If you’re traveling to San Francisco and looking to enjoy an afternoon in the heart of the city, look no further than Chinatown. Packed with culture, delicious food, and unique experiences, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in San Francisco Chinatown.
Whether you have an hour or a whole day, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy here. Exploring Chinatown is one of the top items on the list of fun things to do in San Francisco.
Where To Learn About Chinese and Chinese-American Culture
Start at the ornate Grant Street Gate and stroll up Grant through the heart of Chinatown. Stop in at the Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco and the Chinese Historical Society of America, both great options for learning more about the history of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco. If you love museums, you’ll find Chinese art and artifacts in their galleries, too, making them both well worth a visit.
Centrally located, Portsmouth Square contains lots of statues and historical markers illustrating the neighborhood’s place in California’s history. This is where the American flag was first raised in San Francisco in 1846. It’s also where the discovery of gold was first announced in 1848.
The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is a small factory where you can watch workers make fortune cookies by hand. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze, but it’s an attraction that’s definitely worth the effort to see the process in action.
If you happen to be in town near the Lunar New Year, don’t miss the Chinese New Year Festival, which is one of the largest and most colorful events of its kind in the world.
Where To Eat
Of course, we can’t talk about San Francisco Chinatown without talking about the food. It’s a food lover’s paradise, with endless options for dim sum, noodles, and Cantonese-style barbecue.
Some of the top spots to grab a bite include R&G Lounge for their famous salt-and-pepper crab, Golden Gate Bakery for their famous egg tarts, and Delicious Dim Sum for pillowy steamed BBQ pork bao, har gow, and shumai.
If you love Shanghainese food, don’t miss House of Nanking. This neighborhood stalwart is known for its quirky San Francisco-style menu featuring classic Shanghainese recipes with chef Peter Fang’s own creative twists. Favorites are the House Noodles in Sesame Sauce and the Garlic Fish. If you’re feeling indecisive, tell the wait staff what you’re in the mood for and they’ll order for you.
Michelin-starred Mister Jiu’s is a sought-after reservation. The Chinese-California cuisine ranges from Hot and Sour Dungeness Crab Soup to Hokkien Fried Rice with Prosciutto and Scallops and Fried Petrale Sole with Fermented Chile and Mustard Greens.
China Live is a huge complex featuring a casual restaurant offering specialties like Peking duck sesame pockets, Singapore chicken wings, and fried scallion bread. Upstairs, at the upscale Eight Tables, you’ll find a splurge-worthy tasting menu. There’s even a shop where you can buy condiments and snacks, including Chef Chen’s Famous Chili Crisp, Ginger Infused Vinegar, and XO Sauce with Cognac.
Where to Drink
From swanky cocktail bars to hidden speakeasies and dive bars, you’ll find plenty of places to refresh and fortify yourself.
Cold Drink Bar: If you don’t want to commit to a full meal at the swanky Eight Tables, stop in for cocktails instead at China Live’s Cold Drink Bar. You’ll find high-quality drinks with a focus on scotch. Plus, you can sample some of Eight Tables chef George Chen’s food via bar snacks like Peking Duck Fat Popcorn and Salt and Pepper Beef Tendon Chips.
LiPo: In a town where hip bars come and go like sunsets, it’s amazing that this kitschy dive bar still looks exactly the way it did back in the 1930s. Its cave-like entrance, shiny red double doors, and neon lantern outside make you feel like you’ve arrived several decades in the past. Step inside, and you’ll find cozy booths, a shiny golden Buddha, and a wraparound bar serving LiPo’s famous Chinese Mai Tai.
Buddha Lounge: With a vintage neon sign and key-shaped entry, this is another throwback Chinatown dive bar. Grab a Buddha Beer, enjoy the well-curated jukebox, and even engage in a game of Liar’s Dice with the bartender — win and he’ll buy you a beer!
Tea: If you’re traveling with kids or just looking for non-alcoholic refreshments, stop in for a matcha tea or boba tea in one of the many shops that dot the neighborhood: Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea, By Me Boba Tea, or Cool Tea are popular spots.
Where To Shop
For shopping, Grant Avenue is the main drag and offers a mix of traditional Chinese goods and touristy trinkets. You can find everything from silk robes to jade bracelets to mahjong sets.
For something a little more unique, check out the Waverly Place alleyway. This narrow passageway is lined with tiny shops selling everything from Chinese teas to calligraphy supplies.
Head a block west to Stockton Street to find a multitude of Chinese grocery stores, butcher shops, and herbal medicine emporiums.
The Final Word
No matter what you decide to do in Chinatown, one thing’s for sure: you’ll leave with a full belly, a head full of new knowledge, and a bag full of unique souvenirs. So what are you waiting for? Book that trip and get ready for an unforgettable experience in one of San Francisco’s most vibrant neighborhoods.