Top 11 things to do and see in Chinatown San Francisco
It’s not often one gets to visit the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest outside of Asia. As such, this living breathing section of San Francisco is rife with history and is a magnificent way to spend a couple of days.
With 24 city blocks, Chinatown has been in the center of San Francisco since the 1850s, and is frequented by more people each year than even the Golden Gate Bridge. With so much ground to cover, both first-time and repeat visitors can easily get overwhelmed with choices.
We’ll narrow it down for you. Here are the best ways to experience San Francisco’s famous Chinatown.
This is the iconic archway that welcomes you into Chinatown as you enter from the Union Square area. As you enter, be sure to stop briefly to admire the huge lion statues on either side.
Wander away from the main drag of Grant Street and explore the many historic alleyways alongside it. We recommend Waverly Place and Ross Alley– this is classic Chinese city life at its best and a great way to soak in life in China.
Sing Chong Building
This classic Chinese building was the first to be rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fire. It is one of the most photographed buildings in all of San Francisco for its unique architecture.
Sip Red Blossom Tea
Right on the main street of Grant, the tea house was originally named Yau Hing when it opened its doors 35 years ago as an apothecary. Today, at the Red Blossom Tea Company you can have a tasting and tutorial about Chinese teas and learn how to properly brew each style of tea.
While it may seem a little out of place here in this area of brightly colored Chinese lanterns and Asian architecture, this gothic revival cathedral dates back to 1854 and is a historical landmark not to be missed.
Open for over a century since the 1920s, this is a unique piece of Chinatown’s history. You can be sure to have an authentic Chinese meal and while the food is not inexpensive, it is very good and a must-stop for a wonderful ethnic culinary experience.
If it’s authentic Chinese noodles you crave, head to this Sichuan-style restaurant. Delight your taste buds in savory, tingly sauces over springy noodles garnished with a variety of meats and other delicious flavors.
After your meal, you no doubt received a couple of fortune cookies. See how they are made in this one-room factory. Write your own fortune and have the cookie makers add it to a cookie for just one dollar. Or go all out and purchase a jumbo fortune cookie for a few bucks more.
Golden Gate Bakery
If you long for a proper dessert or just have a sweet tooth in general, you must have an authentic Chinese egg custard tart. They are basically baked pastries shells loaded with egg custard filling and are sold with other traditional baked goods. NOTE: The open days and hours have been very limited since the pandemic. Suggest calling before visiting. Phone: (415) 781-2627
Tin How Temple
The oldest Buddhist / Taoist temple in the United States is located here at Waverly Place. Consisting of just one room, for a few dollars you can walk up some stairs to view it on the days it is open. If you happen to come when it’s closed, admiring the beautiful façade from the outside is a good option.
Buddha Lounge, Mister Bing’s, Li Po
When it’s time for a cold one, Chinatown’s storied bars are a great way to throwback one or two before (or after) dinner. You’ll find these local dive bars cozy and welcoming of tourists.
Want to explore San Francisco with your family on a private tour?
San Francisco Jeep Tours is the perfect family-friendly tour activity in San Francisco onboard their private tours. The city tour routes and entertaining tour guides cover lots of information on the “not to miss” attractions including Chinatown.
Book a San Francisco Jeep City Tour, Sunset and City Lights San Francisco Jeep Tours, or the Full Day Combo City and Muir Woods tour to travel to many of the must see and off-the-beaten-track locations in and around San Francisco.
Check out the San Francisco Jeep Tours website for more information on exploring Chinatown.