese history and cultural lifestyle of the immigrants in North America. Locating in the heart of the city, the neighborhood is bordered by Bush Street and Union Square to the South, Kearny Street to the East, Columbus and North Beach to the North, and Powell Street and Nob Hill to the West. If you are visiting San Francisco, you must visit this charming Chinese neighborhood to check out all its sights and scenes.
History of Chinatown In San Francisco:
SF’s Chinatown is located in downtown San Francisco and has a history worth knowing. It is really interesting to know how Chinese immigrants started to settle in SF as laborers, made this place their home, and wonderfully still have maintained their own customs and lifestyle.
The Chinatown in San Francisco was the port of entry for the Chinese immigrants especially from the west side of the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong, who started to settle here around 1848 getting attracted by the job opportunity caused by the California Gold Rush. When the railroad job was finished in 1869, the immigrants started to move farther west in search of a new job. And they were started to be taken as threats as they were supposedly stealing white Americans’ jobs. As a result, they started facing violence. As a safer option to stay, they choose the SF neighborhood. These phenomena coupled with restrictive laws were enough to limit the immigrants within this boundary that with time grew to be the Chinatown. Inside the boundary, they established shops, restaurants, and dwelled in their own way.
Later on, the community saw violence, racial riots took place and several attacks were made on the Chinatown. 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was an important treaty that hampered Chinese immigration largely. Later in 1910, Angel Island Immigration Station came into operation as an interrogating and screening body that made Chinese immigrants go under severe interrogations.
The Devastating 1906 Earthquake And The Chinatown:
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake is one of the most devastating earthquakes that have ever shaken the land of America. This earthquake and fire completely demolished the area and to add to that, elite and powerful people tried to move and relocate the Chinatown to farther south. After a lot of dilemmas, the Chinese community rebuilt Chinatown again at the original location and since then, it has been a proud part of the tourism industry of the United States.
Now we will just move on to the list of the top-rated things to do in the Chinatown in San Francisco.
Best Things To Do In The Historical Chinatown In San Francisco:
Admire The Beauty Of The Dragon’s Gate And Grant Avenue:
This traditional stone archway that welcomes you to the vibrant neighborhood of Chinatown is so beautiful in its construction. Standing at the intersection of Bush Street and Grant Avenue, this gate was a gift from the Republic of China in 1970. This ceremonial gate which is decorated by auspicious dragons, a ball symbolizing the earth, koi fish, and two stone lion stand guards is one of the most photographed landmarks in the whole of San Francisco. There are three portals at the gate and all of them have meaningful Chinese characters written over them. The central portal has a quote by Dr. Sun Yat Sen written over it that says “All under heaven is for the good of the people”.
Crossing the gate, you get onto Grant Avenue that is one of the oldest streets in the Chinatown district. Stroll down the street to admire the beauty of Chinese themed lamp post, red lanterns, and the buildings that thoroughly resemble the style of the Chinese buildings.
Taste Some Cookies At The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory:
This traditional fortune cookie company locates between Jackson and Washington Streets in Ross Alley and opened in 1962. When you are in Chinatown in San Francisco, you have to visit this most authentic fortune cookie factory for sure. The shop/factory is small but is a great place to sample some yummy fortune cookies as well as almond cookies, flat cookies, and color cookies.
They make the cookies by hand and the flavor and captivating smell of chocolate fortune cookie, green tea fortune cookie, and strawberry fortune cookie will surely get you hooked. The labor-intensive factory makes over 10,000 cookies per day and you can sample one for free. Tour the factory, buy a cookie bag and take photographs of the workers and the factory that will charge you only 50 cents.
Visit Kong Chow Temple:
When in Chinatown, you would obviously like to visit some authentic Chinese temples here. And the Kong Chow Temple is one of the most important temples in Chinatown in SF. This temple worships Guan Yu who is the Chinese god of war. Originally it was built in the mid-1800s but got devastated when the 1906 earthquake hit the city. Today, the building which you see was built after the earthquake and the great fire and was moved to its current location in 1977.
The temple which is on the top floor of 855 Stockton Street might be small in size but it has some of the oldest Chinese relics in the US that are worth noticing.
Tin How Temple:
The oldest of all the surviving Taoist temples in Chinatown in San Francisco, Tin How Temple was built back in the mid-1850s. And you get to see it in its original location, unlike the Kong Chow Temple that was destroyed by the earthquake. The temple worships the Chinese sea goddess ‘Mazu’ who is also known as ‘Tin How’ or ‘Tien Hau’.
The exact address of the temple is 125 Waverly Place in San Francisco’s Chinatown and it is housed on the fourth floor of the building. It is most loved for its intricate wooden carving and red and gold architecture. The temple remains open from 10 am to 4 pm. Remember that photography is not allowed inside the temple. If you visit Chinatown, visiting this temple must be on your card.
Old St. Mary’s Cathedral:
Built in 1854, this Gothic revival Catholic cathedral which is now parish is the oldest cathedral in North America. locating at 660 California Street just at the corner of Grant Avenue, this cathedral was also made a Designated San Francisco Landmark in 1968. Along with other landmarks, this cathedral also got destructed in the 1906 earthquake and was again rebuilt in 1909. The bricks you see on the church were all imported from China and you will also notice the beautiful clock on its tower which is the most distinctive feature of the church.
Taste The Best Egg Tart In Golden Gate Bakery:
Piping hot, delicious yellow egg tarts are cult favorites among the locals as well as the tourists. It is so delicious with its crispy outer crust and not too sweet custard that comes with a slight hint of vanilla in it. You just can’t eat one and call it a day.
Golden Gate Bakery located at 1029 Grant Avenue (between Jackson Street and Pacific Avenue) is one of the best bakeries in town and its authentic Hong-kong style egg tart is sure to win your heart. It costs just $1.75 each and the flavor of it will impel you to keep coming back to the bakery. Apart from egg tart, some of the other favorites of the bakery are filling lotus and pineapple moon cakes, strawberry tarts, sponge cakes, banana rolls, and the very famous No Mai Chi. The place always sees a long cue but it is certainly worth the wait. Also, remember that the bakery only accepts cash. Check this link before visiting the bakery. Because they sometimes close the shop randomly. But generally, Golden Gate bakery remains open every day from 12:30 pm. to 8 pm
Plus you will get an idea of what you will get today and what not to expect today.
Visit The Sprawling China Live:
Sitting in the heart of Chinatown in San Francisco, China Live is a sprawling culinary and cultural destination. This two-story emporium is an award-winning marketplace where you get everything from Chinese food, drink to Chinese crafts.
On the ground floor, there is a café that serves Chinese teas, coffees, and Asian-style pastries. Here you also get to buy authentic Chinese spices, condiments, fresh produce, house-cured meats, cookware, and more. On the second floor, there are several fine dining restaurants. Eight Tables by George Chen is one of them that serves you a seasonal 12-course Chinese tasting menu. There are also bars like China Live Bar Central and Cold Drinks Bar. You also get a private lounge place and an event space that make this marketplace sleek, cozy, and truly one of its kind. Visiting this market-style restaurant and bar must be of top-priority when you visit the dazzling Chinatown.
Chinatown in San Francisco is a unique place altogether. Exploring its alleys, tasting the best dim sums, boba teas, to getting allured by the magnificent beauty of the temples – visiting Chinatown is all about fun and adventure. It has many hidden gems that you can visit on a guided tour. The neighborhood is walkable and turns into a festive hotspot during the Chinese New Year. If you are here during that time of the year, get to see the glorifying parade and learn a lot about the Chinese New Year. Visit the Bank of Canton, Sing Chong Building, taste some rare tea at Red Blossom Tea Company, and enjoy the robust culture of this neighborhood. A visit to Chinatown, SF is worth the time and effort spent.