Take a Walking Tour of Chinatown in San Francisco

by | Feb 24, 2017 | California, San Francisco Chinatown, United States | 5 comments

Chinatown is a top tourist destination in San Francisco


Our cultural walking tour of Chinatown was a fabulous experience. This two-hour walk started on the 3rd floor of our hotel!

We stayed at the Hilton in the financial district on the border of Chinatown, right in the heart of downtown San Francisco. The Chinese Culture Centre in on the 3rd floor of the Hilton. This seemed to be an unusual location for a culture center until I heard the explanation at the start of our tour. Our guide explained that the business district faces enormous pressures in its need to expand. Upward growth has its challenges in an earthquake-prone area. Outward growth began to encroach on traditional Chinatown areas. An accommodation was reached that allowed the Hilton to open by creating space for the Chinese Culture Centre on the 3rd floor.

The cost of the cultural walking tour was $30.00 Here is the site: http://www.c-c-c.org/

(Real estate prices in San Francisco are stratospheric. We saw a listing for a garage for a million dollars.)

Portsmouth Square is the Heart of Chinatown


There is an elevated walkway from the Hilton to Portsmouth Square.

This is a very popular park and is well used throughout the day for tai chi, chess, cards and music.

A guide draws attention to things you would otherwise not see


Our first stop on the cultural tour of Chinatown was on the elevated walkway from the Hilton to Portsmouth Square. Our guide pointed out the huge street art that is only visible from the elevated walkway.

The artwork combines a famous photo with traditional Chinese poetry. The photo of the little girl is by Arnold Genthe, a German photographer who moved to San Francisco in 1895 and became fascinated by Chinatown. His photos of Chinatown are the only known photos of Chinatown before the 1906 earthquake.

The poem reads:

Diligence is the path
Up the mountain of knowledge


Hard work is the boat
Across the endless sea of learning

It is interesting that the poem is illustrated by a photo of a little girl from a time when little girls did not have access to education.

Do you know a lumbersexual?

Are you a lumbersexual?


Our guide introduced me to this term: lumbersexual. According to reliable internet sources , a lumbersexual is a metro-sexual with outdoor ruggedness. He usually wears plaid shirts.

A finely trimmed beard, checkered shirts and a laidback ruggedness. That’s lumbersexual for you! A trend that is taking over Hollywood hotties such as Ryan Gosling, Matthew McConaughey and Chris Pine; we think, it just might be our latest new favourite trend in men.

Step away metrosexuals, the lumbersexual man is essentially an urban woodsman rend, similar to that of a hipster-outdoorsman hybrid. Brawny and irresistibly hot.

This introduction to Walter Lum was not what I was expecting on a cultural tour of Chinatown! Walter Lum was born in 1882, but he would be a lumbersexual today.

When Walter was just 22 years old, he became an advocate for Chinese American civil rights to overthrow the Chinese Exclusion Act. This Act prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers. This was the first piece of legislation that prevented a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States. This Act gave rise to the first great wave of commercial human smuggling in the United States. This Act also led to the expansion of the powers of American immigration officials in Canada to control indirect immigration of Chinese.

Trump’s efforts to control immigration from specific countries is not new in the United States.

Our guide also pointed out a location of a traditional Chinese laundry and what it represented for civil rights. Anti-Chinese sentiment led to the passage of anti-laundry legislation that required laundries in wooden buildings to be licensed. The new law was enforced only against Chinese laundries. One laundry owner successfully challenged the law as a violation of the 14th Amendment which guarantees equal application of laws.

This landmark anti-laundry case became the authority for the Supreme Court’s decisions on interracial marriage, segregated schools, gender discrimination and gay marriage.

Laundry hangs out of every window in Chinatown


Our guide told us that Chinatown is the first destination for new immigrants. However, they consider Chinatown a way station until they can gain a financial foothold. Typically, newcomers rent an 8′ by 10′ room for the whole family. The only space to hang the laundry is out the window.

Our guide showed us this photo of the living quarters for a typical family that has just arrived in Chinatown

We were in Chinatown for Chinese New Year Festivities


The streets of Chinatown were closed to traffic and thousands of people filled the streets for the annual New Year festivities

This is a float as it is being prepared for the Chinese New Year Parade

The Chinese New Year Parade was at night


I always think of parades as a morning event … not in Chinatown. The parade started after dark. I watched the parade from the 3rd floor walkway from the Hilton to Portsmouth Square. This is a great venue to see the parade.

The Chinese New Year parade was a spectacular event. It was loud. Firecrackers and fireworks were exploding all over the place. There were loud bands that played Chinese music. There were colourful floats and performers.

The air was filled with music, noise and smoke.

The grandstand for the finale of the parade was a chaotic scene of dancing, lights, music and fireworks.


Our walking tour of Chinatown was a fabulous experience. Witnessing the Chinese New Year parade was an unexpected treat.

A walk through Chinatown is more than a tourist attraction. It is living history.


See you next week as we continue our travels in Norther California

Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at BoomerVoice.ca
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray