San Francisco’s Chinatown is more than just another Asia-influenced district in a major city. When you visit this unique San Francisco neighborhood, you are stepping into the past and getting an authentic taste of life in China.
Not only is this the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, but this neighborhood also gets more visitors each year than the Golden Gate Bridge. So, how do you avoid the tourist traps and delays that are bound to exist with such a destination? Here are six tips to help you navigate your visit to San Francisco’s Chinatown like a local.
1. Don’t Drive
Seriously, leave the car at your hotel or some other tourist spot in the city. There just isn’t enough parking in Chinatown to support all of the visitors that flock to the area each day. You’ll be much happier with your visit if you take public transportation or Uber. The F-line streetcars go from Fisherman’s Warf to the Chinatown area and are a fun trip. Certainly don’t drive if you’re attending Chinese New Year in late February, which now attracts half a million spectators.
2. Explore the Shops
If you’re looking for the touristy shops, they’re on Grant Avenue. This is where you can find ceramic dragons, plastic Buddhas, and that Samurai sword that you’ll never use. The locals will be shopping on Stockton Street (between Broadway and Columbus). Saturday is the busiest day on this street, where you’ll find locals shopping for fruit, vegetables, and some other interesting food ingredients. The famous Chinatown Alleys are where you’ll find some the small shops and bakeries.
Speaking of bakeries, there are plenty of snack shops and bakeries on both Stockton St. and Grant Ave. One place to check out is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory for the fun factor. This is the only place in Chinatown where you can watch fortune cookies being made by hand, and then buy a sack to take home. They’re delicious!
4. Grab Lunch or Dinner
For most of us, a snack isn’t enough. Also, a real Chinatown experience isn’t complete without an authentic Chinese meal. If you want the best, head over to Z & Y Restaurant on Jackson Street in Chinatown. This landmark restaurant has the distinction of serving authentic Sichuan Chinese cuisine to both locals and visiting dignitaries. They are also a Michelin Bib Gourmand selection for several years running.
5. Relax and Observe
One of the great things about Chinatown is that it is a bustling community that is rich in history and culture. To soak up some of both, head over to Portsmouth Square at the corner of Kearny and Washington. Here you’ll find several historical markers for such things as the first public school in California and the Tiananmen Square protests. You’re also likely to see locals practicing Tai Chi, dancing, or playing Chinese chess (Xiangqi).
6. Meditate and Worship
If you go to San Francisco’s Chinatown, don’t miss visiting some of the historic Buddhist temples. The tiny Tin How Temple on Wavery Place is the oldest in the city and could be the oldest Buddhist temple in the U.S. The Buddhas Universal Church on Washington St. is not only the largest Buddhist church in the country, but it also provides some stunning views of the city. Other temples worth a visit are the Kong Chow Temple and Norras Temple.