San Francisco Sights to See - Chinatown

Did you know that there are over six million people in the San Francisco area?

Would you be surprised if I were to tell you that 750,000 of these people can be found in the Bay Area itself?

Didn't think you would.

Nestled within the confines of the City by the Bay, is a special area which contains a small but unique group of people which adds a special flavor to that teeming sea of individuals. That special area is an enclave known around the world as Chinatown.

Most large U.S. cities, and many in other countries, have an area that is called 'Chinatown'. However, even including such diversely populated cities as New York, the most authentic is unquestionably recognized as that special spot in San Francisco.

San Francisco's Chinatown is an area near North Beach, bounded roughly by Grant Avenue and Bush Street, Broadway, and Larkin Street. Within these boundaries lives a population made up of the decendents of 19th century immigrants from China. They literally arrived by the boatload, seeking freedom and fortune during the post-1849 Gold Rush and the building of the Transcontinental Railroads.

Home to the largest Asian population outside China, the exact number is virtually impossible to state. As a consequence of legislation to limit Chinese immigration via the Chinese Exclusion Act, and other social factors, the residents often avoid particpating in the census. Passed in 1882, and extended and revised several times, the Act wasn't completely voided until 1965.

Today the area still holds many people, shops, temples and housing that would not look odd to a visitor from bygone days. Even so, the fact is that virtually everything you can see on a visit to modern Chinatown in San Francisco was rebuilt from scratch after the great earthquake of 1906.

Finding a good meal in Chinatown is not as difficult as it may appear at first, as along Grant Street there are souvenir shops and restaurants with English translations on the menu. Those not yet fully prepared for complete immersion in the culture may be more comfortable here. One block west on Stockton the visitor can find the real Chinatown -  crowded, noisy and bursting at the seams with genuine Chinese food and wares.

It's delightful!

Among the many restaurants in the area there are those that serve primarily tourists, and others where completely authentic Chinese food can be had. New Asia at 772 Pacific Avenue may be one of the few that has managed to do both. You can give them a call at 415-391-6666, for more information.

Here too can be found the heavily visited, and highly praised, Mee Mee Bakery (at 1328 Stockton between Broadway and Vallejo). Mee Mee's is reputed to be the originator of the fortune cookie. Looking around, one can easily believe it. The wonderful smells and sights make it a definite front runner for that honor.

But despite its allure for tourists seeking interesting experiences, Chinatown has much more than food and colorful trinkets. These dozen square blocks house a busy hospital, highly rated Chinese and American schools, newspaper publishers and even tennis courts.

On Waverly Street visitors can find a "joss" (good luck) paper store or see authentic Chinese architecture. The street still bears signs of its former existence as home to opium dens and brothels, but only architecturally. Many were housed under pagoda style roofs of intricate design.

Socially, among themselves, the residents mingle and trade stories about when you could get a haircut for 15 cents. Listen carefully and, amid the background noise, you'll hear the outpourings of one of the neighborhood music clubs.

Don't leave Chinatown with a visit to the Buddha's Universal Church. One of the younger structures (it was dedicated in 1962), the concrete and steel, marble and wood exterior holds many unusual sights. The gold leaf and mosaic tiles on the interior lend a cool contrast to the teak paneled walls. Finally, the rooftop garden makes for a stellar completion to a visit to San Francisco's Chinatown.

Bring your walking shoes and be prepared to take back lots of gifts and a full stomach. For tourist or local, Chinatown is the real deal.

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Page Updated 4:02 PM Sunday 9/15/2013