Nestled between Nob Hill and the Financial District, San Francisco's Chinatown is not only the oldest Chinatown within North America, it also is the largest Chinatown to exist outside of the Asia region. A true treasure of San Francisco, Chinatown is frequented by visitors to enjoy its authentic cuisine, festive atmosphere and deep-rooted community feel.
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A Community Rich in History
Dating as far back as the middle of the 19th century, San Francisco's Chinatown was the main entry point for Chinese immigrants from the southern regions in China. Seeking a more prosperous life, these immigrants were mainly males looking to earn a living working as laborers for many of the bigger industries including railroads and mines. Motivated to not only provide for themselves but also their relatives back in China, many of the immigrants worked tirelessly to create a new and more stable life.
Additionally, because they accepted lower wages than others, these new arrivals were often shunned by Americans and other ethnic groups for taking many of the jobs. A series of legal maneuvers by the state of California and the United States Congress tried to put a halt to their immigration toward the end of the 19th century, but with the creation of Ellis Island in 1890, immigrants from all over the world entered the country more openly. In 1942, the Magnuson Act became a piece of landmark legislation by allowing Chinese immigrants to enter the country as well as become naturalized citizens.
Today, Chinatown encompasses over thirty city blocks and welcomes visitors from all over the world. The iconic gate at the corner of Grant and Bush has become a trademark of the San Francisco landscape and serves as the official entryway into this vibrant community. Residents of Chinatown are a tight-knit group, often seen enjoying games from their homeland such as Majong and Xiangqi, also known as Chinese chess. Special occasions within the community are festive affairs, with women donning silk Chinese dresses, or Cheongsam, and revelers performing the lion dance, a traditional dance that honors the lion to bring good luck and fortune.
A feast for the senses, Chinatown is filled with everything from restaurants to butchers to specialty stores. Visitors can spend hours perusing the many shops that are filled with authentic goods such as fabrics and dragon kites. Known for their herbs and spices, Chinatown has a host of storefronts that cater to this market. Stores like Vital Tea Leaf and Red Blossom Tea Company carry an array of loose-leaf teas and accessories that are native to China. Large emporiums such as Canton Bazaar and Old Shanghai are a treat with stores filled with authentic gifts and cultural items.
It would be hard to make it through Chinatown without enjoying some of the incredible food that is available at every turn. For a quick bite to refuel, it's definitely worth a stop at V.I.P. Coffee and Cake Shop for everything from traditional mooncakes to chicken fried rice. For authentic noodle dishes, Chong Qing Xiao Mian is the place to visit to enjoy their signature dishes such as Tan Tan Noodle and Pork Bone Broth Noodle Soup. Dim Sum is one of the most beloved traditional Chinese food offerings and one of the best spots to enjoy this delicacy is at Hang Ah Dim Sum Tea House, San Francisco's oldest continually run Dim Sum restaurant.
One of the best ways to experience Chinatown is during one of their special events that are held throughout the year. Held mid-Autumn, the Autumn Moon Festival is a two-day event that incorporates the importance of Gathering, Thanksgiving and Praying. The Chinese New Year Parade is one of the most revered events with the celebration to mark the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar.
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