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When talking to people about this trip and our time in San Fransisco, everyone told us to make sure we get our tickets to Alcatraz in advance. For whatever reason, I had no interest in going inside “the rock”. It was cool to see from the ship (top) and maybe if we had more than a day and a half in town it would’ve made my list, but what I really wanted to get out of San Fransisco was an in-depth experience in Chinatown. If you’ve read this blog for any time now you know one of my favorite things about travel is the food and trying food that I can’t get in my small town back home, so we booked the Chinatown Food & History Tour through Viator. We had to be back on the ship at 2 pm this day so that made choosing a tour relatively simple and I was really happy with the one we ended up with. It was a small group tour, there were only 5 of us, and our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. We really got an understanding of Chinatown and its history and we got some delicious food too!
San Fransisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and is home to one of the largest populations of Chinese people outside of Asia. In the 1850s people began immigrating to San Fransisco from China in search of their fortunes in California’s gold rush. Many of them worked to build the transcontinental railroad. Early on in its history, Chinatown became a hub of illegal activity from gambling to drugs and prostitution, and the city of San Fransisco had plans to move Chinatown to a less desirable part of the city. In 1906 an earthquake and fire practically destroyed the city and the residents of Chinatown quickly rebuilt using bricks that were salvaged from the wreckage. The merchants of Chinatown hired American architects to design buildings in Chinese-motif “Oriental” style in order to promote tourism to the new Chinatown.
Our tour started at Dragon’s Gate which is the traditional entrance to Chinatown. From there we walked to Old St. Mary’s Cathedral (above), which is one of the only buildings in Chinatown that survived the fire of 1906. From the church, we walked along the streets of Chinatown and saw the architecture on our way to our first food stop which was supposed to be a bakery but they were closed for renovations so we ended up at Hang Ah, the oldest tea house in the United States where we got Shumai and soup dumplings. I was OK with this change because I have been obsessed with trying soup dumplings since the pandemic and no restaurants around us make them! They were everything I had hoped they would be and more!
Our second food stop was the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company (left) where we each got a bag of fortune cookies and a reusable shopping bag to take them home in. Now, fortune cookies have never been my favorite part of the meal when I get Chinese carry-out at home, but these were really good! They were very fresh and didn’t taste like cardboard! I almost didn’t want to eat them when I got home because I didn’t want them to be gone. Our final stop of the trip was a very popular dim sum place where we each got to choose one dumpling or bun. Doing this tour with someone you feel comfortable sharing food with is a good idea as you will be able to try more things that way.
This tour was everything I had hoped it would be. We got to know Chinatown in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to explore on our own and we got to try more authentic Chinese-American food than I can try in my midwestern small town. I have been chasing dim sum since we got home and nothing I have found so far lives up to what we had in Chinatown. I guess we will have to go back! If you are going to be in San Fransisco and really want to get to know Chinatown and its food, I have nothing but good things to say about the Chinatown Food & History Tour.
The tour ended with just enough time for us to get back on the ship before we headed for the next port. We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge on our way out of the bay. One thing that really struck me as I stood out on the deck was all the crew out there too. In between the guests, I saw a chef, a waitress, and a maintenance worker from all over the world watching the ship sail under this magnificent piece of engineering, taking selfies along with us.
Be sure to check back next week when I share about our free walking tour of Santa Barbara. Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Cruising the Pacific Coast Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.