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SF Guide: 25 Reasons to Visit San Francisco’s Chinatown

SF Guide: 25 Reasons to Visit San Francisco’s Chinatown

This weekend marks the annual Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco. The parade began in the 1860’s when Chinese immigrants were eager to celebrate their culture with fellow San Franciscans. It was decided the best way to share their culture would be the American way: a parade. For over 150 years, the parade has brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to Chinatown. While the Chinese New Year Parade is an excellent reason to visit, there are many other things to do in Chinatown throughout the year.

Related: The 6 Best Chinese Restaurants in San Francisco You Need To Try Now

Things to Do in Chinatown

Enter Chinatown through the Dragon’s Gate on Grant & Bush, but don’t stick around too long as this is where most tourist traps are stationed.

As you walk around, admire the classic Chinese architecture of buildings like the Bank of CantonBank of America, and Sing Chong buildings. But, most importantly, immerse yourself in the cultural vibes emanating from San Francisco’s most exotic neighborhood: get lost in the bazaars, taste tea in one of many tea shops, and grab a dumpling (or two) to go.

Chinatown consists of two main streets running parallel to one another: Grant Avenue and Stockton Street. The neighborhood’s streets have witnessed many historical events from the arrival of the first Chinese immigrants in 1848, to the Chinese Exclusion Act, and current gentrification issues.

Related: The 10 Most Haunted Places in San Francisco

Where to Eat in San Francisco’s Chinatown

Sam Wo is one of the many restaurants to visit in San Francisco's Chinatown
Original Sam Wo. Photo: Mack Male, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Sam Wo Restaurant

$ | 713 Clay Street, San Francisco, CA
Since 1907, Sam Wo has been serving its’ guests classic Chinese food. Conan O’Brien visited the restaurant back in 2007 and comedically highlighted some of the establishment’s original features. Since then, Sam Wo has relocated to a new space and improved their operations. They continue to serve hungry guests from all around the world.
Order: Porridge with Pork & Preserved Egg, Wonton Soup | Hours: Sunday-Monday: 11:00AM–4:00PM, Tuesday: Closed, Wednesday-Thursday: 11:00AM–4:00PM & 6:00PM–12:00AM, Friday-Saturday: 11:00AM–4:00PM & 6:00PM–3:00AM | Website: www.samworestaurant.com

One thing you must do in Chinatown is visit R&G Lounge for Salt and Pepper Crab
Famous Salt & Pepper Crab and Special Beef Dish. Photo: R&G Lounge, Facebook.

R&G Lounge

$$ | 631 Kearny Street, San Francisco, CA
One of the best Chinese restaurants in the City, R&G Lounge has been the premier venue for hosting banquets and dinners within the Chinese community for years. With a casual dining area downstairs and a formal dining room upstairs, R&G specializes in excellent Chinese cuisine.
Order: Salt & Pepper Crab, R&G Special Beef | Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11:00AM–9:30PM, Friday-Saturday: 11:00AM–10:00PM | Website: www.rnglounge.com

Golden Star Vietnamese Restaurant

$ | 11 Walter U Lum Place, San Francisco, CA
One of the top pho spots in the city, Golden Star Vietnamese serves delicious bowls of pho-noodle soups with an almost perfect noodle-to-meat ratio. Their broth also won’t leave you with a MSG hangover like most other restaurants of its kind do.
Order: #1 Large, Bun Bo Hue | Hours: Monday-Sunday: 10:00AM–8:30PM | Website: www.goldenstarvietnameserestuarant.com

Hunan Home’s Restaurant

$$ | 622 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA
Hunan Home specializes in delicious Chinese dishes most Americans are familiar with, and superb customer service. The food may not be the most authentic, but for those who don’t want to risk ordering something they won’t like, or would like to ease their way into more questionable authentic dishes, Hunan Home is the perfect place to go.
Order: Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings), Shanghai Style Stir Fried Noodles | Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11:30AM–9:30PM, Friday-Saturday: 11:30AM–10:00PM | Website: www.hunanhomesrestaurant.com

New Sun Hong Kong is one of many restaurants in San Francisco's Chinatown
New Sun Hong Kong with Mural Above. Photo: Stephen Kelly, Flickr, Creative Commons.

New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant

$$ | 606 Broadway, San Francisco, CA
There’s nothing more satisfying or comforting than Chinese food after a night out in the City, and New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant is the place to go for those occasions. Like your classic American diner, service and food aren’t exactly 5-star quality, but at 2:00AM who’s complaining?
Order: Beef Fried Rice, Porridge, Beef Steak Hong Kong Style | Hours: Monday-Sunday: 10:00AM–3:00AM | Website: www.newsunhongkong.com

Michelin Restaurants in San Francisco’s Chinatown

Looking for something to do in Chinatown? Look no further than Mister Jiu's.
Interior of Mister Jiu’s & Roasted Quail Dish. Photo: Mister Jiu’s, Facebook. Photo: Mister Jiu’s, Facebook.

Mister Jiu’s (Michelin Star Restaurant)

$$$$ | 28 Waverly Place, San Francisco, CA
Located in one of Chinatown’s historic alleyways, Mister Jiu’s is set in a banquet hall which has been revamped to attain a more contemporary atmosphere. Food is served either in the Chinese traditional family style or a la carte, and all the ingredients used in their dishes are house made, even the oyster sauce and Chinese sausages.
Order: Roasted Quail, Cheong Fun, Fried Rice | Hours: Sunday-Monday: Closed, Tuesday-Saturday: 5:30PM–10:30PM | Website: www.misterjius.com

Oriental Pearl (Michelin Guide Restaurant)

$$ | 760 Clay Street, San Francisco, CA
Oriental Pearl is a spacious, classic Chinatown restaurant serving delicious dim sum and Hong Kong style dishes, making it the perfect place to go “yum cha” (drink tea / grab brunch in Chinese) or have dinner.
Order: Marinated Chiu Chow style Duck, BBQ Spareribs | Hours: Monday-Sunday: 11:00AM–3:00PM & 5:00PM–9:30PM | Website: www.orientalpearlsf.com

Michelin restaurants are an excellent reason to visit Chinatown
Photo: Parallel 37, Facebook.

Parallel 37 (Michelin Guide Restaurant)

$$$$ | The Ritz-Carlton: 600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA
This Michelin-rated restaurant offers its guests a memorable dining experience with well presented globally inspired California dishes in a chic interior design. With a wonderful staff of attentive servers and a daily menu, visit this upscale Chinatown restaurant for a meal you won’t forget.
Order: Chef’s Tasting Menu | Hours: Sunday-Monday: 6:30AM–11:00AM, Tuesday-Saturday: 6:30AM–11:00AM & 5:30PM–9:30PM | Website: www.ritzcarlton.com

Z&Y (A Michelin Guide Restaurant)

$$ | 655 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA
If you love spicy food, Z&Y is a must-visit restaurant in Chinatown. This Sichuan restaurant adorns almost every dish with chilis. Don’t be fooled by the restaurant’s seasoned interior, the food is excellent and speaks for itself.
Order: Chicken with Explosive Chili Peppers, Tan Tan Noodles, Dry Sauteed String Beans | Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11:00AM–9:30PM, Friday-Saturday: 11:00AM–10:30PM | Website: www.zandyrestaurant.com

Best Bakeries in San Francisco’s Chinatown

Put egg tarts at the top of your list of things to do in Chinatown
Egg Tart from Golden Gate Bakery. Photo: Karen Neoh, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Golden Gate Bakery

$ | 1029 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA
If you’re a fan of delicious baked goods, you must stop by Golden Gate Bakery upon your visit to Chinatown. They hold the undisputed title for best egg tarts and moon cakes in the entire Bay Area! Be forewarned as they are notorious for being closed for long periods of times, so call ahead or visit their website to check if they’re open before making the trip out there.
Order: Dan Tat, Moon Cakes | Hours: Monday-Sunday: 8:00AM–8:00PM | Website: www.goldengatebakery.com

Eastern Bakery

$ | 720 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA
Eastern Bakery is Chinese sweets bakery where you’ll find some of the best freshly made mooncakes in the city. Mooncakes are traditionally shared with friends and family during the Mid-Autumn festival. These delicious treats consist of a filling usually made with sweet bean or lotus seed paste and they typically have a flaky or chewy crust.
Order: Lotus Golden Yolk Mooncake | Hours: Monday-Sunday: 9:30AM–8:30PM | Website: www.easternbakery.com

Delicious Dim Sum

$ | 752 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA
Delicious Dim Sum offers visitors a variety of take out dim sum by the piece like Potstickers, Har Gaos (Shrimp Dim Sum) and Siu Mais (Pork Dim Sum). They also serve buns like Gai Baos (Chicken Buns) and Char Siu Baos (BBQ Pork Buns).
Order: Shrimp Dumplings, Pork Dumplings, BBQ Pork Buns | Hours: Monday-Sunday: 7:00AM–6:00PM, Wednesday: Closed | Website: www.deliciousdimsum.com

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is at the top of the list of things to do in Chinatown for most people.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Photo: Kārlis Dambrāns, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

$ | 56 Ross Alley, San Francisco, CA
Not only is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory one of the best places in Chinatown to bring kids and out-of-towners, it’s also the best place to see how these classic cookies are made. This small factory is one of few in existence where you can create your own customized fortune cookies.
Order: Fortune Cookies, Cow Ear Biscuits | Hours: Monday-Sunday: 9:00AM–6:00PM | Website: www.goldengatefortunecookies.com

Good Mong Kok Bakery

$ | 1039 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA
Almost every great food establishment requires a wait, and Good Mong Kok Bakery is no exception. Good Mong Kok is a terrific walk-thru bakery in Chinatown where you can order your favorite dim sums and buns to go.
Order: BBQ Pork Buns, Shrimp & Chive Dumplings, Pineapple Buns | Hours: Monday-Sunday: 7:00AM–6:30PM | Website: www.goodmongkokbakery.com

Where to Drink in San Francisco’s Chinatown

Things to do in San Francisco's Chinatown
Buddha Lounge. Photo: Richard Masoner, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Buddha Lounge

$ | 901 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA
One of San Francisco’s best dive bars, Buddha Lounge has a terrific bartender, cheap drinks, and a fascinating concoction you must try.
Order: Three Penis Chinese Whiskey | Hours: Monday-Sunday: 1:00PM–2:00AM | Website: www.buddhalounge.com

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Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge

$ | 1155 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA
Do the math: a local dive bar with cheap drinks poured by Mama Candy plus karaoke always equals a good time.
Order: Chinese Whiskey | Hours: Monday-Sunday: ??–2:00AM | Website: www.bowbowcocktaillounge.com

Vesuvio Cafe

$$ | 255 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA
Established in 1948, Vesuvio Cafe attracts people from all walks of life. Well-decorated with memorabilia from the Beat-era, this historic gem features two levels with booths and small tables for seating.
Order: Jack Kerouac, Top Manhattan | Hours: Monday-Friday: 8:00AM–2:00AM, Saturday-Sunday: 6:00AM–2:00AM | Website: www.vesuvio.com

Sip Bar & Lounge

$$ | 787 Broadway Street, San Francisco, CA
Sip Bar & Lounge is a spacious bar with vintage interior details and a unique portrait of Bruce Lee. This contemporary Chinatown venue also features a VIP lounge.
Order: Root of All Evil, Dead Rabbit, Howard Hughes | Hours: Friday & Saturday: 9:00PM–1:30AM | Website: www.siploungesf.com

Where to eat in San Francisco's Chinatown: Li Po.
Photo: Nick Fisher, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Li Po

$ | 916 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA
Featured in Anthony Bourdain’s “Layover 2012 in San Francisco,” Li Po is known throughout the city for their signature Chinese Mai Tais that will knock you off your feet.
Order: Chinese Mai Tai, Tokyo Tea, Purple Rain | Hours: Monday-Sunday: 2:00PM–2:00AM | Website: www.lipolounge.com

Where to Shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown

Chinatown Kite Shop

$$ | 717 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA
It’s uncommon to find stores like the Chinatown Kite Shop these days. This small store packs a big inventory of unique kits of all shapes and sizes for people of all ages to have some good old fashion fun. They also carry traditional Chinese costumes, including the actual lions that are used in lion dance performances seen during the Chinese New Year parade!
Hours: Monday-Sunday: 10:00AM–7:00PM | Website: www.chinatownkite.com

The Miss Chinatown Pageant is a fun thing to do in Chinatown
Miss Chinatown Pageant. Photo: Jim Winstead, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Mei Mei Fashion

$$ | 1035C Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA
Mei Mei Fashion creates beautiful “Qi Paos” or “Cheong Saams”, which are tight form fitting dresses typically worn for wedding banquets, beauty pageants, or other special events. Mei Mei Fashion offers fair pricing, delivers excellent customer service, and even made custom dresses for Miss Chinatown USA 2016.
Hours: Monday-Sunday: 9:00AM–5:00PM | Website: www.meimeifashion.com

Spoon Tailor

$$ | 722 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA
If you’re ever on the market for a custom suit or personal tailor, look no further. With a wide selection of fine fabrics, Spoon Tailor offers first class service and puts out high quality work at reasonable prices that will have you feeling & looking like a million bucks.
Hours: Monday-Friday: 10:00AM–6:00PM, Saturday: 10:00AM–4:00PM, Sunday: Closed | Website: www.spoontailor.com

The Wok Shop

$ | 718 Grant Avenue San Francisco, CA
Though you may be able to find a cheaper wok on Amazon, you won’t enjoy the quality of customer care The Wok Shop offers. Customers who visit Chinatown’s Wok Shop receive an experience enabling them to leave a more knowledgable chef. The owner, Tane Chan, educates customers on wok cooking, and even teaches how to properly prepare and maintain a wok to ensure consistently great-tasting dishes. World-renowned celebrity chef Martin Yan has even called Chan the “culinary and cultural ambassador” of Chinatown.
Hours: Monday-Sunday: 10:00AM–6:00PM |Website: www.wokshop.com

Other Things to Do in Chinatown: Parks & Recreation

Portsmouth Square. Photo: Gregpoo, Flickr, Creative Commons.
Portsmouth Square. Photo: Gregpoo, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Portsmouth Square

50 Walter U Lum Place, San Francisco, CA
Nicknamed the “Heart of Chinatown”, Portsmouth Square was established in the early 19th century and has been the site for many historical events. For instance, it was at Portsmouth Square where Sam Brannan announced the discovery of gold in 1848, and where the First Admission Day, which celebrated California’s statehood, was held in the square on October 29, 1850. Today, Portsmouth Square serves as a local gathering place for Chinatown’s residents and shopkeepers. People can be found playing chess & checkers, practicing Tai Chi in groups, playing in the playground, or just enjoying the outdoors. There is also a parking structure beneath the square, offering visitors a much better alternative than scouring the streets of Chinatown for parking.
Hours: Monday-Sunday: 24 Hours | Website: www.sfparksalliance.org

Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground

830 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA
Originally named the “Chinese Playground”, this Chinatown recreation center was renamed after University of San Francisco’s legendary Chinese-American basketball player, Willie “Woo Woo” Wong. The playground is a hidden gem in Chinatown with an indoor gym, basketball courts, a tennis court, and play structures for visitors of all ages to enjoy.
Hours: 9:00AM–9:00PM | Website: www.sfrecpark.org

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