San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside Asia, and it is the oldest Chinatown in North America.
In 1848 the first Chinese immigrants, two men and one woman, arrived in San Francisco on the American brig, Eagle. One year after that, gold was discovered. The Chinese arrived en masse to lay railroad tracks as they climbed over the Sierras, do laundry, and cook. Work was brutal and they were a long way from home.
The gold rush ended, and the Chinese settled in San Francisco’s Plaza, on Stockton Street, in the 1850’s. The city decided to confine them to that area, passed several lousy laws against them, and it is within those blocks the Chinese created a country within a city.
Today, you can enter Chinatown under the Dragon’s Gate on Grant Street. Inspired by the entrances of traditional Chinese villages, the three-arched gateway is topped with green roof tiles and a slew of animals that bring good luck, including two dragons and two carp chasing a large, round pearl. Shops bustle and thrive.
After you’ve explored Grant, walk one block over and ramble down Stockton Street where the locals shop, eat and market. The herbal stores are a wonder, and some fo the stuff is just plain strange. Explore alleys, particularly Waverly Place, known as the street of painted balconies. Eat a fortune cookie hot from the oven.
Grant was the first street in Yerba Buena, the village that would become San Francisco. Take photos, smell the city, let your senses be bombarded. This is where it all began!