8.6 out of 10

Chinatown

Ranked 5th best neighborhood in San Francisco
37.794045077391 -122.407087721305
Great for
  • Eating Out
  • Shopping Options
  • Internet Access
  • Neighborly Spirit
  • Nightlife
Not great for
  • Parking
  • Parks & Recreation
  •  
  •  
  •  
Who lives here?
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Retirees
  • Tourists

Reviews

4/5
2yrs+

"Too much to do in Chinatown"

Locals know the good spots in Chinatown and tourists know Grant Avenue. If you are looking for the plastic buddhas and cheap souvenirs than you will want to stay along Grant Ave, but if you are wanting to experiece genuine Chinatown, venture off the beaten path.

Stockton Street (between Columbus and Broadway) is where you will find live markets and much produce. Saturday is the busiest day, when most locals do their shopping. The live market is not for the squeamish either. Your eyes may take a gander on chickens and turtles who's destiny knows its end.

Chinatown Gate marks the grand entrance to Grant Avenue's Chinatown and makes for some great photo-ops. Be sure to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and watch cookies being made. You can also pick up a bag of 40 cookies for around three dollars.

Chinatown explodes with cultural museums, churches, and temples. But, your biggest job while there is narrowing down an eatery from some of the best restaurants to choose from in the Bay Area. Whether you want Shanghai-style noodles from the House of Nanking, or buns and dumplings from Y. Ben House, you are guaranteed to go away from Chinatown with a full stomach.
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Retirees
4/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 4/5
  • Safe & Sound 2/5
  • Clean & Green 3/5
  • Pest Free 3/5
  • Peace & Quiet 2/5
  • Eating Out 5/5
  • Nightlife 5/5
  • Parks & Recreation 4/5
  • Shopping Options 3/5
  • Gym & Fitness 4/5
  • Internet Access 4/5
  • Lack of Traffic 2/5
  • Cost of Living 4/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 4/5
  • Public Transport 3/5
  • Medical Facilities 4/5
  • Schools 4/5
  • Childcare 3/5
2yrs+

"A nice place to hangout with friends"

Chinatown is a busy tourist place.Its street is full with people and everyone is busy in their business which depends upon tourists.People can be seen buying watches, purses etc. They all enjoy shopping and their food. Streets as well as shops are full with buyers they like to buy fruits ,roots etc.They also buy rice bowls, chopsticks etc.Chinese food is very much famous and tasty. They have several restaurants more than 250 and they all serve healthy Chinese food . Its a busy place if you want you can do shopping whole day and eat and relax.
Recommended for
  • Families with kids
4/5
2yrs+

"The ultimate tourist experience"

Who can visit San Francisco, without checking out Chinatown? I loved visiting this neighborhood and eating dim sum on Sunday.

However, honestly, I wouldn’t want to live in this neighborhood. It’s a bit too overwhelming for me personally. In fact, I didn't get to see a lot of the homes when I visited, I just checked out the shops and restaurants.

This is the largest Chinatown that exists outside of Asia! You definitely get the experience of visiting another country. If you situate yourself in the middle of Chinatown, you definitely start to feel as though you are no longer in the United States. Even the banks look Chinese. For example, if you are going to Bank of America, you will see that this institution is ironically also in a building adorned with dragons and medallions.

If you visit Chinatown, be sure to spend lots of time shopping. You can find all kinds of interesting decorative items that you could not find in just any store. There is also a cool Fortune Cookie Factory that you can visit. It's free to take a tour, and you can buy a big bag of fortune cookies for just a few dollars.

I did find parking a bit stressful. If you visit this part of town, you are probably just going to need to resign yourself to paying to park in a lot.
Recommended for
  • Professionals
3/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 2/5
  • Safe & Sound 3/5
  • Clean & Green 2/5
  • Pest Free 3/5
  • Peace & Quiet 1/5
  • Eating Out 5/5
  • Nightlife 2/5
  • Parks & Recreation 2/5
  • Shopping Options 4/5
  • Gym & Fitness 3/5
  • Internet Access 3/5
  • Lack of Traffic 1/5
  • Cost of Living 3/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 3/5
  • Public Transport 3/5
  • Medical Facilities 3/5
  • Schools 3/5
  • Childcare 3/5
2yrs+

"Lose Yourself, But Don't Stay"

Wandering the small, colorful and crowded streets of Chinatown can make you feel like you’ve escaped far away to an exotic locale. Cantonese and Mandarin are overheard more often than English. Delicious smells waft out of tiny dim sum restaurants, stacks of beautiful produce bulge from street side stands, and an enormous array of shops sell everything from marble statues, to Chinese herbs, paper fans, woks, and furniture.

Chinatown enjoys a superb location—sandwiched between Nob Hill, Union Square, North Beach and the Financial District. During the day, Chinatown is an exciting place to shop, grab a bite to eat at one of the hundreds of restaurants, and browse curious and dusty shops. At night, Chinatown mostly shuts down by 9PM—except for a few restaurants and bars and the shops near Union Square. For the adventurous, it’s relatively safe to wander the dimly lit streets and admire the way giant red lanterns sway in the breeze under streetlights. On chilly nights, one can warm up at a few interesting dive bars—including Li Po and the Buddha Bar. For a more classy experience, take the elevator up to the Empress of China Restaurant’s bar with an exquisite view of the Bay Bridge and North Beach.

I have never lived in Chinatown, but over the last decade I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the neighborhood. A friend of mine who lived there complained that the neighborhood businesses start very early (like 4AM) and the street noise is very loud—with trucks unloading and people yelling out orders. Also, parking is really rough. I highly recommend taking public transportation or walking for any visit to Chinatown.
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
5/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 4/5
  • Safe & Sound 3/5
  • Clean & Green 2/5
  • Pest Free 4/5
  • Peace & Quiet 1/5
  • Eating Out 5/5
  • Nightlife 5/5
  • Parks & Recreation 3/5
  • Shopping Options 5/5
  • Gym & Fitness 3/5
  • Internet Access 5/5
  • Lack of Traffic 1/5
  • Cost of Living 3/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 3/5
  • Public Transport 4/5
  • Medical Facilities 4/5
  • Schools 4/5
  • Childcare 5/5
2yrs+

"One of the greatest places in San Francisco"

There’s so much to Chinatown that I have no idea where to begin. I guess I’ll begin by traffic since you’ll have to either walk into Chinatown or wait through heavy traffic for a good 10-15 minutes to get to the other side, on a non-busy day or in the mornings, it still is pretty busy. Traffic in Chinatown is crazy, not only do my fellow Asians jaywalk constantly, but also because drivers have to be extra careful in Chinatown as there are always trucks loading and unloading their goods, that and the hundreds and hundreds of pedestrians walking around every day. Chinatown definitely is the place to go to get some legit, good, and delicious Chinese food. When I was little I’d come to Chinatown just about every day the baked goods were good then, and still good now. That’s how great it is. Tourists all come to Chinatown as well since it’s the place to tour if you ever go to San Francisco. However, I’ve seen several times at some restaurants, big and small, where tourists, or rather, non-Asian/Chinese folks get slightly worse service than the majority ethnicity in the neighborhood. It could be because of “helping out your own kind first” kind of thing, but definitely do not expect to get top notch service at the restaurants in Chinatown, they also cater to a ton of people every day as well. There are many places to sightsee in Chinatown, for those who frequently go there may have seen it so many time that they don’t even bother to notice it anymore, but for tourists, it really is something special. There are both land sights to check out, but also the various murals around the Chinatown as well. All of Chinatown is on a hill, which makes it really hard to get around when there’s a ton of people to get through on the sidewalk as well as holding bags and bags of groceries. On Saturdays, there will be literally tons and tons of little kids to high school kids bursting out of a building, specifically Chinese school. They usually leave Chinese school at around 12pm-1pm, which adds even more traffic to Chinatown because of the extra pedestrians and cars (for the parents who pick up their children). Although I’ve never really explored Chinatown during the night I’d expect it to be not as safe and a majority of the shops and restaurants to be locked up. In the end, Chinatown is definitely the place to visit if you haven’t yet.
Recommended for
  • Retirees
3/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 4/5
  • Safe & Sound 4/5
  • Clean & Green 3/5
  • Pest Free 2/5
  • Peace & Quiet 2/5
  • Eating Out 5/5
  • Nightlife 3/5
  • Parks & Recreation 2/5
  • Shopping Options 3/5
  • Gym & Fitness 4/5
  • Internet Access 4/5
  • Lack of Traffic 2/5
  • Cost of Living 1/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 3/5
  • Public Transport 4/5
  • Medical Facilities 2/5
  • Schools 3/5
  • Childcare 2/5
2yrs+

"Chinatown - A unique area to live with lots of activity going on"

Chinatown is a very noisy and active neighborhood of San Francisco. There are a lot of people living in this neighborhood but it's a friendly place. It seems that many of the neighbor's families have lived in the area for generations. The shopping and restaurants are incredible. Chinatown is very walkable and it's never a dull moment living here. The buildings in Chinatown tend to be very old. Some are quite well cared for, others have only remained because of the high cost to inhabit this part of town. Many immigrants still flock to this neighborhood, but there are all different ethnicities who live here.
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
4/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 5/5
  • Safe & Sound 3/5
  • Clean & Green 2/5
  • Pest Free 2/5
  • Peace & Quiet 3/5
  • Eating Out 2/5
  • Nightlife 2/5
  • Parks & Recreation 2/5
  • Shopping Options 3/5
  • Gym & Fitness 2/5
  • Internet Access 4/5
  • Lack of Traffic 2/5
  • Cost of Living 4/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 3/5
  • Public Transport 4/5
  • Medical Facilities 3/5
  • Schools 4/5
  • Childcare 4/5
2yrs+

"Sensory Overload"

A decade ago, the city and Asian food shops (mostly Chinese shops selling live animals like turtles for use in cooking Chinese delicacies) were locked in a conflict that pitted Western Ethics against Eastern cultural norms. The ban on live animal sales in food markets passed but it's always really bugged me. First, it's part of Chinatowns allure. Second, if the state's concern was nonnative species being released, shouldn't they have banned their import by pet stores? Who is more likely to get released into the wild: the pet frog or the food frog? Seems a little fishy to me.

I respect Chinatown and love to visit because of its history, vivacity, and, since I teach English and read voraciously, its strong presence as a setting in some of my favorite literature: The Joyluck Club, Gus Lee's memoir China Boy to name a couple.

When taking my kids, I mulled over past trips and realized that taking a stroller was not an option. I put my daughter in our Kelty backpack carrier and my husband ended up with our son on his shoulders. Bustling is the word. On a busy Saturday, you sort of feel like flotsam floating in a sea of people, moving with the tide.

Sights I love: roasted ducks in window displays, trays of mooncakes stacked up in bakeries, closet-sized shops chock-full of everything a shameless tourist could want: cameras, batteries, SF clothing, replicas of Chinese houses or temples, little jade animals, and the ever-undulating see of people, some with bamboo hats and some carrying baskets of produce on top of their heads, rows of veggies and ingredients at the market on Stockton (Saturday afternoons).

Smells I Don't So Much Care for: wafts of cooking oil, garbage (not a big deal for the most part, but just on alleys or after the Mid-Autumn Festival or New Years, when it's been really busy), and the scent of plastic goods (baskets, shoes, toys) freshly unwrapped from plastic packaging after traveling from China.

Smells I love: Waverly Street (Character in The Joyluck Club was named for this street). Lots of cooking aromas. Deliciousness for the nose. The inside of any herb shop, like Tran's Trading Company on Washington Street, and the buttery baking smells of egg tarts coming out of the Golden Gate Bakery (long lines here).

Sights to note: (There are a lot). I just want to focus on one of my favorite places to hang out: Tien Hau temple on Waverly. Every floor looks different - it's a quixotic mix of anachronistic decor elements. My kids liked it when I took them, though staying quiet was a challenge. It's free to get in, but we usually donate five dollars or so.

Tasty Tidbits: This is a tough one because I am not a huge fan of Chinese food. I like a mooncake or two (or wife cake with lotus paste). There's the famous egg tart at GBC people drool over and once we got a two beef curry pies for lunch. Those beef pies are probably what midwestern bierocks dream of being.
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Retirees
FlowerGirl
FlowerGirl Cool review! Loved it!
2yrs+
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4/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 4/5
  • Safe & Sound 3/5
  • Clean & Green 2/5
  • Pest Free 4/5
  • Peace & Quiet 3/5
  • Eating Out 3/5
  • Nightlife 3/5
  • Parks & Recreation 3/5
  • Shopping Options 3/5
  • Gym & Fitness 2/5
  • Internet Access 3/5
  • Lack of Traffic 3/5
  • Parking 1/5
  • Cost of Living 3/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 3/5
  • Public Transport 4/5
  • Medical Facilities 4/5
  • Schools 3/5
  • Childcare 4/5
2yrs+

"Chinatown: A Hidden SF Gem"

Chinatown is one of San Francisco's hidden gems. Most people don't know what to expect or what to look for and it can kind of be intimidating as a visitor. I've lived in San Francisco for over 10 years and over the past few months have really dived in to explore San Francisco's Chinatown.

The buildings and side alleys in Chinatown are probably the most fascinating. Grant Street is the main strip and it is mostly geared toward tourists. If you are looking for cheap SF souvenirs then stick to Grant Street. But for other cool sights, you can explore some of the side streets and the alleys. For example, the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory allows you to stop in and see how the fortune cookies are made and the manual process of placing the fortunes in each cookie. You can also buy a bag while you are there. Tips are much appreciated since this is a free visit. Located at 56 Ross Alley in Chinatown (between Washington & Jackson Sts and Stockton & Grant).

The essence of Chinatown can be found in the architecture as you look up when you walk through it. Full of mosques and temples and beautifully colored balconies decorated in ornate colors and flags, a delight to see.

Three best places I've eaten at so far: Oriental Pearl restaurant (760 Clay Street between Grant and Keary), R&G Lounge (631 Kearny), House of Nanking (919 Kearny), and Jai Yun (680 Clay St. at Kearny St.).
Pros
  • good for shopping
  • nice architecture
  • great for walking
  • for artists and art lovers
Cons
  • not for the uptight
  • a little dirty
  • not for girls needing attention
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Retirees
  • Tourists
  • Students
4/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 3/5
  • Safe & Sound 3/5
  • Clean & Green 2/5
  • Pest Free 1/5
  • Peace & Quiet 1/5
  • Eating Out 5/5
  • Nightlife 4/5
  • Parks & Recreation 3/5
  • Shopping Options 5/5
  • Gym & Fitness 3/5
  • Internet Access 4/5
  • Lack of Traffic 1/5
  • Cost of Living 3/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 3/5
  • Public Transport 4/5
  • Medical Facilities 4/5
  • Schools 4/5
  • Childcare 4/5
2yrs+

"A Disorienting Journey into Past, Present, and Future"

A neighborhood can exist on many levels: its actual streets and buildings; the people who live there today, as well as those who inhabited its past; the defining businesses and activities that bring order and purpose; and the underlying “culture of place” that holds it all together. Chinatown is all these things and then some: a somewhat trite tourist destination; a shopping district hawking every consumer electronic imaginable; and a living museum of gaudily painted storefronts and historic relics and brand-new high-rises housing the layers of residents who enliven it today. It is as old as the city’s Barbary Coast, and yet as modern in some respects as the latest Financial District skyscraper. It is as crass as a cheap souvenir and as inscrutable as a street sign rendered in calligraphic characters. It can be as cold as a merchant’s shrug or as warm and alluring as the smell of some savory dim sum recently set out on a counter display. It is at once a place looked back on, tolerated in its current chaos, and seen as the great hope for a community as it seeks to define itself as well as its legacy to San Francisco.

Much has been written about Chinatown’s history, but the most succinct thing one can say today is summed up in one sentence: The old Chinatown of the 19th century was completely obliterated by the great fire following the 1906 earthquake that devastated most of San Francisco. In rebuilding, property owners used brick and steel to create the substantial buildings of today’s neighborhood, many of them adorned with a kind of Americanized chinoiserie that features pagoda trim at the roofline and doorways sculpted with dragons and other iconic symbols. The elaborate Chinatown Gate at Bush Street and Grant Avenue is a fairly recent addition, having been unveiled in 1970, but its green-tiled roofs, sculpted tiers, and animal shapes are inspired by the architectural detailing up and down Grant and throughout the area, notably the old telephone exchange building on Washington Street and the buildings housing the Chinese Six Companies and Charity Cultural Services Center on Stockton.

Nevertheless, what exists today is but an echo of a completely different place, a complex of streets and passageways alive with both the mundane and exotic. The neighborhood’s small lanes and alleys were once filthy places, rife with opium dens and gambling parlors, prostitution, bribes, chicanery, and all the vice you might find in a penny dreadful novel of the late 19th century. Today, they are surprisingly clean and peaceful, pleasant respites from the hustle-bustle of the sidewalks lining Grant and Stockton. But the influence of the Chinatown of the past on what the area has become today cannot be dismissed: In Chinatown, things were and likely always will be done differently.

What sets Chinatown apart from the rest of the city and what makes it seem so foreign today is rooted in history. The first wave of Chinese immigrants that poured into San Francisco between 1852 and 1882 (invariably male laborers) worked hard to establish economic bases of power, and they formed associations, or tongs, that helped them interface with the English-speaking world. These associations became even more powerful as anti-Chinese sentiment in San Francisco (and nationally) manifested in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which effectively halted immigration from China until its repeal in 1943. A union of tongs—the so-called Chinese Six Companies—kept tight control over the Chinese community until the mid-20th century, when immigration rules were relaxed and Chinese-Americans became more assimilated into mainstream society.

One thing Chinatown is and always has been: busy. The neighborhood hums with human activity, people earning a living, spending their money, trying to improve their lot, get ahead, and then move on. To paraphrase Calvin Coolidge, the business of Chinatown is business. Hundreds of them, from shops that sell roots and herbs (essentials in Chinese medicine) or hawk live animals (a trade that continues, despite being banned in early 2010, under the counter at many of the neighborhood’s fish and meat markets) to the dim sum kitchens and the factory that supplies hundreds of local Chinese eateries with fortune cookies to the banks that finance the purchase of an apartment or building or an entire city lot. Much of this business is conducted by merchants who use an abacus rather than a cash register, and many shop owners accept unorthodox payment methods (bartering is common, as are IOUs), contributing to the distinctly foreign feel of the place.

Chinatown remains San Francisco’s most densely populated neighborhood, and among the most densely populated places in the entire United States. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates its population at more than 100,000 residents—about two-thirds of the ethnic Chinese population overall in the city—although not everyone is ethnic Chinese. (About 30 percent of the neighborhood’s residents are Asians of a different ethnicity or white, African American, or of mixed race.) Chinatown also harbors one of the poorer middle class enclaves, with a median household income of $42,153. Pretty much everyone here rents.

To say that Grant Avenue is Chinatown’s heart is accurate, though it leaves out the neighborhood’s soul. True, the avenue houses many of the shops and eateries (Empress of China, Canton Bazaar, Buddha Lounge) that tourists can’t resist, along with the bulk of the chinoiserie-festooned buildings and the landmark (if somewhat gaudy) streetlamps and red-and-gold lanterns strung overhead. But the real neighborhood action is along the soul of Chinatown, Stockton Street, where locals shop for produce and fish and meat (including those live specimens that are supposedly banned). Most merchants don’t bother to translate their signs, and the regulars all hew to their version of who has the best produce or chicken or fish. To find yourself here on a Saturday morning is to experience the singular pleasure of being in a true Chinese market, the crush of people and merchandise and smells and sights almost overwhelming. But to miss this scene in favor of the more polite shops and restaurants along Grant is to miss the essence of Chinatown.

Portsmouth Square is another among Chinatown’s essentials. This landmark park situated on the neighborhood’s eastern extremity (and above an underground parking garage), near where the towers of the Financial District begin to loom upward, was formerly the city’s hub, a cluster of buildings surrounding Yerba Buena Cove on what used to be the edge of the bay (a line that by the late 1800s was pushed, via landfill and civil engineering, a half-mile east). In the 1840s and ’50s, the first San Franciscans gathered here to hear the news from incoming ships and perform civic functions (such as a memorial service for President Zachary Taylor). It was the site of the first public school in California, and where San Franciscans learned of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. Later, the area became the center of a notorious red-light district, then it was gradually subsumed into Chinatown proper. By the late 20th-century, the park had acquired its current look and feel, with recent additions of childrens’ play equipment, tables for Chinese chess, and a pedestrian walkway over Kearny Street that connects to the Hilton Chinese Culture Center. Across from the square, a block away, is the site of the old I-Hotel, a nexus for the Filipino community in the years before the old residence building was demolished. Today, a modern version of the hotel sits on Kearny and Jackson.

Among the many other monuments that add cultural significance and depth to the neighborhood is Old St. Mary’s Cathedral, whose cornerstone was laid in 1853. The church began as the seat of the Catholic faith in the Far West, but a new locale was chosen for the cathedral several decades later, when the Old Chinatown’s vice and corruption repelled many would-be parishioners. The church persevered, however, and was spared much damage in the 1906 quake, only to be gutted by the subsequent fire a day or so later. It was rebuilt by 1909 and began its outreach to the Chinese community shortly after. It is now home to one of the largest communities of Asian Catholics in the United States.

The Chinese Hospital is here, too, on Jackson between Powell and Stockton (in a modern 54-bed acute-care facility, next door to the historic building that served the Chinese community during the period when few other hospitals would) as well as the Chinatown YWCA on Clay Street, designed by the renowned architect Julia Morgan in 1932; it now houses the Chinese Historical Society of America.

You’d expect that such a densely populated area would be well-served by public transportation, and San Francisco’s MUNI system generally fills the bill. Though buses are the norm for most transit users, the Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde cable cars skirt the neighborhood’s western edge, both lines offering good access to Union Square at one end and Fisherman’s Wharf at the other. The Nos. 30 and 45 buses travel along Stockton to Union Square and the Caltrain Depot going south and to the Presidio and the Marina heading north. The Nos. 1, 10, and 12 cover the area on various streets going east and west. The proposed subway line here—the so-called Central Subway, an extension of the recently completed “T” line—would travel underground from just south of the I-80 viaduct to a station at Stockton and Washington streets, with various other stops along the way.

So much commerce and other human activity create congestion on Chinatown streets most of the day from dawn till well into the evening. Though Grant, Stockton, and other streets nearest the heaviest business traffic have parking meters, finding a spot can be difficult if not impossible, especially during early morning delivery periods. Even in the outlying areas (the equally congested North Beach, Jackson Square, and lower Nob and Russian Hills), attempting to secure on-street parking can be an exercise in frustration, if not futility. For those who live in the area, the city’s Department of Parking and Traffic has issued the “C” residential parking permit to alleviate the problem, though this only works if you’re able to find a spot and stay on it for longer than the normal one- or two-hour max (you still need to feed the meter if you’re parked in front of one).

Schools here are varied. Gordon J. Lau Elementary School on Clay Street is the obvious public school option here for K-5 (having earned a 7 out of 10 GreatSchools rating). Notre Dame des Victoires offers a K-8 private elementary school in the Catholic vein, and Central Chinese High School, the oldest Chinese school in the United States, has been turning out students bound for college or the trades since 1908. Otherwise, Gold Mountain Sagely Monastery offers instruction in Buddhist theology and meditation, as do a number of the temples on Waverly Place and elsewhere throughout the neighborhood.

Crime here is property centered, meaning there are fewer acts of violence compared to vandalism, thefts, burglaries, and robberies—all of which occur frequently, as do incidents of disturbing the peace—noise nuisances like rowdy bar and restaurant patrons and too-early/too-late deliveries. This being an urban environment, assaults do occur occasionall. Cyhinatown is also one neighborhood where the pernicious trend of car break-ins and auto thefts is on the rise, with numerous incidents occurring in any recent three-month period. But the area has escaped one inner-city scourge: There have been no homicides in the last three years.

Though Chinatown proper has engulfed it, a remnant of the city’s once considerable French community persists in Notre Dame des Victoires church, which, along with its K-8 school, still serves a predominantly French-speaking congregation and student body. St. Mary’s Square is a pleasant park that sits atop a parking garage just across California Street, one of those urban oases that, like Willie Woo Woo Wong Playground on Sacramento Street, give the neighborhood a little breathing room. This area also includes the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a splendid neoclassical pile that was once the headquarters of an insurance company. To say that the inn lives up to its name is evident in the exquisite, beautifully maintained façade: a study in classical architecture (and excellent good taste), complete with a statue-encrusted tympanum over the entry.

One down side: Real estate is still suffering in Chinatown—one of the Bay Area’s hardest hit in the economic downturn, with a 25 percent drop in the 2009-2010 period, according to Trulia. The area’s tightly controlled market (a holdover from the tong system) means that what is available is not often readily visible from the street. Condos are generally what sells, ranging from a small one bed/one bath at about $500,000 to a two-bedroom/two-bathroom with partial view on Powell for $1.5 million. Rentals, when available, are considered a deal: a studio on California and Joice was asking $1,100 a month, while a one-bedroom, one-bathroom on Sacramento and Waverly was going for $1,500 recently.

San Francisco’s Chinatown, one of the largest in the country and the biggest in the Bay Area, draws many people for many reasons. Whether they stay simply to have a meal and a shopping spree, to work, or to live is entirely a question of just how much intense urbanity and Chinese culture they’re looking for. It’s not for everyone, and those who do live here are happy as a result.
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
4/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 4/5
  • Safe & Sound 3/5
  • Clean & Green 3/5
  • Pest Free 4/5
  • Peace & Quiet 1/5
  • Eating Out 4/5
  • Nightlife 4/5
  • Parks & Recreation 2/5
  • Shopping Options 4/5
  • Gym & Fitness 2/5
  • Internet Access 4/5
  • Lack of Traffic 1/5
  • Parking 1/5
  • Cost of Living 5/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 3/5
  • Public Transport 4/5
  • Medical Facilities 4/5
  • Schools 3/5
  • Childcare 3/5
2yrs+

"My Lunch Spot"

Without a doubt this is the most famous Chinatown in North America. It is definitely a draw especially during Chinese New Year when it is packed—literally elbow to elbow, standing room only packed. You can also find lots of cheap stuff to buy here. I don’t have any idea if it is worth it or not, but there is a certain enjoyment in the bazaar--like feel of the place.
I wonder what it would be like living here, though? Would they think it was weird for an Anglo to try to move in? Are there listings? You would have to live over a storefront for sure. But it might be kind of cool.
The stats on Chinatown are pretty strange. Average income in most areas of Chinatown? Between $14K and $28 K. Average rent about $450. How is this possible in the heart of SF and smack next to areas where incomes are over $100K and rents over $2,000? Very strange—but it seems like most Chinatowns have similar sorts of numbers. I know LA has a Chinatown area that has numbers just like this. I don’t re
Pros
  • Cheap shopping
  • Great Chinese food
  • nice architecture
Cons
  • terrible parking
  • very, very crowded
  • a little dirty
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Tourists
  • Gay & Lesbian
  • Hipsters
  • Students
3/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 3/5
  • Safe & Sound 3/5
  • Clean & Green 2/5
  • Pest Free 2/5
  • Peace & Quiet 2/5
  • Eating Out 5/5
  • Nightlife 3/5
  • Parks & Recreation 2/5
  • Shopping Options 5/5
  • Gym & Fitness 3/5
  • Internet Access 3/5
  • Lack of Traffic 2/5
  • Parking 2/5
  • Cost of Living 4/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 3/5
  • Public Transport 4/5
  • Medical Facilities 3/5
  • Schools 3/5
  • Childcare 3/5
2yrs+

"Super Crowded"

Chinatown is a fun place to visit, but the general consensus that I've heard is that you wouldn't want to live there. It's a very congested area, which makes for some fun things to see, but I've never seen the energy die down. It seems like a stressful place to live.

The streets are usually packed with people, a lot of them tourists, and there are all sorts of shops selling their wares. On Grant Street, the epicenter of the area, I haven't seen shops selling much that a local would want to buy. Try the blocks surrounding Grant, like Stockton or Powell, if you're looking for a really great market or shop that the locals enjoy. Also, if you're interested in some really great loose teas or amazing Chinese food, then Chinatown is the place to visit.

Luckily, Chinatown offers some really great transportation. There are a number of bus lines here and a few cable care lines. Unfortunately, because Chinatown is so densely populated, you might have to squeeze in if you're getting on a bus.
Pros
  • Cheap shopping
  • Great Chinese food
  • great for walking
Cons
  • a little dirty
  • very, very crowded
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Students
2/5
2yrs+

"Organized Chaos with a Chinese flavor"

A relatively small but well populated area, Chinatown is one of the most favored tourist destinations in the city. During the day, the streets are overflowing with tourists and Chinese people shopping in open space markets with vendors selling everything from skinned chickens to gaudy merchandise. If you’re visiting, just weaving in and out of stores along Stockton Street is enough to immerse yourself within the quasi-Chinese culture.

Chinatown is a relatively cheap neighborhood to live in, but mostly because the buildings are dirty and weather damaged. The food here is a bit hit or miss. Many Chinese cuisines are cheap and offer a wide range of options, while others are much more touristy.

Transportation is a bit of an adventure. The Muni buses are usually overcrowded with impolite Chinese elders gnawing at the bit to jump on board before you. Driving can be a bit overwhelming too because the locals use the road as their own sidewalk.

Every Spring, the neighborhood celebrates Chinese new year, a festival that shuts down Chinatown’s main drag. Thousands of people flock to the parade to experience the most of what Chinese culture has to offer. The festival is even televised on local channels.
Pros
  • Cheap shopping
  • Great Chinese food
  • great for walking
Cons
  • a little dirty
  • not for the uptight
  • very, very crowded
Recommended for
  • Families with kids
  • Tourists
  • Students
4/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 4/5
  • Safe & Sound 3/5
  • Peace & Quiet 2/5
  • Eating Out 4/5
  • Shopping Options 4/5
  • Gym & Fitness 3/5
  • Lack of Traffic 2/5
  • Parking 2/5
2yrs+

"Pretty Good for a Chinatown"

I have heard that San Francisco has the best Chinatown of any U.S. city, and while I have not been to every city's equivalent neighborhood, I have lived in NYC's Chinatown and must say that I wholeheartedly agree based on a side-by-side comparison of the two. Not only is New York's Chinatown smaller and more crowded, but it is dirtier and doesn't have the decor that SF does.

With Union Square to the south and North Beach to the north, Chinatown spreads itself over a significant part of the city and finds itself right in the middle of many a tourist's walking path. Like in Manhattan, you can buy the proverbial Gucci or Coach knockoff bag, but vendors will generally leave you alone unless you specifically ask to see one, rather than harass you like in some other cities. Once inside their shop, they will gladly barter until everyone is satisfied.

Even the food selection seems a bit cleaner and safer than in other Chinatowns that I have seen, although I cannot attest to any of the specifics myself.

Overall, this is a fun place to spend an afternoon (not necessarily an evening). Bear in mind that my rating is based more on a comparison to other Chinatowns than to other neighborhoods in San Francisco.
Pros
  • Great Chinese food
  • Fun for bartering
  • Cheap shopping
  • good for shopping
  • great for walking
Cons
  • a little dangerous at night
  • a little dirty
  • not for the uptight
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Retirees
  • Tourists
  • Gay & Lesbian
5/5
2yrs+

"Wonderful Tourist Spot"

Chinatown is such a great place to shop for the unusual gift. There are so many shops that are just loaded with beautiful items, sometimes far too many items in such a small space. Wood carvings abound. If you're into origami, there are also quite a few places to find origami paper.

Beautifully adorning the bottom of China Town on Grant street is the arch which you can think of as the entrance to Chinatown -- a site to enjoy for certain.

If you're into active wear and/or Yoga, you must stop by Lululemon and enjoy their fabulous clothing. Saturday afternoons they often have someone doing some sort of activity in the window so you'll want to enjoy that also. :)
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Retirees

Travelling to Chinatown?

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Best Streets in Chinatown

1

Grant Ave

4/5
"A Hidden Gem in North Beach"
37.7941096675124 -122.406274982533
"Come to the Phoenix at Walter U. Lum Place"
37.7947840000384 -122.405754499457
3

Waverly Pl

4/5
"Historically Signifigant and Great Buildings Highlight Waverly Alley"
37.7941966642652 -122.406821673936
"Visit the Newly Renovated Jack Kerouac Alley"
37.7975140005431 -122.406585500222
5

Hangah St

3.5/5
"Hang Ah Alley A Typical Chinatown Alley"
37.7936721561323 -122.407240955935
6

Cordelia St

3/5
"Cordelia Alley the First Alley Renovated by the Alley Imporvement Project"
37.7970703328384 -122.40893600215
7

Ross Aly

2.5/5
"Ross Alley: Convenient"
37.795446666389 -122.407342334367

Unranked Streets in Chinatown

Adele Ct

2.5/5
"Decent and somewhat clean"
37.7958805000067 -122.409590999871
"Beckett Alley an Alley with a Very Sad Past"
37.7965030000358 -122.406438999485
"A Great Park in the Middle of a Great City"
37.7930435000028 -122.407336999911

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