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San Francisco's Top 10 : Chinatown

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This teeming, densely populated neighborhood, with its bright façades, noisy markets, exotic temples, and ethnic restaurants and shops, is like a city within the city – and a place every visit to San Francisco must include. The atmosphere recalls a typical southern Chinese town, although the architecture, customs, and public celebrations are distinctly American hybrids on a Cantonese theme. Overlook the tourist tackiness, check out some of the side alleys, and give yourself time to take it all in.

Golden Gate Fortune Cookies Company

  • 56 Ross Alley

  • 415 781 3956

Old Chinese Telephone Exchange

  • Bank of Canton, 743 Washington St

Tin How Temple

  • 125 Waverly Place, top floor

  • Open 9am–4pm daily

Chinese Six Companies

  • 843 Stockton St

Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and Learning Center

Chinese Culture Center


Gold Rush Cantonese

Chinese immigrants began to arrive with the Gold Rush, to get rich quick and return home heroes. As it happened, things turned politically sour in China at the time, and many Chinese stayed in the new land. Unfortunately, there was a racist backlash against them, resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and Chinatown became a kind of ghetto, full of opium dens and vice. The Act was repealed in 1943, and things have steadily improved ever since.


Map of Chinatown

Don’t drive into Chinatown: it’s very congested, and parking is impossible. Take the cable car – all three lines will get you there .


One of the best Chinese restaurants in town is Tommy Toy’s.


The finest Chinese antiques shops are found at the Chinatown Gate end of Grant Avenue, just inside the gate.


The Chinese Culture Center sponsors a lively series of lectures and seminars, as well as walking tours of Chinatown.


Top 10 Sights
  1. Chinatown Gate

    A gift from Taiwan in 1970, this triple-pagoda southern entrance to Chinatown was inspired by traditional Chinese village gates.

  2. Portsmouth Square

    This was San Francisco’s original town square – here, on July 9, 1846, the US flag was first raised on the Bay, when the port was seized from Mexico. Locals now use the area for t’ai chi and games of mah-jong.

  3. Golden Gate Fortune Cookies Company

    Fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco. Stop by to watch how the skillful workers slip the fortune message in the cookie mixture, then fold it into the traditional shapes.

  4. Old Chinese Telephone Exchange

    This three-tiered pagoda is now the Bank of Canton, and is the most distinctive work of architectural chinoiserie in Chinatown. It served as the telephone exchange until the 1950s.

  5. Temples

    There are a number of temples that incorporate Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist elements. The Tin How Temple was founded in 1852 and dedicated to the Queen of Heaven.

  6. Stockton Street Chinese Markets

    At these authentic produce markets the real smells, sights, and sounds of Chinatown come into sharp focus.

  7. Chinese Six Companies

    This building’s brilliant façade is one of the most ornate in Chinatown. The Six Companies was formed in 1882 to promote Chinese interests within the community.

  8. Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and Learning Center

    This is the new home for the Chinese Historical Society’s 15,000-piece collection of artifacts, documents, photographs, and replicas that illustrate and explain the Chinese-American experience.

  9. Chinese Culture Center

    The Chinese Culture Center comprises an art gallery and a small crafts shop, featuring the work of Chinese and Chinese-American artists.

  10. St Mary’s Square

    This square is graced by a stainless-steel and rose-granite statue of Sun Yat-sen by San Francisco sculptor Beniamino Bufano.

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