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Best Things to Do in Chinatown San Francisco (Approx Top 10)


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Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to a day of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco. San Francisco truly has one of the best Chinatowns in the country, and I say this as someone from New York City, which has a pretty decent Chinatown of its own.

On this San Francisco itinerary, we’re going to eat, walk, admire, and learn our way through this fabulous and historic neighborhood. And after we do all that, we’re going to leave Chinatown for some fine art and an even finer dinner! We’ve got tons to do, so let’s not waste any more time!

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

Best Things to Do in Chinatown San Francisco

Where to Stay?

Location is so important in San Francisco. That’s why I recommend spending your nights at the Cartwright Hotel. It’s located right by Union Square so it’s in a convenient location right near the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco, it has free wifi, coffee makers, and an airport shuttle, and it might be haunted! What more could you want?

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

While the hotel doesn’t provide breakfast, it has a great place for breakfast just a short walk away. I’m talking about the Sutter Street Cafe. This tiny spot makes an amazing, gooey bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, which is high praise coming from me because I am from New York City, and we have the best bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches in the world. (Although for this itinerary, you might not want a big breakfast because we have a ton of Chinatown eats ahead of us.)

If you’d like to join me at the Cartwright, just click here. If you want to find deals on hundreds of hotel rooms in San Francisco, just click here. This search engine will help you find the best hotel for your taste and budget.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

Best Things to Do in Chinatown San Francisco

Shopping List

  • An excellent small cell charger so you can keep taking pictures of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco
  • My favorite guidebook to San Francisco, including Chinatown
  • My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
  • Want to learn how I saved enough money to travel 16 weeks a year? Check out my top secret How to Afford Travel digital system.
  • I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by a wayward rocket ship during your day of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco.
best things to do in chinatown san francisco

Best Things to Do in Chinatown San Francisco

Morning: Chinatown Food Tour

San Francisco’s Chinatown is gorgeous, but it doesn’t take up half the city or anything. So we probably won’t spend the entire day here. But we will want to spend the morning and some of the afternoon exploring all the wonderful food this neighborhood has to offer.

But if you go exploring the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco on your own, or even with a trusted companion, you won’t be able to find all the delicious eats by yourself. And even if you can, the portions will be too large for you to try more than one of two things.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

That’s why I recommend booking this wonderful food tour I took of Chinatown when I was in San Francisco. You’ll get to try all the amazing foods anybody could possibly want, and you’ll still have room for dinner. After all, San Francisco has some of the most amazing food in the world right here.

You can go ahead and book this Chinatown food tour for yourself by clicking here. Then get ready for…

Approximately Top 5: Chinatown San Francisco

best things to do in chinatown san francisco
1) Baked Goods!

Our guide greeted us with breakfast, which is my favorite way for any guide to greet me. These two goodies came from the famous New Hollywood bakery in Chinatown, and we each got our own bag. I’m sorry my photo doesn’t look better, but it’s hard to take a picture with one hand while you’re holding pastries in a plastic bag in the other.

The first treat was pork bun that was comfortably stuffed with chopped meat, but there was also a little bit of sweetness, which goes well with pork, so it doesn’t feel that weird for breakfast. Then there was a green onion twisty bread, which is what this bakery is famous for. It also had a pleasant savory-sweet quality, and the bread is nice and light, so this treat won’t glob up your tummy too much. We still have plenty of eating ahead of us!

best things to do in chinatown san francisco
2) Moon Cakes

Our next, still breakfast-y, stop is at the Eastern Bakery, which is famous for its mooncakes. These cakes are traditionally eaten during the Autumn Festival, but this bakery is so famous for them that they serve them year round. They grind their own flour to make the pastry, which is one reason they are so special.

In fact, people order these in China because their moon cakes are considered the best. The dough is incredibly light, and the filling tasted like sweet red beans–delicious! I was glad that the food tour only served part of a moon cake because we still have tons of food to go, and I don’t think I could have eaten another one.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco
3) Peking Duck

We’ve finally finished breakfast, so it’s time for lunch to begin! Our next stop is at a Chinese restaurant called Grant Place Restaurant, even though it’s not on Grant Place. Our guide taught us a special, secret way to signal for more tea, but you’ll have to take the tour to find out what it is.

As for the food, we had green beans, which were just like the dried, sauteed string beans I love to order at Chinese restaurants in NYC. They’re supposed to be snappy and a little spicy, but not gloopy, which these were. Then we had pork and shrimp dumplings, which were light and easy to eat in one bite.

But the best was the Peking duck with crispy skin! This truly is a dish fit for an emperor. They were served with fluffy little buns to put the duck in, which just made the duck more fun to eat. Everyone on the group liked the duck the best of all the dishes we had this day.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco
4) Fortune Cookies

We’ve still got the second half of our lunch coming, so it’s probably good that our next stop of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco is for fortune cookies! But this isn’t just any fortune cookie. It’s the freshly made wonders at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. I bet you’ve never seen a fortune cookie before it gets folded up before, have you? Well, now is your chance.

You actually get your own present on the tour because you can write a fortune and the factory will put it in a cookie for you. So if you are traveling with a loved one, it’s a cute way to send a message. I was traveling alone, so my message was for myself. It was slightly less surprising that way, but that’s fine!

best things to do in chinatown san francisco
5) Hunan House

Our final food tasting of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco was at Hunan House, where we had one classic Chinese-American dish and one classic Chinese dish. The Chinese-American dish was lo mein noodles, which was invented here in the US. (There is a Cantonese dish called lo mein, but it is totally different.) This lo mein was tasty because there were fun veggies stirred in with the noodles, and the sauce wasn’t too heavy.

But even better than lo mein were the potstickers, which have been served in China for hundreds of years. The legend goes that the chef burned his dumplings for a great lord by accident and decided to pretend that he had done it to create a special dish to honor the lord. Everyone loved the taste, and nobody’s head got cut off. That’s what I call a good day.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco
6) Tea Tasting

You’re probably thinking to yourself, UGH! How can I possibly eat any more food? Well, first of all, I will say that the food tour gave great portions of everything, so I was pleasantly full, but not green at the gills when the food tour was over. Just don’t eat breakfast before the tour and you should have no problem.

But don’t worry if you’re full because the last stop on the food tour is going to be a tea tasting at Vital Tea Leaf. We got to drink tea with the shop’s expert, who was very hilarious. He also gave us a lesson about what tea is, insisting that tea is a plant, and that if you are having mint or chamomile, this isn’t really tea.

best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco

He then let us try all sorts of different kinds of tea. Some were made with pure tea leaves, and some were made with tea + jasmine and other flowers. The tea came from the mountains in China, and had a wonderful flavor with no bitterness. You can buy some after the tour, but there’s no pressure. I didn’t get any, but now I kind of wish I had.

And that’s the end of the food tour and the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco! There were tons of secrets and fun facts about Chinatown I didn’t share with you, so you can just book the tour yourself by clicking here to find out what they are!

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

Best Things to Do in Chinatown San Francisco

Afternoon: SFMOMA

OK, I warned you that we’d be leaving Chinatown during our day of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco. Are you ready? Are you emotionally prepared? Good! Because we’re just walking a mile away down Kearny Street to SFMOMA, arguably San Francisco’s best contemporary art museum.

SFMOMA is actually one of the largest contemporary art museums in the entire United States. If you’re looking to spend an afternoon digesting Chinese food and contemplating the meaning of existence, this is the place to go. I can’t promise to understand all the art, but I can promise I’ll be pleasantly confused alongside you. I will also share with you…

Three Fun Facts: SFMOMA

best things to do in chinatown san francisco
1) What is Contemporary Art?

So sometimes people get mixed up between contemporary art and modern art. But I tend to associate modern art with 20th century art, whereas contemporary art means, like what’s happening right now, man…So don’t go to SFMOMA expected to see any Kandinsky or Chagall. The art is mostly a lot more recent than that, and it changes all the time.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

One of the things that makes SFMOMA interesting is that a lot of the art is responding to contemporary events. My favorite exhibit when I was there was called Close to Home: Creativity in Crisis, and it was about art that people made when they were stuck at home during the pandemic.

This work you can see above was made using handkerchiefs to make camera-less photgraphs, which certainly made me think of all that sneezing and coughing. But it’s interesting to see how the artist made the handkerchiefs look like photos and their negatives. Seeing the colorful images opposite their darkened counterparts was reminiscent of all the people we lost during the pandemic.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco
2) What’s the Most Popular Work?

That would probably be One-way colour tunnel by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. Everyone at the museum was obsessed with getting inside and taking as many photos as possible. See how different it looks from another angle?

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

It’s magic, I tell you! Color magic! It was probably a good idea that when I visited, they were only letting one group of people enter the tunnel at a time, and you only had one minute to explore. But my pictures sure came out a lot better because I didn’t have to share the tunnel with anyone!

best things to do in chinatown san francisco
3) What’s the most San Francisco work of art?

Debatable, but I think the section on rainbow-themed art is incredibly San Francisco. After all, the rainbow-colored Pride flag was created in San Francisco, and SF is home to one of the most vibrant LGBT+ communities in the world.

Don’t miss Jasper Johns’ Color Numerical Series, which shows numbers that have been painted over by a wide array of rainbow shades. Each painting has its own surprises too: if you get close to the number 7, you can see a little replica of the Mona Lisa.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco
24 Hour Treasure

I was fond of this piece by Joel Shapiro, entitled Untitled. Even though it is made of bronze, it reminds me of the Tin Woodman in The Wizard of Oz, and that is one of my favorite books. Sculpture is like magic to me; how does this figure stay up? It looks like it’s about to get up and start walking around the room any second, and yet it never moves.

Amazing! Definitely one of my favorite things I saw during my day of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

Best Things to Do in Chinatown San Francisco

Evening: Dinner at Spruce

We had so much wonderful Chinese food this morning and afternoon, so I hoped you saved room for dinner! We’re heading to Spruce, which is one of the most elegant restaurants in San Francisco. If you’re looking to real like a real fancy lady, this is where you should go.

Spruce isn’t exactly one of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco because it’s not in Chinatown, but I felt it was the perfect end to this 24 hours in San Francisco itinerary.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

Just like any proper fancy lady restaurant, we’re going to start with an amuse bouche–in this case turnip with butter and green goddess dressing. This was the perfect combination of French and California fusion to start our meal.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

I knew I wanted meat for the main course, so I decided to balance that out with something light and delicate for the appetizer. That’s why I ordered the Heirloom melon and painted serpent cucumber. I had never eaten painted serpent cucumber before, and I wanted to know if it was a snake that looked like a cucumber or a cucumber that looked like a snake. But apparently it was technically a melon. Words are odd sometimes.

The Painted Serpent Cucumber does have a very mild flavor, and the melon was the same way, so the dish was very refreshing. Combined with the preserved watermelon for sweet-sour and the almonds for salty-bitter, the salad managed to be light and complex all at once.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

But then Spruce spoiled my plans for a light start to the meal by giving me this foie gras on the house. No, I did NOT tell them I am a travel blogger, and I book my reservations under a different name anyway. But lots of times I get treated extra special because I am a solo diner.

This foie gras was paired with blackberry, which was perfect. Foie gras is so rich that it goes well with a sweet fruit, but I had never had it with blackberry before! And even though foie gras is intense, this portion was so small that I still had plenty of room for my main course, which was…

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

DUCK! Duck is absolutely the best of all fancy lady main courses. And look at those fab colors! I would like shoes in that shade of plum. This dish was surprising because it’s pretty conventional to have a duck breast with stone fruit, and this was served with plum.

But then they added you more complexity by serving it with these Tokyo turnips and the dark forbidden rice from China which I had never had with duck before. It reminded me of the delicious Peking duck I had eaten earlier that day, which put a big smile on my face. (But I assume that I’m wanted dead or alive by the general duck population for having eaten two of their brethren in one day.)

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

And for dessert, we’re going with pure decadence and a Devil’s food cake. I always think of Devil’s food cake as being kind of trashy, but this was such a glamorous and delicious version. They even replaced the kind of frosting you get on a Ho Ho with white chocolate mousse.

And the raspberries on top helped turn a rich dessert into something more summery. The perfect end to our day of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco!

best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco

Best Things to Do in Chinatown San Francisco

How to Get There?

By Car: This is an easy way to get to your day of the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco, if you are coming from somewhere else in California, especially in Northern California. California definitely has one of the best atmospheres for driving in the entire country. And of course, if you have a car and a designed driver, you can head on out to wine country in Napa as a day trip from San Francisco.

However, I don’t know how to drive, so this wasn’t an option for me. Fortunately Uber is widely available in San Francisco. If you need to rent a car, you can use the search engine Expedia to find the best price from the available car rental companies.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

By Plane: Fortunately, there is an airport in San Francisco! Since I live in New York City and don’t know how to drive, I found that flying was one of the easiest ways to get to the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco. (Again, I recommend using a search engine like Expedia to search for the best prices on flights.)

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

By Bus or Train: You can use Flixbus to get to San Francisco from nearby cities like Las Vegas. It’s a pretty cheap ride–if you are car-free and coming from a fairly nearby destination, this might be the way for you. I have never gotten to San Francisco any way other than by car.

Amtrak also has a train that goes to San Francisco from Chicago, which sounds like it might be fun! Check it out if you’re up for a train adventure.

best things to do in chinatown san francisco

That’s the Best Things to Do in Chinatown San Francisco

What do you think are the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco? What’s your favorite fancy lady restaurant? And am I now the enemy of all mortal ducks? Email me at [email protected] and let me know.

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend one day in SF. Once you have finished seeing all the best things to do in Chinatown San Francisco, there’s still so much to explore.

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