We took the elevator from the bowels of the parking garage, rose upward and stared transfixed as the doors slid open before us.
Live Chinese singers had set up camp at the Chinatown Entrance, their melancholy tune coupled with the twang of lutes serving as a soundtrack of sorts for the rest of our visit.
When we arrived in Chinatown, it was a breezy, sunny day. We were surrounded by small shops and boutiques displaying everything from jade statues, to pearl jewelry, to silk dresses, to herbal medicines.
Even though Chinatown is a popular tourist destination, most of the people we saw bustling about, as well as busy shop owners and restaurateurs, were all of Asian descent, and carrying on with their everyday business. In other words, being there was a lot like being in another country—maybe not quite China, but it sure didn’t feel like we were in San Francisco anymore!
BEING THERE WAS A LOT LIKE BEING IN ANOTHER COUNTRY—MAYBE NOT QUITE CHINA, BUT IT SURE DIDN’T FEEL LIKE WE WERE IN SAN FRANCISCO ANYMORE!
The shop and restaurant signs are mostly in Chinese, with very little English. It was pretty cool, as it lent more of an authentic feel to the whole experience.
We took Pumpkin and Peanut with us and things went smoothly. Here is what we did.
WATCH THE WEATHER
Since we were planning on being outdoors the whole time, we knew we had to strike a balance between sunny and humid, and cold and foggy. The day we chose to visit Chinatown was a blend of both. Nevertheless, make sure to bring along hats and sweaters, and to dress yourselves and the kids in layers.
TAKE YOUR CAR AND USE THE UNDERGROUND PARKING
While public transportation is big in the Bay Area, taking your car can be more convenient when traveling with kids. There is a parking garage conveniently located near the Chinatown Entrance.
GO AFTER LUNCH
We decided that we would all eat lunch at home before leaving the house in the afternoon, instead of going in the morning. Why? That way we could (and did) take our time touring around, without feeling as though we needed to rush home for lunch. Also, we didn’t know about any restaurants in the area, or even if the kids would eat there. It was one less headache for us to deal with, and we were also able to walk off our lunch. Win-win!
The streets of Chinatown (and much of downtown San Francisco) can be quite steep. This will prove to be a good workout for you, but keep this in mind when little ones are walking with you. Which leads me to…
USE A STROLLER
We put the kids in their stroller, and it was a good decision. As adults, the walk might tire us out with the steepness of the streets, so imagine what a child might feel. The kids were so taken with the colorful sights all around us, that Pumpkin didn’t even complain once, and Peanut actually fell asleep during our walk.
IF YOUR KIDS ARE YOUNG, DON’T ENTER ANY SHOPS
We didn’t enter any shops for two reasons: our stroller was too big, and the kids definitely would have pulled items off the shelves. The shops in Chinatown are pretty small, with items stacked on tables, racks, walls, and even on the floor. It’s great for the bargain hunter, but if your kids are with you, it’s better if you and the other adults with you take turns going inside.
BE PRUDENT WITH THE CAMERA
Chinatown may feel like some ethnic display at a museum, frozen in time and space where other may gawk. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chinatown is a living breathing borough, with residents coming and going, completing errands or running their businesses. Some shopkeepers may balk at you trying to get a photo of them, so remember to be discreet.
STOP BY THE PLAYGROUND
Yes, there is a large playground in Portsmouth Square near the parking garage, complete with jungle gyms, monkey bars and other equipment. It’s a great way for your little ones to stretch their legs after sitting for a while.
All in all, it was a great day. Going to Chinatown is a fun way to feel like you’ve gone halfway around the globe and back—in just a few hours!