Even as locals, we love playing tourist in San Francisco – it’s such a FUN city to explore, walk, eat, shop… and people-watch! Chinatown is one of our favorite places to hang out. Located just a short walk from downtown Union Square (look for the green pagoda at the entrance to Grant Ave), the area is jam-packed with little restaurants, dim sum parlors, Chinese markets, bakeries, antique stores and more shops than you can count.
Here are five fun things to do in San Francisco’s Chinatown:
1: Free Tea Tasting at Vital Tea Leaf
Who knew that tea tasting could be so much fun! This is a must-do in Chinatown, especially if you’re a tea lover. Modeled after a wine bar, Vital Tea Leaf carries over 400 varieties of teas (from China, Taiwan and Japan) and offers visitors complimentary “try before you buy” tea tastings – it’s the best deal in Chinatown! And if you’re entertained by Uncle Gee or Ming (at 1044 Grant Avenue), they really make the whole tea tasting experience so much fun.
Learn interesting facts about different teas – how they look and smell before (and after) being brewed, how to brew them properly, and how specific teas offer significant health benefits to the body and mind. Tea tasting is an enjoyable experience all around – and it’s even better with a small group of friends or family. There’s no pressure to buy anything – you can always order tea online when you get home. Our favorites are the Green Coconut Tea (good for relaxing), Iron Goddess Green Tea (good for longevity), and Jasmine Pearl Tea (its high concentrations of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties help promote healthy skin and boosts the immune system).
2: Shopping along Grant Avenue
Chinatown is one of the best places to buy “anything San Francisco” including t-shirts, clothes, gifts and souvenirs. Find great deals – from jade and fine jewelry, silk products, antiques and Buddhas, to Southeast artifacts and fine Oriental art. You can spend hours shopping on Grant Avenue (one of the oldest streets in Chinatown) as well as along the many narrow side streets that are chockablock with specialty shops and markets.
3: Dim Sum Parlors and Chinese Restaurants
Look no further than Chinatown for some of San Francisco’s best Dim Sum and Chinese food. One of our favorite places for Dim Sum is the Great Eastern Restaurant on Jackson Street. They offer a wonderful selection of Dim Sum dishes from 10am-3pm daily. And just a few steps away, across the street, you’ll find another Chinese gem – Hunan Home’s Restaurant. In addition to delicious soups, sizzling plates and seafood, they also offer great value lunch specials during the week. Far East Cafe is a popular go-to for business lunches and dinners. Have a sweet tooth? Stop by the Golden Gate Bakery and pick up one of their tasty desserts to go.
4: Fortune Cookie Factory
Did you know that Fortune Cookies originated here in San Francisco? The Fortune Cookie Factory has been around for over 40 years and today it’s still a popular tourist attraction. See first-hand how fortune cookies are made – it’s a fascinating process. And sample them too! The tiny factory is tucked away on Ross Alley, just off Jackson Street in the heart of Chinatown. Its small narrow shop only holds about 10 people at a time, so it’s no surprise to find a line out the door, especially on weekends and during peak tourist season. Don’t expect to spend much time inside – they like to keep the line moving. Take home a taste of SF – bags of different flavored fortune cookies (plain, almond, and chocolate) are available for purchase.
5: Chinatown Walking Tours
Another fun thing to do if you’re visiting the city (even if you’re a local) is to take a Chinatown Walking Tour – with friendly, knowledgeable and experienced guides. Uncover the secrets of Chinatown and see the cultural side of San Francisco, where the old world meets the new. Depending on the tour, you may visit the Fortune Cookie Factory, a herbal pharmacy, sample a variety of teas at a Tea Tasting, learn about Chinatown’s history and architecture, stroll among the Food Markets, visit a Chinese Temple and other historic landmarks, or indulge in a 10-course Dim Sum lunch or dinner. The options are endless!
Tell us about your experiences and recommendations in Chinatown. What do you like to do and what are some of your favorite restaurants?