Almost every major American city contains a large ethnic enclave of Chinese and Chinese/American people but San Francisco’s Chinatown that’s bordered by Broadway, Powell Street, Bush Street and Kearney Street is the largest Chinese community outside Asia. It’s one of four Chinese enclaves in San Francisco and it’s also the oldest Chinatown in the United States. Approximately 2 million people, including 75% of all San Francisco’s tourists, visit Chinatown annually and it’s become one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions.
If you’ve never visited Chinatown, a good place to learn about its history, culture and art is the Chinese Historical Society of America at 965 Clay Street. The Chinese Culture Center that’s located on the third floor at 750 Kearny is another good place to learn about Chinese culture and art. Walking tours through the most picturesque parts of Chinatown are offered by both cultural centers. Some of the most picturesque alleys in Chinatown include Spofford Alley because of its many Chinese social clubs and neighborhood associations, Waverly Place (also known as “the street of painted balconies”) and Ross Alley where the Golden Gate Cookie Factory is located. Established in 1962, more than 20,000 cookies are produced there each day the old fashioned way -- by hand.
Chinatown is famous for its annual Chinese New Year Festival and Parade. Attended by hundreds of thousands of people every year and held for approximately two weeks after the first day of the Chinese New Year, the parade is the biggest Chinese New Year parade outside Asia and it’s also the largest Asian cultural event in the United States. First celebrated in 1858, the parade begins on Market Street and ends in Chinatown with the explosion of 600,000 firecrackers. The parade also features Miss Chinatown USA, and the famous the 200-foot long Golden Dragon which is supported by more than 100 puppeteers.
Another popular festival held in Chinatown each year is the 2-day Chinatown Community Street Fair with its more than 80 ethnic booths and concessions. Presented by the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce, this street fair attracts about 500,000 visitors annually because it includes demonstrations of fine artworks, calligraphy, kites and lanterns, giant puppets, Chinese folk dances and lion dances, drumming and opera.
There are hundreds of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown that attract people to Chinatown every day of the year. San Francisco’s Chinese restaurants are considered to be the birthplace of westernized Chinese cuisine because they introduced Americans to foods like chop suey, wonton soup and dim sum. Two of our favorites are Hunan Home's and House of Nan King. Finding available parking in Chinatown can be very difficult and the parking garages are relatively expensive so it’s a good idea to consider taking buses or taxis to get there.