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Weekender: San Francisco's Chinatown

This neighborhood has a festive year-round spirit with its own universe of temples, shops, restaurants, and colorful buildings interwoven by intimate alleys.

dragon with escorts in Chinese New Year parade at night in San Francisco, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Judy Bellah/Alamy
Photo caption
Dragon dancers help usher in the New Year.

San Francisco's Chinatown constitutes its own universe of Buddhist temples, bustling shops, and colorful buildings topped with pagoda-style roofs. Crisscrossed with intimate alleys, this packed neighborhood exudes a festive spirit year-round.

  • The Chinese New Year Parade returns Feb. 11 to mark the Year of the Rooster. More than 100 groups and floats take part, showcasing traditional dances, gorgeous costumes, and martial arts. Don’t miss the magnificent, 268-foot-long golden dragon.

  • San Francisco City Guides offers walking tours (10 a.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Mondays), during which knowledgeable guides explain Chinatown past and present. Tours are free, but donations are welcome.

  • Less touristy than Grant Avenue, Stockton Street is the real commercial heart of Chinatown. Dozens of family-owned shops specialize in fresh Asian produce, gnarly medicinal roots, and live fish swimming in tanks. Fortify yourself with an oven-hot egg tart from the AA Bakery & Cafe.

  • R&G Lounge draws diners for such Cantonese fare as salt-and-pepper prawns. Be sure to ask your bow-tied waiter for seasonal vegetable recommendations.

  • At the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, watch as warm wafers are rolled by hand into the familiar after-dinner treats. You can even customize your own fortunes.

  • As the neighborhood’s alfresco living room, Portsmouth Square is busy from early morning, when locals gracefully practice tai chi, to the afternoon, when buskers play the erhu fiddle and games of cards can turn boisterous.

  • Z&Y Restaurant is known for its mouth-searing Szechuan dishes, such as spicy beef with flaming chile oil.

This article was first published in Winter 2017. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.