San Francisco’s Chinatown is perhaps the country’s most famous, originally settled by Chinese immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What many people do not know is that, today, there are really two Chinatowns in San Francisco. On the one hand there is the Chinatown we all know and which has essentially become a tourist site and nothing more. On the other hand there is the Chinatown that belongs to the locals, many of whom can trace their roots back to the original Chinese settlers. These two Chinatowns overlap to become a dynamic neighborhood full of unique shops, tasty food and surprising finds, attracting more visitors than the Golden Gate Bridge itself. To best experience all that Chinatown has to offer, we recommend simply wandering through its many streets and alleys.

Where it’s At

Chinatown is primarily based around Grant Avenue, which is where you’ll find ‘tourist’ Chinatown and its shops full of plastic Buddhas. To dig deeper, be sure to wander off the main thoroughfare and explore some of the fascinating side streets.

What to See

Chinatown’s main attraction is its legendary gate marking the neighborhood’s Grant Avenue entrance. Created in 1970, it was intended to secure the street’s position as the heart of Chinatown. Walking through the gate you’ll be serenaded along the crowded streets by 1920s streetlights sculpted to look like dragons lighting the way. Tucked away on Ross Alley you’ll find Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, where over 20,000 fortune cookies are handmade daily. The factory welcomes visitors and you can purchase a fresh bag of cookies for only $3.00. Admission is free and the factory is open daily 8 am – 6 pm. (56 Ross Alley)

Where to Eat

You have probably heard plenty about Chinatown’s House of Nanking (919 Kearny St) and its long lines of people patiently waiting to try its famous Shanghai-style cooking – and its food is definitely worth it – but why not avoid the lines and less-than-stellar service and try something new? We recommend going next door, to Chef Jia’s (925 Kearny St) for some truly tasty and spicy food.