Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Walk Through Chinatown

Back in February some girlfriends and I went down to San Francisco for a few days of fun. One had never been (Kate's in Geneva) and the other hadn't been in over 10 years (Forest's in Paris). We did the usual trolley rides, bar hopping and of course dining around which I love to do whenever I'm in the city.

drinks at Clock Bar

One day we decided to go on a self guided walking tour of Chinatown, something I had not done before. It's such a fascinating area, feeling very foreign in places yet also screaming "tourist trap" in others. This is the oldest Chinatown in the states and the largest outside of Asia. Armed with our printed map we let Kate lead the way!

We started at the Dragon's Gate and poked into the funny souvenir shops which line Grant Ave. Resisting the urge to buy umbrellas, statues, pot holders and the like we continued on in search of a snack. Past the ornate dragon streetlamps and under the strings of lights and flags crisscrossing overhead we found our place. Where better than Eastern Bakery where none other than President Clinton also stopped in for a bite as this picture clearly states!


"President Bill Clinton came to visit Eastern Bakery on July 23, 1996 from 5:00pm to 5:30pm. He shook hands with everybody inside our bakery. All of us, our customers and employees were thrilled and it was just like a short but exciting and memorable party!!!!" Hey if it's good enough for Bill, it's good enough for 3 ladies on a little walk!

Bao in hand we continued on to Waverly Place, gazing up at the interesting multi-floored temples and all their flags and pennants. Also called "the street of painted balconies" it is here where you'll find the oldest Chinese temple in the USA, Tin How.

Continuing on to Spofford Alley, once home to opium dens, brothels, turf wars and secret society halls. Now it seems tame and ordinary, cluttered with beauty salons and florists. We found number 36 where reportedly Sun Yat met and helped the Ghee Kung Tong (the Chinese Freemasons) plot and overthrow China's last dynasty, the Manchus. Established in 1849 this 100,000+ member clandestine organization has quite a history!


A stone's throw away and we turned down Ross Alley. Kate thought this was cool as her last name is Ross. I thought this was cool as we were headed into the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company. Here 2 women sit and hand fold fortune cookies as it's been done since 1962. The machines cook the wafers on what look like mini griddles and then quickly a fortune is inserted and the cookie is folded before cooling and hardening. A gentleman keeps the people moving in and out quickly as the shop is very tiny. You can have samples of the flat or broken cookies or purchase bags of the finished products. And if you take a picture, like mine below, it'll cost you 50¢. You're welcome.

We wandered back down to Grant Street and browsed many dried herb and other "healing" products in the shops. Passed by more souvenir shops and buildings with the classic Chinese architecture.  Saw 2 crazy looking cocktail bars that I now hear to be quite the "regulars" watering holes- Buddha Bar and Li-Po (I really want to check these out some day).

We ended our tour at Portsmouth Square. It was a very nice little walk, one I'd do again soon with other friends and one I'd recommend to you. 


Other recommendations from this trip: great tiki drinks were had at Smuggler's Cove, we had an awesome dinner at Boulevard Restaurant, and we took full advantage of our 3-day Muni passes on the trolleys and streetcars.

photos here