Not only the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, but also the oldest of its kind in North America, San Francisco’s Chinatown centres around Grant Avenue and Stockton Street. It is one of the city’s most iconic attractions drawing more visitors than the Golden Gate Bridge, with both domestic and international tourists coming to experience its unique festivals, temples and legendary dining scene.
Grant Avenue carves through the heart of Chinatown, home to the iconic Dragon Gate war memorial to Chinese veterans and St. Mary’s Square where a statue of the Chinese revolutionary Dr. Sun Yat-Sen stands. Chinese restaurants and shops catering to tourists fill the streets, together with the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory which is open for tours. To the east lies Portsmouth Square where elderly Chinese residents play chess and do Tai Chi, and home to a replica of the Goddess of Democracy that was originally constructed for the Tiananmen Square protests. Stockton Street runs parallel to Grant Avenue and offers a more authentic perspective on Chinatown, with produce piled high in its vegetable and fish markets and restaurants catering to local Chinese-Americans. It’s a perfect place to soak up the local culture, with funeral processions often taking to the streets with marching bands and motorcycle escorts. Each year the neighbourhood ignites with the annual San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade which includes street performances, martial arts displays and fashion shows, while the annual Autumn Moon Festival celebrates the changing of the seasons each September.
Chinatown is easily accessed from the BART Station on Post Street, from where it’s just a short walk to the Chinatown Gate on Grant Street. Alternatively, all three of the city’s cable car lines pass through the district, as well as numerous bus services.
San Francisco’s Chinatown was originally established during the Gold Rush era as the only region where Chinese immigrants were permitted to live in the city. Hoisanese and Zhongshanese from southern China’s Guangdong province were the first to set up business here, while a large number of Chinese immigrants also found jobs working on the Transcontinental Railroad.