The 268-foot golden dragon at the Chinese New Year Parade (©Knight Lights Photography)
It's 2017, the Year of the Rooster and the perfect time to visit San Francisco—home to one of the world's largest Chinese New Year celebrations. The festivities culminate in February with the annual Grand Parade, starting at the corner of Market and 2nd streets. The streets sparkle with glittering floats, red lanterns, colorful flags and giant dragons stretching for blocks.
Whenever you visit, don't forget to pass through North America's only authentic Chinatown Gate—the giant green guardian of Grant and Bush adorned with dragons and lions. And that's just for starters. From downtown to the Mission District, the treasures and curiosities of Chinese culture await explorers. But you'd better start practicing using those chop sticks now.
Golden Gate Bakery
No trip to Chinatown is complete without a taste of Golden Gate's world-famous $2 egg tarts. The only problem with this local landmark is you never know when it will actually be open.
Fancy Wheat Field Bakery
Fancy Wheat Field is unquestionably the most pristine bakery in Chinatown and decidedly less authentic, offering classic Chinese pastries like pineapple buns and pork sung buns. Check out the additional locations if you're around Excelsior or the Outer Sunset.
House of Nanking
Situated at the cusp of North Beach, House of Nanking is one of the most popular and appetizing spots in San Francisco, featuring complex flavors, affordable prices and no frills service. You can't miss the sesame chicken, chili eggplant and the stunning wild blossoming tea.
Mission Chinese Food
Many locals swear this is the best Chinese-inspired food in town despite being in the heart of the Mission. The sign on outside says Lung Shan Restaurant, but nobody calls it that, so it’s easy to miss. The tea smoked eel, thrice cooked bacon and kung pao pastrami are crowd favorites.
Lai Hong Lounge
This expansive dining room is as authentic as it gets. In addition to the heavy rotation of dim sum, other popular dishes include the baked pork buns, shrimp noodle rolls and crispy duck buns.
Mister Jiu's sets the bar for elevated Cantonese cuisine. Every dish is a work of art with inventive twists on Chinese classics. The impeccable service lends to the romance and helps justify the sizable check.
This cult favorite originated as a food truck and expanded into a brick and mortar location in the Tenderloin. The Chairman is renowned for their signature bao. Imagine exotic proteins like Coca Cola braised pork and miso cured tofu stuffed in a chewy bun—available baked (more substantial) or steamed (cheaper).
Li Po Cocktail Lounge
Li Po is a hot spot among hipsters and locals alike. It's known for having funky decor, a relaxed vibe and arguably the city's best Chinese Mai Tai. This quirky dive bar is endorsed by Anthony Bourdain, which just about sums it up.
Just across the street from Li Po is Chinatown's second coolest bar, complete with a signature beer that comes in a green Buddha-shaped bottle. The service is consistently solid with knowledgeable, friendly bartenders.
Right Up Your Alley
Recognized as the oldest alley in San Francisco, Ross Alley was once notorious for brothels and gambling houses. Check out the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and get a free sample fresh off the press.
Stroll down this picturesque alley into another era, seemingly another country. Waverley Place is lined with temples and brightly painted balconies adorned with ornamental iron railings. It's most notably featured in the Amy Tan novel “The Joy Luck Club.”
See the Sights
Chinese Cultural Center
This extensive visual arts and community center offers an evolving array of modern art exhibitions. They also offer a popular two-hour democracy walking tour through Chinatown.
All About Chinatown Tours
Get an insight into the city's rich Chinese heritage on this two-three hour excursion with an optional dim sum lunch. The tour departs from Old St. Mary's Cathedral, which was the first Asian church constructed in North America.
Down to an Art
Chinese Historical Society of America
For a deep and intimate perspective on American Chinese culture, check out the extensive historical archives and impressive art museum.
Asian Art Museum
Located in the heart of the Civic Center, the Asian Art Museum boasts a wealth of Chinese art in its permanent collection. A new exhibition called “Tomb Treasures” opens on Feb. 17, showcasing recently unearthed artwork from the Han Dynasty.
Invest $21 in a one-day Muni Pass to hop on the cable cars and buses all day. Otherwise, it's $7 per cable car ride—no transfers.