Family Travel: Bridging the Pacific in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Flickr: gberto

San Francisco’s Chinatown!


San Francisco’s Chinatown is not your ordinary Chinatown.  It is the largest Chinatown (outside of China itself) and is the oldest town in North America.  Visiting Chinatown is a must-stop if you have cheap flights to San Francisco.

Although you certainly can ride through Chinatown on a bus or tour guided trolley, to truly experience the real Chinatown, you need to walk it on foot, traveling past the main thoroughfares and into the smaller allies where the true cultural experience lies.  To get oriented with Chinatown, consider taking your family on a walking tour.  Walking tours help share the history, background, and cultural significance of numerous Chinatown sites, giving you much more information than if you navigate the grounds alone.  Whether on tour or alone, be sure to visit the produce and herbal markets that line Stockton Street:  this experience is so similar to my time living in China: the sights, smells, voices, and warm friendly vendors truly transport you across the Pacific and into China itself.

One of the many highlights for young visitors is a stop at a fortune cookie factory.  Although fortune cookies are non-existent in China, many are processed and sold from smalls shops in Chinatown.  Visit Mee Mee Bakery or Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory; kids can observe a 50-year-old baking process, and even take home some of the sweet treats for themselves.

Without a doubt, one of my family’s favorite Chinatown activities is eating!  There are so many restaurants featuring everything from traditional Americanized dishes to authentic fare.  If you and your kids are bit adventurous, venture off of the main streets and into the allies where you will find mostly local diners as opposed to the hordes of tourists.  Smaller restaurants serve authentic regional cuisine including Sichuan, DongBei, Canton and more. If you are looking for great Sichuan food (a bit spicy) off the beaten path, I recommend dining at The Pot Sticker on Waverly Place.  The food is absolutely fabulous and you might be the only tourist in the building.

If you are looking to awaken your culinary senses but aren’t up for a gamble on taste, consider taking a walking culinary tour through Chinatown.   Local Tastes of the City Tours depart daily at three different times.  Their fun motto:  “We eat our way through San Francisco.”  On a culinary tour, you’ll visit hidden gems for a variety of fare including dim sum, main courses, and desserts, most likely visiting restaurants you never would have stopped at otherwise.

A few other fun places to visit in Chinatown are the Chinese Language School, Asian Art Museum, and Chinese Culture Center, all of which feature year-round events and activities including major festivals and celebrations for Chinese New Year, taking place late January, early February each year.
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photo: bigberto

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