A Fabulous Day in San Francisco’s Chinatown

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SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco’s Chinatown is popular with tourists, yet a surprising number of locals have never been. Given the area’s rich history and cultural heritage, it’s a fun place to visit. But when you factor in the amazing food and unique shopping experience, it’s a fabulous daycation!

The “city within a city,” as Chinatown is sometimes called, was established as a neighborhood by immigrant Chinese workers. This 24-block area near the Financial District represents the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America. It is a vibrant center of San Francisco and despite the throngs of visitors who come for a “taste” of China, it manages to maintain its significance to the Chinese community.

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If you enter Chinatown on Grant Avenue and Bush Street, you’ll go through the “Dragon’s Gate,” an example of ornate Chinese architecture. Regardless of your starting point, prepare to be immersed in the hustle and bustle that takes place along the narrow streets and in the alleyways. As you explore, you’ll come across many shops. Even if you aren’t in the market for anything special, the shops are worth a look. While a lot of them sell curios, you can also find pottery, silks and herbal remedies.

The dim sum and noodles are a big draw for many, given the number of restaurants. Parking in Chinatown is very, very limited and the wait for many of the restaurants is long, with people lining up even before the restaurants open. If you plan on sending one member of your party ahead to stand in line for everyone, know that many restaurants require everyone to be present before they will seat you and the wait staff  will be greatly displeased if they call you and the entire group isn’t there. For anyone in a hurry, you can grab fresh produce from a street vendor and take out from a shop selling only to-go food. The selection will be more limited, but the flavor is just as great.

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For those with a sweet tooth, there are several bakeries in Chinatown, including the Golden Gate Bakery, which is known for its egg tarts. Or you can – and should – visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Tucked away in an alley, cookies are being made by hand in this small working factory. Visitors are allowed inside in groups of ten to catch a glimpse of the action or make purchases. The “tour” is free, but photos aren’t. (A posted sign says $.50 cents per photo, but for a dollar I was allowed to take as many pictures as I liked.) You can buy regular fortune cookies in several flavors (try the chocolate!), or you can write your own fortune and make a personalized cookie. Bargain lovers can purchase bags of broken “seconds.”

If you go: Golden Gate Bakery is located at 1029 Grant Ave., San Francisco. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is located at 56 Ross Alley, San Francisco. The area’s hilly streets and crowded sidewalks make Chinatown difficult to navigate in a wheelchair. More information can be found at SanFranciscoChinatown.com.

Your Town Daycations is a series featured in the print edition of Your Town Monthly. This article was originally published in the November 2017 issues.