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San Francisco Chinatown shopping and tours

San Francisco Chinatown shopping and tours

A popular sightseeing attraction in San Francisco, Chinatown is one of the oldest and largest Chinese communities outside of China. The main streets which tourists visit in Chinatown San Francisco are Grant Avenue and Stockton Street where they find various gift and food shops which are great for purchasing items like ginger root, bamboo shoots, golden-glazed ducks, sharks fins, fish, cackling chickens, a variety of herbs and learn how to taste several Chinese teas.

For tourists interested in the history of Chinatown, there are two sites of particular interest: the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco and the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum. Both of these can be found on city walking tours.

Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco

Located inside the Hilton Hotel in the San Francisco Financial District (750 Kearney Street, on the third floor, (415) 986-1822) is the Chinese Culture Center, an inspiring discovery. This Culture Center has been a non-profit organization since 1965 where many workshops, lectures, exhibits, and performances are held such as the Chinese of America documentary 1786 – 1980 and Chinese Women of America – A Pictorial History.

The current art exhibit on display, Xian Rui, is by Dora Hsiung. “Xian” means fresh and with “Rui” as sharp, this exhibit brings light to the works of under-recognized Chinese artists. Born in Shanhai, Dora Hsiung has lived in multiple continents, and now resides in Massachusetts. The works are spectacular.

While there are several superior private city walking tours available of Chinatown, a highly valued one is the Heritage Walking Tour offered by the Culture Center and available Tuesday through Sunday at 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. for $30 per adult. Lunch is available on the 10 a.m. tour for additional cost. The sights on this city walking tour are:

  • Portsmouth Square
  • Chinese Telephone Exchange – (now the United Commercial Bank) the only foreign language telephone exchange made available in the USA
  • Tin How Temple – (Tien How Miu) a Taoist temple from 1852 and the oldest temple in USA
  • Chinese Market (on Stockton Avenue) – where locals shop everyday for groceries
  • Fortune Cookie Factory – located on a small side street of Ross Alley and is the only place were cookies are still made by hand.

The gift shop available at the Culture Center is open Tuesday – Saturday and with limited hours on Sunday where Chinese merchandise and art pieces, books and souvenirs may be purchased.

Chinese Historical Society of America

The other attraction is the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum exhibit which is open Tuesday – Friday, noon to 5 p.m., admission fee of $3 for adults. (415) 391-1188 And, there is free admission for the public on Thursdays.

The Main Gallery of the Museum tells the story of the history of the Chinese in USA. Referring to the Chinese Historical Society’s website, there were more than 90% of Chinese immigrants from the Pearl River Delta region in China during the first surge to USA in the 1600s. As one is walking through these astonishing exhibits, they see a colorful display and artifacts that are arranged in an excellent and thorough method. Be sure to go on a docent guided tour through the museum, an absolute must to be able to listen to the detailed information given.

This museum opened in November 2001 in the historical Chinatown YWCA building, which is easily recognized landmark building designed by Julia Morgan (who designed many buildings including Hearst Castle). The traditional courtyard gardens and fountain inside the YWCA building is an added attraction to this tour. The Chinatown YWCA played an important part to the young Chinese American women for over fifty years.

Don’t miss these two amazing sightseeing attractions in Chinatown, San Francisco, the Chinese Culture Center and the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum, which are slightly off the beaten path of normal shopping and tours for visitors.

Top Things to Do in San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge is the most photographed bridge in the world and is visible from most elevated parts of San Francisco, when the fog allows. The ochre coloured towers and cables were completed in 1937 and span the two-mile mouth of the bay. The bridge is open to visitors from sunrise to sunset and the best way to enjoy it, and the views it provides, is to stroll along the east sidewalk, 65 storeys above the water (although heavy winds can sometimes make this a challenge).

Relaxing in Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is one of the biggest urban parks in the world and stretches from the old hippy area of The Haight to the Pacific, offering visitors a selection of trails, gardens, museums, sports facilities, beaches and lakes. Some of the highlights in the park include the Japanese Tea Garden, the Children’s Carrousel and the California Academy of Sciences which includes an aquarium, planetarium and natural history museum. Although entrance to the park is free, some of the park attractions do charge an entrance fee.

Exploring Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz

Bustling and often overcrowded, Fisherman’s Wharf offers shops, restaurants, a weekly Farmers Market, and of course a chance to photograph the hulking sea lions at Pier 39. One of the most popular destinations in the city, Alcatraz Island (also known as “The Rock”) can also be reached from here by boat.

Set in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz has a rich and varied history. Most well known as a maximum security prison, the island also has the distinction of housing the first lighthouse and US fort on the West Coast and is home to protected bird colonies. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour or self guided audio tour of the prison which was once home to the likes of Al Capone and Robert Shroud, the famous “Birdman of Alcatraz”. The spectacular Aquarium of the Bay, with over 20,000 aquatic animals, is also conveniently located next to Pier 39.

Riding Cable Cars to Chinatown

One way to get around in San Francisco is by the impressive network of 130-year-old cable cars that negotiate the steep hills. Though not the quickest, the cable cars offer a unique way to travel and the open sides allow for great photo opportunities. Catch a cable car through the various neighbourhoods, stopping for a stroll in the city’s historic Chinatown, the largest outside of Asia. Restaurants, shops and fresh food stalls rub shoulders with temples and museums such as the Chinese Historical Society of America,and offer a tantalising blend of sights, smells and sounds.

Visiting The Legion of Honor and Mission Dolores

For those seeking more history and culture, don’t forget the Legion of Honor. With a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city, the building is home to 4,000 years worth of ancient and European art and sculpture, including Rodin’s famous Thinker that dominates the Beaux-Arts building’s entrance. Another integral part of San Franciscan history is the Mission Dolores (or Misión San Francisco de Asís), the oldest building in the city, founded in 1776 and nestled in the heart of the Mission district. Beautiful stained glass, a tiny museum and the cemetery can all be explored.

Planning a Visit to San Francisco

Much of San Francisco and its attractions can be reached by public transit or by car, but it is also an easy city to explore on foot. From museums to churches, forests to islands, there is something for everyone. For the most economic way to sightsee in the city, try the Go San Francisco card which provides visitors with preferential access and a range of discounts.