No trip to San Francisco would complete without a visit to Chinatown. As much as we love exploring Chinatown, our San Francisco tours only roll through this neighborhood. Because of this we always suggest taking time to explore San Francisco’s Chinatown by foot (or by e-bike rental — just click the red link on this page).
So, to better help travelers looking to explore San Francisco on their own we are launching a DIY San Francisco Tours series. Whether you’re staying a Union Square hotel or adventuring around town with San Francisco bike rental — here’s our guide to exploring Chinatown’s Grant Street with your stomach.
Begin at the Dragon Gate
🇺🇸My absolute favorite Chinatown in the US. Once entered through these gates, feels like wandering a small working class neighborhood in Shenzhen or even Hong Kong. Here, English is not the first language for many locals, many don’t even speak it. 🇺🇸#globetrotters #chineseamerican #chinatown #fortravelers #skyisthelimit #flowersinyourhair #travelobsessed #ihearttraveling #globewanderer #travelbeyond #daretotravel #skymileslife #californiadreaming #adventureaddict #instaviajes #daretodream #lifetimeadventure #gofurther #lifeisajourney #livetotravel #daretowander #chinatowngate #beyondcomfortzone #daretosoar #travelingislife #followfreedom #planetwanderer #f4f
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. 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 has only been around since 1970.
You’ll find an inscription from Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (aka the Father of Modern China) hanging below the jade tiles that reads, “All under heaven is for the good of the people”. And below that you’ll find two fou dogs flanking each side of the gate — protecting those within.
There are also two curious stores on each side of the road into Chinatown. Both are called, Michael. These stores used to each have different names But after Michael Jackson spent a million dollars at each location in the early 2000s, the owners felt it would be appropriate to rename them.
Don’t go to the first restaurant you see
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. It just wouldn’t make for a very authentic food tour of Chinatown.
Wait for the perfect photo at California and Grant Street
At this intersection you’ll find the original line for San Francisco’s cable cars. Long 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 just why this was problem. This is such a fun spot for people watching since you get a glimpse of the unique “Chinatown deco” that made this neighborhood famous after rebuilding following the 1906 Earthquake and Fires. Eventually you’ll catch a glimpse cable car stop in the middle of the intersection to pick up and drop 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
When it comes to lunch in Chinatown, we’ve only got two words: dim sum. Who better to trust with your lunch than a nearly 100 year old purveyor of dim sum? This stalwart has changed little over years — from the classic Cantonese and Sichuan menu to the decor. Explore with your stomach at one of oldest restaurants in the neighborhood, Far East Cafe.
Or venture off Grant Street to just R & G Lounge, just about every locals favorite Chinatown spot
Enjoy lunch this beloved f Chinatown, R & G Lounge. Locals have been chowing down on Cantonese food here since 1985! In thirty years the restaurant has grown three stories — and in all that time, their salt and pepper Dungeness crab is still the talk of Chinatown. Sorry vegetarians, this is likely our very least vegetarian/vegan friendly neighborhood.
Watch (and taste) candy being freshly made at Dragon Papa
Have you ever had a dessert intended for an emperor? That’s just what Dragon’s Beard candy is! Chinese have been enjoying this dessert, Dragon Beard, for over 2,000 years. Here at Dragon Papa you can watch two generations of Hong Kong candymakers stretch and twist malt syrup into silky looking treat 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.
You guessed it, 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 guy who designed the Japanese Tea Garden. Now, techincally NYC has the largest manufacturer of fortune. But San Francisco is home to one of the last remaining fortune cookie factory where they are still made by hand! Tours are free — but photos are 50 cents. So come prepared with some pocket change!