Chinatown - San Francisco
San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of North America’s oldest and largest – it’s reportedly the largest in the nation (New York City’s Chinatown runs a close second). You can’t miss the entrance to Chinatown – just look for the green Pagoda Gates on Grant Street. Take a Chinatown Walking Tour and see the cultural side of San Francisco – where the old world meets the new. Chinatown’s streets and alleyways are jam-packed with little shops and stalls, specialty stores, food markets, herb shops, fish markets, antique stores, bakeries, Dim Sum parlors and exotic Chinese restaurants.
One of the most highly-visited Chinatowns in North America, San Francisco’s Chinatown is popular with tourists and locals alike. You can easily spend hours walking along Grant Street and its narrow side streets – shopping, eating and people-watching! You can buy almost anything in Chinatown – from jade jewelry, silk products, antiques and souvenirs to Buddhas, Southeast Asian artifacts, and fine Oriental art.
Hundreds of thousands of people flock to Chinatown to celebrate the Lunar New Year during San Francisco’s annual Chinese New Year Festival and Parade. Each year, the Chinese New Year Flower Market takes place the weekend before the Lunar New Year holiday.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
Did you know that the Fortune Cookie originated in San Francisco, California, U.S.A. and NOT in China?
See how fortune cookies are made – it’s a fascinating process (and sample them too) at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. A Chinatown institution, the cookie factory has been around for over 40 years, drawing tourists and locals alike. Expect a line out the door, especially on weekends and during peak tourist summer season. During one of our visits to the factory, we encountered a local walking tour on their way out and a crowd of tourists waiting to get inside. Visitors file into the small narrow shop (it only holds about 10 people at a time) to catch a glimpse of how fortune cookies are made. The cookies come off the machine flat and round before the fortune paper is placed inside and then they’re shaped into the familiar fortune cookie known the world over. Don’t expect to spend much time inside – they like to keep the line moving.
If you have a sweet tooth, bags of different flavored fortune cookies (plain, almond, chocolate…) are available for purchase – you might as well buy them fresh off the press… so to speak. 🙂
The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is located in the heart of Chinatown – it’s tucked away on Ross Alley, just off Jackson Street.
Tea-Tasting in Chinatown
What a FUN Tea Tasting experience! This is a must-do when you’re in Chinatown, especially if you’re a tea lover. And even if you’re not an avid tea drinker, you might just become one after sampling these amazing teas. Learn about all the different varieties of teas and their health benefits… all while being entertained by owners Uncle Gee and Ming. They really make the whole tea tasting experience so much fun!
Modeled after a wine bar, Vital Tea Leaf (located at 1044 Grant Avenue) offers visitors complimentary “try before you buy” tea tastings – it’s the best deal in Chinatown. The tea shop carries over 400 varieties of teas (from China, Taiwan and Japan). We stumbled upon Vital Tea Leaf totally by accident one day while strolling through the streets of Chinatown – one look inside at all the people sitting at the long tea bar, laughing, enjoying their tea, and beckoning us to join them… and we were sold!
Learned about different teas – how they look and what they smell like before (and after) being brewed, how to brew them (we were brewing our Green Tea totally wrong – using boiling water vs letting it sit for 2 minutes), health benefits to the body and mind – and fun tea facts. Of course, if you like any of the teas you’re sampling (and chances are that you WILL), you’ll probably want to buy several to take home. We bought two – Iron Goddess Green Tea (an everyday drinking tea that’s good for longevity) and Coconut Green Tea (good for relaxing). There’s no pressure to buy anything – it’s just an enjoyable experience all around. If you don’t want to carry anything around with you, you can always order tea online when you get home. Prices can be expensive if you buy the tea by the pound – smaller amounts are available (we bought a 1/4-lb of one tea and $20 worth of another).
The tea shop has been featured on international culinary and travel television shows such as History Channel: Only In America, World Chinese TV: Success Local Business, San Francisco Chronicle, Santa Rosa Daily, MTV Italy, Take Home Chef, Yan Can Cook, Travel Channel from Germany, Mexican Airline Magazine, American Airline Magazine, NBC TV Channel, Cincinnati TV Channel, Fine Living channel, and many more newspapers and magazines around the world.