When you make the grand entrance into Chinatown beneath the dramatic portal at Grant Avenue and Bush Street, you can't help but be impressed by this city-within-a-city. Along its streets, exotic ingredients are hawked, silks and jade are proffered, and colorful mementos are sold to tourists. The community is more than show, however, and residents celebrate the Chinese New Year with verve, take pride in their beautiful Miss Chinatown, and hold fast to time-tested traditions.
See & Do
If you find yourself in San Francisco in late February, don't pass up experiencing the Chinese New Year's Parade. Begun in the 1860's in San Francisco, the Parade and Festival have grown each year into the largest celebration of Asian culture outside of Asia. This is also one of the rare night parades still left in the United States, which makes the crack and glow of the firecrackers much more spectacular.
One of the main draws to Chinatown is the food, and it's fun to wander the cobbled streets and alleyways testing as much dimsum and eggrolls as you can find. But when you're ready for a full-blown meal, check out The House of Nanking on the corner of Kearny and Columbus. Although the insides are rough and often crowded, the food is exquisite and worth the wait. And be sure to ask the chef for his personal recommendations, too, which is a favorite custom in this popular restaurant.
Although it's too dark to make out either holes or walls in the Buddha Lounge, don't let the seedy appearance scare you off. This is a classic Chinatown institution, and anyone who's anyone in Chinatown has been in these hallowed and holey walls. If you're looking for a memorable San Francisco Chinatown experience to start or cap off your night - like playing dice to pay for your beer - head to the Buddha Lounge.
If you're on a modest budget and want a hotel right in the heart of Chinatown, it's hard to beat the Grant Plaza Hotel. Located within the entry gates of this historic district, the hotel rooms are clean, simple and within walking distance of all of the "must-see" San Francisco sights, including Union Square and North Beach.
Like wandering betweens dimsum cafes, a great way to explore Chinatown while shopping is hopping from bazaar to bazaar. Nothing says San Francisco to friends and family back home like a souvenir gift of jade or porcelain or any of a number of cultural knick knacks you'll find at Canton Bazaar in Chinatown.