San Francisco – Chinatown walking tour [self-guided with 10 stops]
This is one of the most fascinating neighborhoods in the city, full of tradition and history.
A Chinatown walking tour is a must once in San Francisco. You can either do it with the map below or with an organised tour to get more of an inside of the district from a local.
The area was established in 1848 and it is still extremely important for the Chinese immigration past.
In this post, I have included 10 stops, with some iconic points like the Dragon Gate and a few hidden gems like the Li Po Cocktail Lounge (perfect for a drink with your partner) or the Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground, ideal spot if you are travelling with kids.
But let’s get into the walk
Table of Contents
- 1 A – Dragon’s Gate
- 2 B – Old St Mary’s Cathedral
- 3 C – Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground
- 4 D – Chinese Historical Society of America Museum
- 5 E – Tin How Temple
- 6 F – Portsmouth Square
- 7 G – Li Po Cocktail Lounge
- 8 H – Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company
- 9 I – Beat Museum
- 10 J – China Live
- 11 Organised tour with local guide
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Here below a map of the walk that you can also see and download from my shared Google maps
Chinatown can easily be accessed from downtown through the Dragon Gate (stop A on the map), the starting point of this Chinatown walking tour in San Francisco.
A – Dragon’s Gate
Start your Chinatown tour at Dragon’s Gate. Some maps call this spot ‘Chinatown Gate’.
It boasts one of the most photographed areas in Chinatown.
It has been in existence since 1969 and was a gift from Taiwan (China).
While the building material came from Taiwan, the design was done by Clayton Lee, a Chinese American designer.
At the entrance of the gate is an inscription which translates to “All under heaven is for the good of the people”.
What stands out about the gate’s pedestrian entrances are the male and female guardian lions.
Once you enter the gate, you can visit the shops where you can buy antique pieces, tea and precious stones.
B – Old St Mary’s Cathedral
After checking out the grand history of Dragon’s Gate, head on down to the Old St. Mary’s Cathedral.
This church was built to resemble a Gothic church and has 4 storeys of sheer age-old beauty.
It withstood the great earthquake of 1906, renovated multiple times and rededicated 3 years later in 1909.
The Old St. Mary’s Cathedral is a listed California landmark that you should check out.
C – Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground
This is a great stop if traveling with small kids. You will get some time off and they will enjoy this urban Chinese inspired playground.
The little ones can climb up the dragon and the phoenix, come down from the yellow slide on top of the wood tower – so many things to do.
There is enough shade for the hot days, water is available as well as a clean toilet.
D – Chinese Historical Society of America Museum
After some playtime, take a stroll over to the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum.
This is the must go place to appreciate and understand the history and culture of China.
Here, you can see exhibitions, publications and programs that will give you some cool insights into Chinese Culture, both in China and in the USA
E – Tin How Temple
Channel your spirituality as you walk over to the Tin How Temple.
This is an active Buddhist temple where you would find people praying.
Currently, access is only limited to local community, however, you can still see the facade and its ornament.
Tin How Temple, also known as Tianhou Temple, is the oldest Taoist temple in San Francisco.
It is dedicated to Mazu or Tin How, the Chinese Goddess of the sea.
F – Portsmouth Square
This is a great spot to watch the local Chinese community, mainly seniors, playing cards and do exercise in the early morning
It’s a tiny park to walk through or stop to eat some take away food.
You will also see a few Chinese inspired graffiti.
Overall, a good place to take a few photos along your Chinatown walking tour
We all know the saying – It is always happy hour somewhere in the world.
After that mind blowing walk around Chinatown, head to the Li Po Cocktail Lounge.
You will know you have arrived when you see the simple yet outstanding Li Po Chinese lantern neon sign.
It is one of the last nightclubs in the area which still looks as it did when it was opened in 1937.
When you step into the club, you will notice the wraparound style bar with classic booths.
It is perfectly lit with Chinese lanterns and has a golden Buddha statue.
The late great Anthony Bourdain featured Li Po on The Layover show and lauded it for its Mai Tais.
Are you interested in exploring more of the Golden City? Here are 3 unique self-guided walks and an e-ride of San Francisco, including maps and little gems like the Li Po Cocktail Lounge.
H – Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company
There is something intriguing about the art of making fortune cookies, especially handmade ones.
The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company still makes these and you will be impressed when you go visit them.
The factory was started back in 1969 by the Chang family who have used the same secret recipe for all those years.
They have also started making flavored cookies for you to choose from, like strawberry and chocolate.
With only 3 staff members, they make about 10,000 cookies a day!
The Chang family wanted the world to see the sacred art of fortune cookie making, so do not let them down and pay them a visit.
I – Beat Museum
The Beat Museum is in Broadway, however, right next door to Chinatown and it would be a pity to miss out on it
This is a museum and bookstore that pays homage to the Beat Era.
If you are a fan of Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski or other poets of that time, you will find manuscripts of their work on display here.
Downstairs, you can purchase books and other vintage items from the store.
As you head to the top floor, you can sit and read on the couches.
You will also see posters and clippings all over the walls which celebrate the Beat world.
J – China Live
Time for some Chinese food to taste and eat in a modern Chinese restaurant.
You will get to experience the traditional dishes, like Dim Sum, dumplings or rice and noodle soups, all done with a contemporary touch.
The ambient is also very welcoming as the personnel.
It does not come cheap, but it is indeed a unique experience
Organised tour with local guide
You can also join one of the available organised tours to get more of an inside from a local guide.
You can decide between these 2 day tours:
- Chinatown Culinary Walking Tour, where you will get also to taste a few Chinese dishes here and there, as part of the experience
- Chinatown History Walking Tour, where you will get to know and understand more about the largest Chinese community outside of Asia
You can also think of doing a Chinatown night tour that ends in the North Beach area.
The advantage of this tour is that you get to experience the area with the beautiful red lantern lights, literally everywhere.