Travel: San Francisco’s Chinatown is a photographic paradise

when you think San Franciscothe first thought is probably the the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars, right? Or maybe the Victorian Painted Ladies and Fisherman’s Wharf?

Our neighbor to the north is also home to one of the most vibrant, active, unique and colorful Chinatowns in the world.

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

Discover the latest PhotowalksTV episode in Chinatown, and this image gallery.

The “Dragon Gate” entrance to Chinatown on Bush Street and Grant Avenue is just down Union Square. Most people enter it and walk into another world of exotic food, colorful temples and buildings, and great people watching.

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

From the PhotowalksTV series, by Jefferson Graham

When you are in Chinatown, don’t forget to visit the colorful alleys. Ross Alley is home to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Co., where over 2,000 cookies are produced daily. And not just any fortune cookies. They come in several flavors and sizes. You’ve never seen fortune cookies this big!

Custom-made giant fortune cookies at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in San Francisco

The Chinatown episode of PhotowalksTV is Part II of the Photowalks meet Backroads series. As you will remember, I got my hands on some tapes that my dad recorded in 1991 when he was hosting “Bay Area Backroads” for KRON-TV in San Francisco and I retrace his steps.

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

In the meantime, what to do in Chinatown?

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

You will see temples, dim sum restaurants, bakeries, teahouses, jade jewelry shops and shops selling souvenirs. Spend an hour, two or three, or even the whole day.

Professional photo tip: Chinatown is fun, but photographically it is at its best at night, when the lights are on.

Chinatown at night by Jefferson Graham for the PhotowalksTV series

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

Michael E. Marquez