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San Francisco - Chinatown

chinatown waverly place

Chinatown in San Francisco started during the 1850's, when Chinese came for the Gold Rush, and stayed on to run businesses. With kids, it's fun to explore Chinatown on foot, stopping to look at (and smell) usual herbs and foods in the stores, shopping for souvenirs, and having a dim sum or noodle lunch, and custard egg tarts or fresh-baked fortune cookies for dessert.

Chinatown Photo Album
    Explore San Francisco Chinatown
    Read our blog post with travel tips, best parks, where to get takeout lunch:
    Throughout Chinatown wander down the streets, walls are covered with colorful murals, gates and lamps are decorated with auspicious dragons and lions.
    Dragons are symbol of protection, strength, and good fortune for all. Lions chase off evil and bring good luck, and represent wisdom and courage.
  Chinatown Gate (Dragon Crested Gate) – Start exploring Chinatown at the Chinatown Gate (Grant Ave. at Bush St.).
    The green tiled gate is topped with two dragons and two fish, symbols of strength, goodness, and prosperity.
    The gate is flanked by two mythical Chinese guardian lions (called "foo dogs") to scare away evil; the male lion (on the left) holds a ball, the female lion (on the right) has a little cub.
  Grant Ave. Grant Ave., oldest street in San Francisco, is full of shops and restaurants. Shops have jade jewelry, Chinese embroidered clothes, "singing cricket" toys, zodiac animals, stuffed animal pandas and red dragons. For fun, get a T-shirt with your child's name in Chinese characters.
    Tip: Stop into Chinatown Kite Shop (717 Grant Ave.) to buy a Chinese dragon kite. Later, head down to Crissy Field, Tunnel Tops, or Aquatic Park at Fisherman's Wharf to fly your kite.
    Parks and Playgrounds
    Four different parks in Chinatown, all have children's play areas with slides and climbing structures for younger kids , benches and picnic tables for snacks and takeout lunch.
dragon willie woo woo wong playground
    Willie "Woo Woo Wong" Playground (830 Sacramento St.)
    Large red dragon and mythical bird to play on, climbing structures and big slide, restrooms.
    Woh Hei Yuen Playground (922 Jackson St.)
    Step through the gate into a beautifully landscaped garden, with shaded picnic tables, benches, and children's play area.
    Portsmouth Square (745 Kearny St.)
    Playground with swings and slides for kids, sand play area, benches for snacks or picnic lunch, restrooms.
    St. Mary's Square (651 California St.)
    Playground with train climbing structure, slide, swings. Plenty of benches, restroom. We've found square to be peaceful and rarely crowded.
Fortune cookie factory
  Fortune Cookie Factory – In Chinatown, you can see how fortune cookies are made. Stop into the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (56 Ross Alley). The smell of fresh baked cookies is delicious – buy a large bag, and start munching.
    Fortune cookies were invented in the United States. San Francisco and Los Angeles both take credit for this popular dessert.
    Tin How Temple (125 Waverly Place) – This is one of the oldest Chinese temples in America, originally built in 1852. From street level, after you've climbed up a bunch of stairs, you'll find yourself in the small temple, beautifully ornamented with gilded altars and a forest of red paper lanterns suspended from the ceiling, inscribed with ancestor's names. At the far end of the temple is an altar with a statue of Tin Hou, the Queen of Heaven and Goddess of the Sea, wearing an elaborate headdress, flanked by two fierce guardian figures.
    Chinatown Him Mark Lai Library (1135 Powell St.) – Weather isn't cooperating or need to take a break, stop into Chinatown public library. Library has large children's book section, sit down and read together (also restrooms available). Thursday morning is Storytime for Babies, Saturdays Storytime for Families and crafts activities. Entrance to children's book area is located on street level.

Fun food

    Besides fortune cookies, a favorite dessert in Chinatown is custard egg tarts. Find them at Golden Gate Bakery on Grant St., Fancy Wheat Field Bakery and Good Mong Kok Bakery on Stockton St.
    Fun lunch for kids - pick up takeout dim sum, noodles, hot dog buns, baked pork buns, fresh fruits, and cold drinks, from shops and markets on Stockton St.
    Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year)
chinatown san francisco
    Lunar New Year is celebrated by the lunar calendar, on the first and 15th days of the new moon. Dates for the celebration vary from year to year, sometime between mid January and mid February. There are two big parades, celebrating Spring and Lanterns Festivals.
Lunar New Year Photo Album
lunar new year photo album
    For all about the holiday, read our blog post: "Celebrate Lunar New Year"
    On festival days, Grant St. becomes pedestrian only, and the street filled with booths selling colorful lanterns and firecrackers to scare away evil spirits, flowers and fruits to bring luck and prosperity.
yellow lion dance
    In Spring Festival Parade, watch groups of kids walking on stilts, dancing with scarves and fans, boys and girls drumming. Have your picture taken with Fu, Lu or Shou, the three gods of prosperity, good fortune and longevity. Lion dances by martial arts groups are incredible – yellow, red, black and white lions, picking up oranges and lettuce which they distribute to the audience for good luck, and balancing on high poles! During the dragon dance, long red dragon is carried by strong people, swooping over and around, chasing a ball (which represents the "pearl of wisdom" or sun for a good harvest.)
lantern festival parade
    The end of the holiday is celebrated with the Lantern Festival Parade. A spectacular nighttime parade through downtown San Francisco, with colorful floats, huge figures of lucky gods and zodiac animal for the year, marching bands, acrobats, lion dances, and a huge dragon, carried by 100 people!
kids books san francisco chinatown
Bringing in the New Year chinese kids san francisco  

Families celebrate Chinese New Year – sweep away the old year, cook special dishes, get a haircut, put on a new dress, enjoy a New Year's feast, and carry lanterns to light the way. (Picture book)


Dragon Dance
Joan Holub, Benrei Huang

Charming "lift the flap" book about Chinese New Year, with irresistible illustrations. Great for little kids. (Picture book)

Also fun for toddlers My First Chinese New Year


Dragon Dance
the dragon warrior  
The Dragon Warrior
Katie Zhao

It's the Lunar New Year parade, and demons have invaded San Francisco Chinatown. Twelve year old Faryn Liu finds herself fighting a real nian lion-dragon, then aided by warrior deity Erlang Shen and goddess Guanyin, embarks on quest to find her lost father and save humanity. (Chapter book)


The Great Race
Christopher Corr

In the Chinese calendar, each year is named after twelve different animals – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig. Delightful retelling of how the Chinese zodiac was created, and why there is no year of the cat. (Picture book)


lunar tale  
Lunar Tale
Stella Hong

Go on a Lunar New Year adventure with twelve magical zodiac friends – through tea gardens, bamboo groves, meadows, to the sparkling city, with a temple honoring the ancestors, big family reunion, ending with dragon dance in Chinatown. Delightfully illustrated! (Board book)



Every week, extended family gets together to eat dim sum – shrimp dumplings, rice noodle rolls, egg tarts, char siu buns, and more. They gather around a table that goes round and round in the center, servers zoom by with baskets full of food. Grandma sips jasmine tea, all dishes are shared, will the little girl ever get a char siu bun, her favorite – peel off the paper, break the bun in half … Yum! (Picture book)


dim sum here we come
Dim Sum for Everyone! food childrens books chinatown san francisco  

"Little dishes on carts, little dishes on tables," dim sum is fun for everyone in the family – Ma-Ma likes pork buns, Ba-Ba eats fried shrimp, Mei-Mei picks sweet tofu. A charming story, plus a picture glossary of dim sum dishes. (Picture book)


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