The origins of San Francisco date to 1822 with the building of the first private residence in the city. Locate din Portsmouth Square, the area later became part of what people now call Chinatown. Today, Chinatown encompasses 24 blocks in the heart of San Francisco.
However, no Chinese lived in this area until 1848 when three immigrants settled in San Francisco. The San Francisco Gold Rush, which started the same year, brought 20,000 more Chinese to the city.
It wasn’t long before Chinese merchants began setting up shops. These storefronts served miners who boarded and departed from San Francisco’s port of entry. Over the next several years, thousands more Chinese left their homeland and headed west.
Like their countrymen already established in the city, these new residents set up shops in San Francisco’s Chinatown of today. New Chinese immigrants concentrated in Chinatown as an opportunity to stay together because people in other parts of the city were not welcoming towards them.
The Chinese population continued to grow until anti-immigration laws in 1882 imposed severe restrictions on how many Chinese could come to America. Restrictions remained in place until 1965, at which point thousands of Chinese immigrants once again arrived in San Francisco to settle in Chinatown.
Visiting Chinatown Today
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest and largest of its kind in North America, having stood for nearly 175 years. People traveling to Chinatown for the first time today can experience the best of what the city within a city has to offer by partaking in the Chinese New Year or Autumn Moon celebrations.
Unlike the traditional New Year’s Day celebration in the United States that always occurs on January 1, the date of the Chinese New Year varies according to when the new moon appears. This typically happens between late January and mid-February. The Autumn Moon celebration occurs annually in September. Chinatown has something for most people’s interests outside these celebrations as well.
Historic Landmarks in San Francisco’s Chinatown
Those who enjoy history will want to include Portsmouth Square, the location of the first Chinese flag raising on July 9, 1846, to their itinerary. St. Mary’s Church, located at the corner of Grant Avenue and California Street, is another must-see historic location. Originally erected in 1853 and destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, members of the Chinatown community rebuilt the church in 1907.
The Chinese Culture Center, Pacific Heritage Museum, and the Chinese Historical Society of America are three museums dedicated to preserving Chinese history and culture. Chinatown is also home to three original temples. These include Kong Chow, Tien Hou, and Buddha’s Universal Church.
Dozens of Eateries Available in Chinatown
From light snacks to three-course meals, visitors to Chinatown can find it all within a two-mile radius. People who visit Chinatown regularly recommend checking out the 12 restaurants located on Jackson Street between Grant Avenue and Kearney Street for the diversity of food offered there, including noodles, dumplings, and spicy red peppers.
Bakeries along Grant Avenue offer everything from an egg custard tart to a bun filled with barbequed pork. Besides being tasteful treats, bakery items are easy for visitors to carry with them. They make great snacks as visitors spend the day exploring all that Chinatown has to offer.
Of course, no visit to Chinatown would be complete without a stop at the Fortune Cookie Factory. There visitors can see the manufacturing process of these famous cookies firsthand. Even better, they can then indulge in a sample at the end of the tour.