Photo Essay: San Francisco Chinatown

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Can you guess what draws in more San Francisco tourists each year than the Golden Gate Bridge?

It's not Alcatraz or the Painted Ladies or Fisherman's Pier.

It's Chinatown, of course!

Chinatown, San Francisco

San Francisco's Chinatown is renowned for being the largest in the world. In fact, it's the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, with thousands of ethnic Chinese calling the neighborhood home.

No trip to San Francisco is complete until you've walked past market stalls, the telltale hanging red lanterns, and little old ladies haggling with shopkeepers in Chinese. It really is like walking into an entirely different country.

And that's the point, of course. This isn't really meant to be a tourist attraction — it's a living, breathing Chinese community, where the rest of us are just visitors.

Chinatown, San Francisco

I spent an afternoon wandering all through Chinatown, enjoying the foreign-ness of it all. I put my phone (AKA my map) away, and turned down every random alley I found. I stumbled into a fortune cookie factory. I hopped on a bus and was the only non-Chinese person aboard. It was a fantastic afternoon.

Since this is definitely the sort of place that's best illustrated in photos as opposed to words, here are some of my favorite photos from San Francisco's Chinatown:

Chinatown, San Francisco
Possibly my favorite photo.
Chinatown, San Francisco
A typical Chinatown street
Chinatown, San Francisco
Some Chinatown street art.

Chinatown, San Francisco

Chinatown, San Francisco
At the fortune cookie factory. It smelled delicious.
Chinatown, San Francisco
Ross Alley

Chinatown, San Francisco

Chinatown, San Francisco

Chinatown, San Francisco
Lanterns and a lamppost.
Chinatown, San Francisco
An very ornate bank.
Chinatown, San Francisco
I love the mix of architecture!
Chinatown, San Francisco
Little details.

Chinatown, San Francisco

I could have easily spent all day roaming these streets — there's so much to see and smell, hear and taste. If you're ever in San Francisco, don't skip a visit to this unique neighborhood!

READ NEXT: The Neighborhoods of San Francisco

Have you ever been to Chinatown in San Francisco? What did you think?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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34 Comments on “Photo Essay: San Francisco Chinatown

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  1. I love visiting Chinatown when in San Fran, the painted balconies and red lanterns are so much fun!

    Great pictures! Hoping to go to San Francisco within the next year.. but this made me want to go now!

      It’s a really cool city – every neighborhood is so different!

    Totally agree- I could have spent the whole day there, but there is just so much to do in San Fran!

      SF certainly isn’t lacking in things to do, that’s for sure!

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