san francisco chinatown mural
San Francisco

Chinatown in San Francisco started during the 1850's, when Chinese people 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, have a dim sum or noodle lunch, and egg custard tarts or fresh-baked fortune cookies for dessert.

Read our blog post with travel tips, best parks, where to get takeout lunch: Explore San Francisco Chinatown

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.
Murals - Look for dragons and lions - 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.
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.
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 cookies were invented in the U.S. San Francisco and Los Angeles both take credit for this popular dessert. 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.
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-
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.
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.
In the parades, 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!

The end of the holiday is celebrated with nightime Lantern Festival Parade. A spectacular parade 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!