San Francisco’s Chinatown, one of North America’s oldest and largest, has long been one of the city’s top attractions. Visitors can browse the many shops, dim sum restaurants, temples, and markets in this bustling neighborhood that dates back to the California Gold Rush.
Nearly all city tours include a stop or drive through Chinatown. For history, check out the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and Portsmouth Square. Or book a Chinatown walking or Segway tour for insight into the neighborhood’s food and culture. A stop in the area is often combined with a visit to nearby North Beach or a tasty, traditional lunch. Chinatown food tours are especially popular.
Things to Know Before You Go
- This is a neighborhood to explore on foot, so wear comfortable shoes.
- Chinatown bumps right into North Beach, another favorite San Francisco neighborhood, so it’s easy to visit both.
- Grab cash before you go, as many of the small shops and food venues only accept cash or have credit card minimums.
How to Get There
Chinatown covers about 24 city blocks in northeast San Francisco between Powell, Kearny, Bush, and Broadway streets. Enter properly through the Dragon Gate at Bush and Grant, walking north into the crowd to find souvenir shops and eateries. Located in the densest area of the city between Nob Hill, Union Square, and the Financial District, Chinatown is easy to reach by walking, city bus, and the Powell Street Cable Car. Driving is not recommended on the traffic- and pedestrian-heavy streets.
When to Get There
For shopping, go in the late morning when the shops are open but many visitors haven’t yet arrived. Otherwise, the evening hours offer a lively atmosphere, when locals head to Chinatown for drinks and dinner. To see the neighborhood at its best, visit during Chinese New Year, which falls in January or February.
Chinatown’s Fortune Cookie Factory
For a look at the making of fortune cookies, visit Golden Gate Fortune Cookies Co., in business since 1962. Located on Ross Alley, off Jackson Street, the factory offers a free tour that allows you to watch how the cookies go from hot, flat dough to their iconic shape.