Travel: San Francisco’s Chinatown is a photographic paradise

When you think San Francisco, the first thought is probably the Golden Gate Bridge and Cable Cars, right? Or maybe the Painted Ladies victorians and Fisherman’s Wharf?

Our neighbor to the north also happens to be home to one of the most vibrant, active, unique and colorful Chinatown districts anywhere.

The 26 blocks of San Francisco’s Chinatown are the largest outside of Asia, (yes, even bigger than New York City) and the oldest in North America. It attracts more visitors every year than even the Golden Gate Bridge, and for good reason. San Francisco’s Chinatown is a photographic paradise.

Check out the latest PhotowalksTV episode in Chinatown, and this gallery of images.

Chinatown’s “Dragon Gate” entrance on Bush Street and Grant Avenue is right down the street from Union Square. Most folks enter there and walk into another world of exotic food, colorful temples and buildings and great people watching.

This will take you all the way to Columbus Avenue and the beginning of North Beach, the “Little Italy” section of the city. It’s quite a double international dose–Asia and Europe right next to each other!

From the PhotowalksTV series, by Jefferson Graham

When in Chinatown, be sure to check out the colorful alleys. Ross Alley is the home for the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Co. where over 2,000 cookies are churned out every day. And not just any kind of fortune cookies. They come in several flavors, and sizes. You’ve never seen fortune cookies this large before!

Giant Fortune cookies custom made at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in San Francisco

The Chinatown installment of PhotowalksTV is part II of the Photowalks meets Backroads series. As you’ll recall, I got a hold of some tapes my dad recorded back in 1991 when he hosted “Bay Area Backroads” for KRON-TV in San Francisco and I’m retracing his steps.

Last week we were in Mendocino, and soon we’ll be in nearby North Beach, the Little Italy section of San Francisco.

Meanwhile, what to do in Chinatown?

My main focus is photography. Most people start at the Dragon Gate near Union Square, but I’m usually coming from North Beach, so I suggest just getting onto Grant Avenue or Kearney Street, and walking until inspiration hits. It won’t take very long, as you’ll encounter so many colorful buildings, murals and other photo-worthy sports instantly.

You’ll see temples, dim sum restaurants, bakeries, tea shops, jade jewelry shops and stores selling souvenirs. Spend an hour, two or three, or even the entire day.

Pro photo tip: Chinatown is fun, but photographically, it looks its best at night, when the lights come on.

Chinatown at night by Jefferson Graham for the PhotowalksTV series

Gear talk: this PhotowalksTV episode was produced on an iPhone 13 Pro Max and 12 Pro Max, as well as a GoPro Hero 9.


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