I once heard that San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. The red lanterns hang throughout the streets here and the hustle bustle of urban life is very apparent. While busy shop owners and consumers go about their daily operations, you'll find tourists snapping photographs of the surrounding scene with their shiny iPhones, woman collecting weekly vegetables and fruits at sidewalk stands and locals cutting through side streets to get to their further destinations.
Nestled between the neighboring districts, North Beach ("little Italy") and the Financial District (where woman and men are dressed in business attire), you'll find a variety of authentic restaurants, "tourist trap" shops selling small souvenirs and of course some great photo opportunities within the side alleys . The colors in Chinatown will catch your eye and if you're not moving, step aside because everyone else here is. The main Dragon Gate into Chinatown is at Bush and Grant, but to see the lanterns close up and personal right when you arrive, enter from the North Beach side, right past the icon City Lights Bookstore. No matter how you find yourself entering into this crowded district, you'll instantly noticed the authenticity of the area, meat shops and the community.
So what else do I actually do in Chinatown, you may be wondering. Aside from people watching and opportunity's to soak in the culture, there are some hidden treasures that are certainly worth checking out! During the day, may I suggest popping into a tea shoppe and really learn about origins and tastes of a wide selection of tea? After you've done this, you must visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. It may not be what you expect, which is the most interesting part of all. The old women inside this tiny alley way shop are kind spirits, so be sure to pull out a couple of dollars if you want to photograph the interior and the ladies who delicately fold the circles of dough into perfectly shaped cookies, fortune and all. After, purchase a fresh bag!
If you happen to wander the streets at night, you're in for a real treat. The lanterns light up the night sky with the perfect hue of red and yellow as the shop's signage simultaneously beam neon colors around you. If you're looking for a cocktail and some bites, there are many options in the area. I have yet to go, but if Victoria Smith of SFgirlbybay recommends this spot, I can be sure to pass along the recommendation of Li Po Lounge with ease. Victoria's description of the cave-like atmosphere and chef Anthony Bourdain's visit here means it must be good, right? (If you do go, please report back to me!) As you finish up your time in Chinatown, don't forget to take a few photos of the lanterns- and don't be embarrassed...everybody does it!
Have you ever been a tourist in your own city? How does San Fransisco's Chinatown compare to New York City's Chinatown? Looking for even more California guides, lifestyle tips, must see locations, style inspiration and everything in between? Then be sure to "like" Sunshine Daydream on Facebook and subscribe to my newsletter to be the first to hear about new discoveries!