Destinations

Eat, Play, Explore: 5 Fun Things to do in Chinatown with Toddlers

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 San Francisco’s Chinatown was established during the 1850s when Chinese immigrants came to California seek opportunity and fortune during the Goldrush. Subsequently, Chinese immigrants stayed to run businesses and today, have become an integral part of San Francisco’s economy and culture. Because of the variety of food, activities and bright colors in displays, Chinatown with toddlers makes for an adventure packed afternoon. Whether you live in the area or you’re visiting , you will always be able to find something of interest in Chinatown.

Entrance to Chinatown
Enter Chinatown with toddlers through Dragon’s Gate located at the corner of Bush Street and Grant Avenue

San Francisco’s Chinatown has been a popular tourist destination for over a century. Coupled with its unique history and vibrant culture, visiting Chinatown provides visitors with a unique inside view of Chinese American culture in the US.

Start at the Dragon’s Gate

Starting at Dragon’s Gate, Bush St and Grant Ave

A good starting point for Chinatown exploration is the famous Dragon’s Gate. The authentic Chinatown gate is recognizable by its stone pillars, green-tiled pagodas, and dragon sculptures.

After stopping for pictures and admiring the craftsmanship, continue to tread down Grant Ave. Try more of these exciting activities in Chinatown. Notice a plethora of thriving small businesses and an assortment of travel mementos. Here are a few must-try activities during your visit:

1. Try dim sum

fortune cookie with slip that reads, "a bold and dashing adventure is in your future."
A fortune fit for a traveling family

To begin with, visiting Chinatown with toddlers is not complete without tasty treats. My favorite among the variety that Chinatown offers is dim sum.

Eating dim sum in Chinatown is a coveted activity of both locals and tourists. Thus, eating Chinese dishes in an authentic dim sum house is an experience that tourists do not want to miss.

 Serving traditional items for almost a century, Hang Ah Tea Room is the oldest dim sum house in San Francisco. Arguably, it is the best dim sum in the city and is between Clay and Sacramento street, at 1 Pagoda Place. Our favorite thing about visiting this cozy restaurant is trying new dishes. Even though the flavor is different for each, the quality remains the same.

How to get here:

From Dragon’s Gate: Head north on Grant Ave toward Pine St. Turn left onto Sacramento St 338 ft. Turn right onto Pagoda Pl

2. Play at Portsmouth Square

Toddler holding up peace sign with fingers with TransAmerican Pyramid in the background.
Peace Sign at Portsmouth Square

Like the rest of Chinatown, the historical significance of Portsmouth Square is pretty impressive. As the city’s public square, Portsmouth Square is where Sam Brannan announced the discovery of gold. Also, the square was the site of the first public school in California and critical social gatherings.

Today, Portsmouth Square is an ideal spot to relax, regroup, and let your toddlers run around and play. The playground is clean and provides plenty of play structures to explore against the picturesque backdrop. In addition, Portsmouth Square is a good place to sit and enjoy fortune cookies. There is something for everyone including watching how locals enjoy the park.

Check here for an up to date list of events happening at the square.

How to get here:

MUNI: Clay and Kearny stop.
1-California
8X-Bayshore Express (formerly the 9X)

BART: Montgomery station

3. Visit The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

Photo from Golden Fortune Cookie Factory website
Fortune Cookie Machine Photo from Golden Fortune Cookie Factory website

Tucked away in an alley, like many other gems you’ll find in Chinatown, is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory While this “factory” is not very big, watching fortune cookies being made is a fun activity in Chinatown with toddlers.

Even though a visit to the factory takes a few minutes, visitors flock here to see the process in action. Usually, a baker will offer a sample, but you can also buy a freshly handmade bag off the shelf.

How to get here:

From Dragon’s Gate: Walk six blocks up Grant Ave. Turn left on Jackson Street. Turn left onto Ross Alley. Walk halfway down the block and look for the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory sign.

4. Hunt for souvenirs

Souvenir shopping is one of my favorite things to do when I visit a new place. Chinatown shops have the best trinkets and treasures at bargain prices.

Child wearing a colorful handmade mask
Paper mache parade face mask

For the most part, shopping happens on Grant Avenue, there is more beyond the thoroughfare.

Before dedicating the majority of your budget on Grant Ave, make explore the businesses on the side streets and alleys.

Check out our complete guide to finding the perfect souvenir here.

5. Explore the neighborhood

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in the country and covers 24 blocks. Even though exploring Chinatown with toddlers is exciting, it is very challenging to see everything the neighborhood has to offer.

Take your time and immerse your little ones in the sights, smells, and noises of the culturally rich district. Ask them questions, read the plaques and signs to them.

Have you ever been to Chinatown? What are your favorite shops and restaurants to visit?

Tell us about your experiences below. Don’t forget to subscribe, like, and share this post.

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