Chinatown San Francisco is the largest centralized Chinese community outside of China in the world. A visit to San Francisco is never complete without at the very least a quick stroll through this cultural and historic neighborhood. Upon entering Chinatown San Francisco, visitors will completely lose all sense that they are in the US and feel as if they have magically been transported to the heart of China. The streets of Chinatown are so narrow that they are only wide enough for one car to pass. Every single structure in this neighborhood are built using Chinese architecture. Red paper mache lanterns hang from lines that cross the street and connect to buildings on either side. On the sidewalks of these narrow streets and passing under the Chinese overhangs hoards of Chinese people mixed with local San Franciscans and tourists go about their daily business in controlled chaos making Chinatown and exciting small world in the center of this vast city. Visitors to Chinatown that may have a true lapse of thinking they have actually been taken to China should be reminded that just a few blocks over are the hustle and bustle of San Francisco’s Union Square and North Beach districts.
Grant Street Entrance
There are many entrances to China town throughout San Francisco, however the main entrance is the Grant Street accessed via Union Square. This entrance cannot be missed with its grand gate Chinese gate that greets residents and visitors alike as they enter.
To See and Do in Chinatown
San Francisco’s Chinatown offers an array of choices of activities for all kinds of travelers and explorers-all with an authentic Chinese experience behind them. There is a variety of shopping opportunities in Chinatown that range from unique and rare imports from China (such as silks and wood workings) to grocery stores that cater and operate completely blindly to anyone of none Chinese descent selling food goods that are completely unrecognizable to Westerners and labeled only in Chinese. All through Chinatown are Chinese restaurants offering only the most authentic and deep Chinese cultural districts. Visitors who have received their education Chinese food from the likes of PF Changs and Panda Express will be in for a shock when looking to dine in this San Francisco neighborhood. Dispersed amongst the shops and restaurants are also a variety of tea and tea tasting stores. All of these places carry a variety of teas, including many you have never heard of that are imported fresh from China.
The crowds along the sidewalks can be heavy and every doorway that isn’t a mark shop but a discreet door nonetheless can leave the imagination running wild as to where that entrance leads. Many of these door lead into steep stairwells that end up in underground bars that not even local San Francisco residents know but are popular amongst the Chinese locals of Chinatown. Of course many of these doors lead to apartments that can be seen above the street as well.
One of the newer retail venues in Chinatown that more or less makes itself friendly to tourists are the Chinese tasting venues. Visitors can go in and pull a seat to the bar a server offers a variety of Chinese teas to taste. On the walls are shelves that often hold gigantic glass jugs of ancient teas that are said to cure every ailment imaginable. Note they do put a heavy sales pitch and encourage you to buy one of these jugs. It can be difficult to negotiate just one cup of tea so worth noting before entering.
Chinese New Year
The biggest event in Chinatown, and one of the biggest events in all of San Francisco is the Chinese New Year parade. Held every year in February (check the Chinese calendar to get the exact date of the New Year) Chinatown and San Francisco come together to celebrate this Chinese holiday. Snap firecrackers (the tiny paper wrapped variety that pop when thrown on ground) can be heard throughout Chinatown and adjacent Union Square during the early evening leading up to the parade. The climax of the night comes with a parade where floats representing virtually every community and business organization linked to San Francisco’s Chinatown parade through-each uniquely decorated to represent the holiday and represent whatever animal that Chinese New Year is in honor of. The parade ends with the traditional almost ¼ of a mile long dragon that come through while loud pops of fire crackers add to the color and excitement.