Want a taste of the east on your next California vacation? Be sure to explore San Francisco’s bustling Chinatown. As one of the oldest and most famous Chinatowns in the United States, Chinatown San Francisco will treat you to ornate architecture, incredible food, and rich culture.
Enter this buzzing neighborhood through the iconic Dragon Gate, where you’ll be treated to cultural delights like the Tin How Temple. Create your own fortune cookie at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, then sit down for dim sum at Good Mong Kok Bakery.
Ready for a one-of-a-kind San Francisco experience? Discover what to see & do, where to stay, and where to eat and drink with this complete San Francisco Chinatown guide!
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What to see & do in San Francisco’s Chinatown
Take a classic Chinatown entrance through Dragon Gate. This elaborate attraction marks the start of the neighborhood. Opened in 1970 using materials gifted from Taiwan, the traditional archway is the perfect start to your San Francisco Chinatown adventure.
Make sure to spot the two large lions perched under the jade green roof, guarding the pedestrian entrance. The male lion on the west holds a pearl, symbolizing its protection of the gate; the female lion on the east holds a baby lion, symbolizing its protection of the people inside.
A fantastic tribute to old Chinese architecture, here you’ll step away from Downtown San Francisco into a whole new world of pagoda roofs and dragon streetlights.
Dragon Gate faces south, following the traditional rules of Feng Shui. The city originally built the gate as the first step to improving the area’s look and reputation. It’s now one of the most photographed destinations in Chinatown.
St. Mary’s Square
Get away from the hustle & bustle of the city at St Mary’s Square. This rooftop green space is a serene area on top of a parking garage, offering an opportunity to enjoy nature while basking in the shadows of skyscrapers. Take a pew under the poplar trees with an ice-cold drink from the refreshment stand.
St. Mary’s Square is not just a pretty place to relax. Here, you’ll find lovely views of St Mary’s Cathedral as well as some important monuments. Sun Yat-Sen was the founder of the Republic of China. There’s a small sculpture of him in St Mary’s Square to commemorate his visits to San Francisco.
You’ll also find the important Women’s Column of Strength. It’s an essential reminder of the comfort women who were sexual slaves during the occupation of the Imperial Japanese Army. It’s an inspiring but haunting bronze sculpture of three teenage girls with their grandma gazing up at them.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
Architecture lovers will want to spend some time at St. Mary’s Cathedral. This Gothic Revival building has been standing since 1854, making it older than the state of California! St. Mary’s Cathedral is still an active Catholic church today, making it a beautiful and spiritual place to spend a few hours.
The red clock tower of St. Mary’s Cathedral is a wonderful complement to the ornate facades of Chinatown. With an interior of plush red carpet and grand archways, this peaceful space will feel a world away from the noise of the city. The stonework was brought from China by boat and survived the tremors and fires caused by the earthquake in 1906.
Attend a mass or one of the musical and choir performances to feel the atmospheric acoustics of the building.
Chinese Historical Society of America Museum
Get a deeper understanding of China’s relationship with the US at the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum. The museum has exhibits detailing the lives and movements of Chinese American people. It’s the oldest museum of its kind in the country.
Explore the lives of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans growing up in the United States. Inequality, creativity, and innovation have created the Chinatown you see today. From the vibrant vinyl tablecloths of Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow’s “Picnic Parade” to the painstaking details of Frank Wong’s miniature sculptures, you’ll have a unique peek into a fascinating culture.
There are many tributes to the American superstar Bruce Lee at the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum. If you’re a film buff or into martial arts, this museum is one of San Francisco’s must-visit places. Explore artwork, documentaries, and handmade boxing robes that pay tribute to his legacy of martial arts and self-expression.
Tin How Temple
A visit to San Francisco’s Chinatown would not be complete without checking out Tin How Temple. One of the oldest operating Chinese temples in the US, the temple is a dedication to the sea goddess Mazu, a guardian of fishermen and seafarers.
Tin How Temple is a fantastic place to see authentic Chinese culture in action. The façade of plain brick is adorned with a colorful top balcony. Its unassuming entrance hides a magical world.
Climb the narrow stairs, and you’ll be greeted by shimmering red altars and intricate carvings. As well as this being a sacred space, you’ll have fabulous views of the streets of Chinatown below.
Your senses will be overcome by the aromas and atmospheres of ancient traditions. If you’re new to Buddhism or Taoism, Tin How Temple is a wonderful introduction. Light an incense stick and pay your respects to this ancient religion.
Portsmouth Square is the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown district. The original Chinatown started on the side of this square and evolved well beyond its borders. As well as being one of the most popular places for people to come together, the plaza is rich in history and important monuments.
Get to Portsmouth Square early to watch people practicing Tai Chi in the morning sunshine. With lots of shaded places to sit, it’s a great place to take a breath and people-watch while you sip your morning coffee.
Watch the chess players get competitive, or keep your ears open for local street performances. Take a moment to visit the statue of the Goddess of Democracy, as well as the Marker for the Raising of the American Flag.
In the summer, you can attend the weekly Chinatown Night Market Fair. As well as an array of market stalls, you’ll be treated to a buzzing combination of music concerts, lion dancing, and martial arts performances.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is one of the most iconic tourist activities in San Francisco’s Chinatown. This factory has been hand-making fortune cookies since 1962. This is an opportunity to see them made with your own eyes and sample some inventive flavors.
Up to 10,000 fortune cookies are made a day at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Take a tour to see how they bake them fresh on a cast iron rotating griddle wheel.
As you enter, you’ll be hit by the intoxicating smell as they bake. Watch the masters at work or write your own fortune cookies and bring them home as a gift.
The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory has thrived on innovation. There’s an intriguing choice of flavors to choose from. Try a delicate strawberry and green tea, delve into a chocolate glaze, or order a giant fortune cookie in a box.
City Lights Booksellers & Publishers
If you love to lose yourself in a good book, stop in City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. This landmark bookstore and publisher has been a literary meeting place since 1953. The bookshop was a pioneer during the Beat Generation; today, it specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics.
A dark storefront with a gold serif font tempts you with the allure of a traditional bookstore. Its alley side is a vibrant mural originally painted in Chiapas that depicts the invasion of Taniperla by the Mexican Army.
Step inside City Lights Booksellers & Publishers and discover an emporium of literature. With everything from poetry to philosophy, you’re sure to find your next great read.
Even if you leave with your bag significantly heavier than when you came, make sure to stop and read the plaques outside dedicated to writers like Jack Kerouac.
Where to eat & drink
As it’s the oldest Chinatown in North America, you know you’ll be exposed to unique and authentic flavors. But with an overwhelming choice of exciting and unfamiliar dishes, it can be hard to know where to begin. Here’s a quick selection of some favorite places to eat & drink in the Chinatown area.
It would be impossible to visit San Francisco’s Chinatown and not try the Chinese staple dim sum. Good Mong Kok Bakery offers some of the tastiest traditional dim sum in the city. There’s often a line out the door of people craving their shrimp dumplings and barbeque pork buns.
City View Restaurant has been another popular go-to for dim sum for generations. The dim sum carts are pushed around the restaurant so you can choose what you want as you go.
Capital has delicious Cantonese dishes and an unassuming, authentic setting. People come from all across San Francisco to taste their famous wings.
For a restaurant with an old-world cozy feeling, check out Hong Kong Claypot Restaurant. The eatery specializes in a traditional method of slow cooking using a clay pot. If you have a large group, the Hong Kong Claypot Restaurant has big tables where you can sit down and share all your choices.
Searching for the ultimate Chinatown dive bar? Head to Red’s Place, the oldest bar in Chinatown. The building was once a barber shop, then a cigar shop, and it has kept its historic exterior.
Or get drawn in by the neon lights of Buddha Lounge, a fun bar offering a local feeling and a great atmosphere. Gamble with the bartender for a game of dice, and you might win a free beer!
Despite the dive bar feel of Li Po Cocktail Lounge, they serve fantastic Mai Tais. Their secret recipe is famous for using a special Chinese liqueur.
Comstock Saloon, on the other hand, offers something a little more upscale. The iconic saloon was once the oldest microbrewery in San Francisco. The bar’s vintage cocktails and live jazz give you the ultimate prohibition feeling.
Where to stay
Sitting in the heart of the city, Chinatown and its adjoining areas are among the most popular places to stay in San Francisco. Here are a few of the top hotels and accommodation options around the area.
This ideal location sits between the Financial District, Chinatown, and Union Square, giving you prime access to some of the best parts of the city. Stunning rooms feature marble bathrooms and a boutique design modeled after the Danish concept of Hygge. Sip café au lait in the stylish 1930s Parisian café and feast on seafood in the chowder house.
This modern but homey hotel has fantastic views of the San Francisco skyline. Minimal rooms and unusual amenities make this a unique place to stay in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Relax in the library and music room, or find inspiration in the digital art gallery. The onsite bar offers craft ales, local wines, and bespoke cocktails with seasonal ingredients.
The serene Orchard Garden Hotel is the perfect retreat after a day in the chaos of the city. Committed to creating a healthy and eco-friendly experience, you’ll leave San Francisco feeling refreshed. Relax in rooms with warm, neutral colors and admire the local artwork in the pretty lobby.
This hotel is a cozy retreat of leather and wood. Snuggle up in the luxurious rooms or work up a sweat in the state-of-the-art fitness center. The hotel’s old-world bar has huge windows where you can sit with a glass of wine and watch the cable car go by.
This 1909 building is a grand place to base yourself in San Francisco. Wander marble-clad spaces with elegant décor, and check out the Bay Area’s only Krigler perfume shop. Stylish blue-tone suites and a restaurant serving coastal California cuisine give you a trendy city experience. As well as a 24/7 fitness center, you can practice yoga in the terrace courtyard.