In addition to being the largest and oldest Chinatown in the US, here are 10 other reasons why you can’t miss this neighborhood while visiting San Francisco.
Chinatown’s sweeping architectural flourishes, array of glowing lamps, and glowering guardian lions are the blueprint for many of the other enclaves of diasporic Chinese culture that flourish around the globe. It’s rich in history and, despite its relatively compact area, full of activities that any traveler should prioritize on their journey through San Francisco.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Get an egg custard tart
Egg custard tarts are a Chinese delicacy: silky, soft, not oversweet, and with a flaky crust. Golden Gate Bakery on Grant is widely recognized as having the best tarts this side of the Pacific, with long lines to match. The bakery has other items, like gooey sesame balls and coconut macaroons, but the egg custard tart is why people wait an hour-plus in the rain for their chance to order. Beat the lines by getting there when they open at 8am or roll the dice and show up before they close at 8pm. Just be ready to order by the box, because there’s no way you’re going to want just one.
Chinatown is basically famous for its array of stalls and shops that sell cheap tchotchkes. These are fun, and make an easy gift for the folks back home, but there’s some seriously unique shopping to be had near the main thoroughfare called Grant Avenue. Various multi-story businesses offer antique furniture, which is cool to look at but a little impractical to bring home cheaply. For a more meaningful and transportable memento, head over to Chinatown Kite Shop for a high-flying keepsake that will be as fun as it is beautiful. The Wok Shop is another great stop for souvenirs. Pick up a wok, or get a little bold and amp up your homemade foodie game with everything from a hot pot to a bamboo steamer to a wasabi grater.
Visit a temple
Chinatown is as old as the city of San Francisco, and one of the hallmarks of that age is the Tin How Temple on Waverly Place – the oldest of Chinatown’s three temples (one of the oldest in the United States, even). It’s dedicated to Mazu, the Taoist goddess of the sea, as a way for Chinese immigrants to pray for safe passage across the Pacific between their homeland and the North American continent. The temple’s architecture is exquisite and it’s an essential stop for anyone who needs a moment of respite from the hubbub outside. Visitors are welcome, but asked to respect the quietude of worshippers and to refrain from photography.
If it’s late and you’re in Chinatown, you should head toward North Beach and check out one of the karaoke bars near Columbus. The atmosphere is on the divey side, but drinks are usually cheap and the crowds are all just looking to relax and have a good time. Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge is the place to go if you want to get groovy and sing your heart out, while Mr. Bing’s and Red’s Place are also nearby and sometimes have karaoke going on.
Eat Peking duck
Peking Duck is a storied dish from Beijing that’s been prepared for emperors and special occasions for centuries. Bottom line: It’s an important dish that, for anyone who likes duck, is a total must-try. San Francisco’s Chinatown has an abundance of restaurants that offer this crispy, succulent meal, all of which are worth a try. Hunan’s Home Restaurant is often cited as one of the best, alongside other mainstays like Sam Wo Restaurant.
There’s plenty of tea shops around Chinatown to guarantee your caffeine fix at a moment’s notice. Most of these are chains, but Red Blossom Tea Company on Grant is a neighborhood original. They opened thirty years ago as an apothecary under the name Yau Hing, meaning ‘to flourish again.’ Today, Red Blossom specializes in quality teas and provides tastings that help shoppers understand the subtler difference between their product and Nestea. Free taste tests are available to sample the quality of specific varietals and their expert tea slingers will create a personalized flight of brews for just $35 per person.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is firmly in the ‘worth it’ column. The music, colors and sheer overwhelming sense of celebration is tantamount to a life-affirming experience. Not to mention, of course, the lion dancers and dragons and all sorts of other amazing puppetry that characterize the height of the festivities. Chinese New Year is huge in San Francisco, and if you want to be a part of the celebration you need to get your hotel and flight booked well in advance.
Chinese Mai Tai at Li Po Cocktail Lounge
San Francisco has a pretty enormous place in cocktail history as one of the epicenters of Tiki culture (or, Polynesian Pop for liquor historians out there). The Mai Tai was invented across the Bay at Trader Vic’s before spreading across the world to become the most prominent example of South Pacific-inspired, rum-based libations. Li Po Cocktail Lounge in Chinatown puts its own spin on the Bay Area original with lychee liqueur. It’s a strong concoction with a neat twist that’s a steal for $11. Plus, Anthony Bourdain thought the drink was great, so that’s probably all you need to know.
Make a custom fortune cookie
Fortune cookies are, of course, not necessarily an authentic part of Chinese cuisine, but they have become a large part of Chinese-American culture. Chinatown just so happens to have a fortune cookie factory where they pump out those little suckers by the metric ton. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is an iconic part of the neighborhood that welcomes visitors for tours (so long as you call ahead and make a reservation) that show you everything but the secret recipe. The tour is cool, but the gift shop is where the magic happens. That is, magic in the form of customizable fortunes. Get 100 customized cookies for just $35, or 50 for $17.50.
This postcard staple is one of the most iconic images of Chinatown. Erected in 1970, local architect Clayton Lee designed Dragon Gate as an homage to traditional gates (called paifang) at the entrances to towns and villages in China. The Republic of China donated the materials, giving Dragon Gate a solid claim as the only authentic paifang in North America. There are three ways to enter the gate: a large middle passage for vehicles and smaller pedestrian byways on either side flanked by traditional lion statues. The left lion is a male with his paw on a pearl, symbolizing the empire, and the right lion is a female with her paw on a cub, symbolizing family.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.