Chinatown is best mid-day when all the shops are open and streets are busy. It gets quiet very soon after dark.
See It Now: Photo Tour
Visiting San Francisco ChinatownSan Francisco Chinatown is about eight blocks long and has two long main streets, Grant and Stockton. Many visitors just walk down Grant, buy a souvenir or two and move on, but you know better. If you pay attention and use this guide, you'll find some pretty fascinating stuff just off the beaten path.
Chinatown is one of San Francisco's top-rated sights. Find out what the rest are.
Chinatown ToursGuided tours are very helpful to understand the origin and San Francisco Chinatown history. You can take our self-guided Chinatown tour by printing out a map and written guide, but if you'd rather have someone show you around, try one of these tours:
- City Guides: Free walking tours weekly.
- Wok Wiz offers excellent guided walking tours of San Francisco Chinatown. Some include a dim sum lunch. Reservations required.
- The Chinese Cultural Center: San Francisco Chinatown walks focusing on heritage and cuisine. Reservations required.
FestivalsThree annual festivals honor the city's Chinese heritage. The Chinese New Year and the Autumn Moon Festivals draw street-clogging crowds to Chinatown. The Dragon Boat Festival is held on Treasure Island, with free shuttles available.
- Chinese New Year: This lunar festival usually takes place between late January and early February. Besides the famous parade, there's a big street fair, too.
- Autumn Moon Festival: Autumn is time to reflect in the bounty of the summer harvest, the fullness of the moon, and the myth of the immortal moon Goddess, Chang O, who lives in the moon. It's kind of like "Chinese Thanksgiving," with lots of food, especially moon cakes, circular-shaped pastries filled with slightly sweet filling, often red bean, melon or lotus-seed paste.
- Dragon Boat Festival: It's a two-millenium-old tradition that's only been an organized sport for a few decades. Teams of paddlers compete in colorfully-decorated, dragon-themed boats in races held to honor Qu Yuan, a scholar and advisor to the emperor of the Chu Kingdom who jumped into the Mei Lo (Mi Luo) River in protest against government corruption. Over 100 dragon boat teams compete.
ReviewWe rate San Francisco Chinatown 4 stars out of 5. For many years, much of its former charm had evolved into touristy kitsch, but nowadays new, more stylish shops are springing up, and the place is generally getting a much-needed facelift.
Poll: What do you think of San Francisco Chinatown???
- Awesome! It's a must-see sight that I recommend to everyone
- Great I really liked it, and I think you will, too
- Good Go if you have time, but it's not a big deal if you miss it
- OK Some people find it interesting, but I didn't
- So-So More fun than a night in jail, but you might enjoy a good nap more
- Yuck! Just say no to this flea-bitten hole of a tourist trap
Getting ThereThe part of San Francisco Chinatown that tourists find interesting is along Stockton and Grant between Bush and Columbus.
On foot from Union Square, take Geary, Maiden Lane or Post east one block to Grant Avenue and go north to the Chinatown gate. If you're coming from North Beach, just cross Columbus onto Grant and you're there.
You can also get here on the cable car. The California line stops at California and Grant, or you can get off the Powell line at California and walk three blocks to Grant.
Parking isn't just scarce here, it's almost non-existent. The Portsmouth Square Garage on Kearny is hard to get to (you have to drive all the way around the block, often waiting in a slow-moving line), so the St. Mary's Square Garage on California may be a better bet. On weekends, you can park your car at The Golden Gateway Garage, (250 Clay Street between Front and Davis) and take a free shuttle from there. If you spend at least $3 with a merchant, you can get validation for a reduced parking rate.
If you're visiting Union Square or North Beach in the same day, you can also park there and walk.