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. Love, love this place. It is pretty, vibrant and the food is amazing. We ate there like three times. Great photos. Mine didn’t turn out so good since the day was cloudy.

      I didn’t actually eat in Chinatown (shame shame, I know!), but it was so fun to just wander around. And I definitely got lucky with such great weather!

    You must come up to Toronto, you know we actually have 3 Chinatowns? It’s one of the best places to buy veggies in the city.

      THREE of them? That’s awesome! I will keep that in mind for whenever I get around to the eastern Canada road trip I’d like to do…

    Fantastic photos! I’ve only really spent time in one Chinatown in the US — in DC, and it pales in comparison to this!

      This is really the first Chinatown I’ve been to in the U.S. that really impressed me. It was amazing!

    San Francisco’s Chinatown is the best – always have a great time wandering through there. Though I’m not a fan of the fortune cookie factory…only stopped by a couple times, but I found it kinda depressing.

      I stumbled upon the fortune cookie factory pretty randomly. I agree that it was a little awkward; I felt weird taking photos there, which is why I didn’t get any good ones.

    hard to believe this is San Francisco, beautiful photography Amanda.

    Some of the shots remind me of our trip there in 1997 when we drove our quite large RV through the streets, almost getting into strife! due to the narrow roads.

      Thanks, Jo. I can’t imagine trying to navigate those streets in an RV though! Yikes!

    Wow, I’m bummed I didn’t make it a point to spend time there, was just in SF in April. Can you tour a fortune cookie factory?! That is awesome!

      You can’t really “tour” the fortune cookie factory… because it’s not much of a factory, really. But you can go in and watch the ladies putting the fortunes into the cookies!

    Loving these photos. They are amazing and give a really good feel to the place. Another reason to get back to SF one day. 🙂

      If you’ve been to SF and not to Chinatown, then yes, you absolutely need to go back!!

    Amazing! Looks like its in China indeed. Thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures…

    Nicely done. I’m taking a couple of out-of-town visitors there this weekend as part of my “Cheesy & Campy Tour.” There’s nothing more kitsch to me than a walk through San Francisco’sChinatown!

      Haha, yeah, it definitely is a must-see! But it’s kind of fascinating because, although it IS a tourist attraction, it’s also a normal, functioning neighborhood!

    Wow! San Frisco Chinatown looks like a town in real China 🙂
    Great pictures!

    Nice pictures. I loved San Francisco’s Chinatown – it seems much more immersive than New York’s, Vancouver’s, Boston’s, or anywhere else I’ve been.

      It felt quite authentic to me, which I really liked. Glad you liked the photos! I had fun taking them.

    So beautiful! The West Coast is very high on my bucket list and San Francisco is one of the main points of interest. Chinatown has just been added to my list!

      San Francisco is definitely worth it in my book, as is Chinatown! I often find myself let down by visits to various Chinatowns… but not this one! It is absolutely worth your time.

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