Experience the Bay Area like a local on this DIY San Francisco Chinatown tour. Ditch the tour guide and use this blog as reference as you explore Chinatown’s food scene on your own.
No trip to the Bay Area would be complete without a San Francisco Chinatown tour. As much as we love exploring Chinatown, our San Francisco Chinatown tours only pass through this neighborhood.
What is the best Chinatown tour San Francisco has to offer?
We think it is when travelers create their own unique San Francisco Chinatown walking tour or e-bike tour.
This way you can explore every street at your own leisure and pop into all of the Chinatown San Francisco shops that you want. Pro tip: before arriving, check to see if there are any events happening while you are visiting. San Francisco Chinatown events make for very memorable experiences.
To better help travelers looking to explore San Francisco on their own we are launching a DIY San Francisco Tours series.
There are many things to do in Chinatown San Francisco, but one of our favorites is to eat. Whether you’re staying at an Union Square hotel or adventuring around town with a San Francisco bike rental, here’s our guide to exploring Chinatown’s Grant Street with your stomach.
DIY Chinatown Food Tour – San Francisco
What Time To Start?
Chinatown San Francisco hours vary based on each store and restaurant, most places will open between 10am – 11am. We suggest starting your tour anytime after 10am.
San Francisco Chinatown Parking
If you have rented a car on your Bay Area adventure, you can start your Chinatown San Francisco tour by driving to Chinatown and finding parking. Depending on the day and time of year, it might be hard to find parking near Chinatown San Francisco. You can start by checking out these possible parking options.
After you successfully find parking, make your way to the south gate to start your food tour.
Begin at the Dragon Gate
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The Financial District ends at the jade tiled gates that lead into the southern entrance of Chinatown. Some maps label this entrance as Chinatown Gate and others refer to it as the “Gateway Arch”.
Whatever you want to call it, it’s the southern entrance to the oldest and biggest Chinatown in the world, and it is where we recommend you start your San Francisco Chinatown Tour.
You’ll find an inscription from Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the Father of Modern China, hanging below the jade tiles that reads, “All under heaven is for the good of the people.” Below the inscription you’ll find two foo dogs flanking each side of the gate protecting those within.
Close by are two Chinatown San Francisco stores, both called Michael. These stores originally had different names until the early 2000’s, when Michael Jackson spent a million dollars at each store and the owners felt it would be appropriate to rename their shops after the King of Pop. If you are waiting to do a little Chinatown San Francisco shopping, we recommend visiting these iconic stores.
Skip The First Restaurant
If you went into the very first restaurant past the Dragon Gate of Chinatown, you’d end up in a glatt kosher restaurant. Welcome to San Francisco! Sabra Grill is actually a fantastic hidden Israeli and Mediterranean restaurant.
Although it would make an excellent addition to most San Francisco food tours, it doesn’t fit in with this authentic San Francisco Chinatown food tour, so we suggest you skip it for now.
Take the Perfect Photo at California and Grant Street
This intersection is the best location to capture memories from any of the many Chinatown San Francisco tours, that you decided to embark on.
At this intersection you’ll find the original line for San Francisco’s cable cars. Before cars, the only way around San Francisco was with a horse drawn carriage. Take a look up Nob Hill while you’re at the intersection, and you’ll see why this was a problem.
This is a fun spot for people watching, since you get a glimpse of the unique “Chinatown deco” that made this neighborhood famous. Eventually, you’ll catch a glimpse of a cable car stopped in the middle of the intersection picking up and dropping off passengers.
Be warned: this California line cable car does not go to Lombard Street. You’ll want to hop on the Powell-Hyde cable car if you want to catch a view of “The Crooked Street.”
Join the Dim Sum Lunch Rush at Far East Cafe
For your San Francisco Chinatown tour we suggest you stop for lunch at one of Chinatown’s best dim sum restaurants, Far East Cafe. Who better to trust with your lunch than a nearly 100 year old purveyor of dim sum?
Both the classic Cantonese and Sichuan menu and the decor of this stalwart has changed little over years. Day after day they provide quality food and service to hundreds of travelers enjoying tours of Chinatown San Francisco.
Venture off Grant Street to R & G Lounge – Every Locals Favorite Chinatown Spot
Another option for lunch on this DIY San Francisco Chinatown tour is the R & G Lounge. Locals have been chowing down on Cantonese food here since 1985!
In thirty years the restaurant has grown to three stories and in all that time, their salt and pepper Dungeness crab is still the talk of Chinatown, which is why we think you should add it to your San Francisco Chinatown tour.
Sorry vegetarians, this is likely San Francisco’s least vegetarian/vegan friendly neighborhood.
Taste Freshly Made Candy at Dragon Papa
Have you ever had a dessert that was first made for an emperor? Stop at this San Francisco Chinatown bakery and enjoy Dragon’s Beard Candy.
Chinese have been enjoying this dessert for over 2,000 years. Here at Dragon Papa you can watch two generations of Hong Kong candy makers stretch and twist malt syrup into silky looking treats that resembles cotton candy.
Catch a Free Tour and Tasting at the Last Hand-made Fortune Cookie Factory
Did you know fortune cookies are sold pretty much everywhere except China? We’ll give you one guess as to where they were invented. Hint: it wasn’t China.
The fortune cookie was invented right here in San Francisco, but not in Chinatown. It was actually created by a Japanese American who was the grandson of the man who designed the Japanese Tea Garden.
Currently, NYC is the largest manufacturer of fortune cookies, but San Francisco is home to one of the last remaining fortune cookie factories, where the cookies are still made by hand. Tours are free, but photos are 50 cents so come prepared with pocket change.
Chinatown San Francisco at Night
Exploring Chinatown San Francisco at night can be a very fun experience. It will give you a chance to experience the nightlife of Chinatown and admire the lights.
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Adding any or all of these stops on your DIY San Francisco Chinatown tour will ensure that you create the best Chinatown food tour San Francisco has ever seen.
For more information on San Francisco Chinatown tours check out some of these blog posts: