An Inside Tour of San Francisco’s Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown isn’t an easy maze of streets to navigate. You can do it, but booking a tour with an insider is a richer experience. That’s where Linda Lee can help.

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Courtesy Flickr/ Kevin photo

She is the founder of All About Chinatown, which explores many different facets of the neighborhood, including the architecture, the murals, the temples and pagodas, the secret societies, the herbal shops, and the markets. And, most importantly, she’s a bona fide local who has lived in Chinatown her entire life. 

Linda share a few insights you can see on your own. 

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Courtesy Flickr/ dnlspnk photo

Ancient Chinese secrets

1. For over-the-counter remedies, Ellision Enterprises is the best Chinese herbal store in San Francisco, Linda says, citing that Chinese herbs have been around for thousands of years. A few she swears by are deer tail for lower back pain, dried gecko lizards for the common cold, and ginseng for just about anything. 736 Washington Street

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Courtesy Wikimedia commons/ Tobias Kleinlercher photo

2. The East West Bank is housed in a building with expressive and impressive Chinese architecture. It started as the Chinatown telephone exchange. Before cell phones, it was from here that people dialed friends and family with the help of an operator. While the original building was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, this building dates from 1909. 743 Washington Street

3. San Francisco is famous for the Painted Ladies, Victorians that embellish architectural details colorfully. Chinatown has Waverly Place’s painted balconies, which made an appearance in the book “The Joy Luck Club.” Paralleling it is the small Spofford Street, a backside look at the buildings that are home to Taoist temples, exercise clubs (we’re not talking Equinox), and other private enterprises.

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Courtesy Flickr/ Unbearablyvapid photo

To learn more from Linda about Chinatown, she runs an overview tour every Saturday morning. The food-focused might opt for the Saturday Dim Sum Luncheon. By tour’s end you’ll know the difference between siu mai and ha gow.