San Francisco's Chinatown is small, but fascinating place. It's easy to saunter through it in just a few minutes and many visitors do just that, walking the few blocks down its main street. You're a more engaged traveler who wants to see and understand it all, so of course you'll be looking for a guided tour that helps you understand the place in depth.
If you're a do-it-yourself traveler, try our self-guided tour of Chinatown.
It includes an easy map of Chinatown with all the sights marked, too. It will take you to all of the sights visited by the commercial tours and gives you flexibility to set your own schedule and stay as long (or as short) at each stop as you like.
Best Chinatown ToursThe best tour for you depends on a lot of factors, including how much time you want to spend, when you want to go, how much you want to pay and what your interests are. The tours in this list are among the best rated, listed in order of price from low to high.
- San Francisco City Guides: This non-profit group offers the best priced San Francisco walking tours - they're free (but a donation is requested). Given several times a week by passionate volunteers, some who grew up in Chinatown. Tours last 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Discover Walks: The business model is unique: The tours are admission-free and the guides earn their living on tips alone. Tours last one hour, are given on weekends and no reservations are required. Online reviewers seem uniformly happy with their tours, but we have to wonder if they set such low expectations that they're easy to meet.
- Rick Evans' Chinatown Walk: The city's highest-rated Chinatown tour is given by one of its most celebrated tour guides. The website says the tour explores sites and material not covered on other tours of Chinatown and it's best suited for people who want an in-depth explanation of the Chinese immigration story in San Francisco. Tours last 2.5 hours, are given most afternoons and reservations are required.
- Foodie Adventures: Guide Chris Milanos offers a Chinatown food tour and a combo tour that takes in both Chinatown and North Beach. Public tours last 3 to 3.5 hours and can sell out up to a month ahead of time. Because it includes the cost of food, it's the most expensive of the Chinatown tours. Buy your tickets online to save a little off the list price.
More Chinatown ToursIf none of the top-rated tours quite meet your needs, try one of these. They're listed roughly in order of their user ratings, from highest to lowest.
- Foot! Comedy Tours: When this page was written, they hadn't collected any online reviews yet, but we're intrigued by the idea of a comedy-oriented walking tour. They offer a Chasing the Dragon tour that looks like it will keep you giggling while you learn more about the oldest Chinatown in the U.S.
- Chinatown Alleyway Tours: Chinatown's alleys are its most interesting feature and we like the idea of a tour that focuses just on them. Guided by local young people who are part of a nonprofit group, they promise to go beyond the restaurants, bazaars, and tea shops and into the heart of the Chinese community along its alleyways. Judging from their online reviews, they do a great job of it. Reservations are required at least 5 days in advance, but you pay at the end of the tour (cash or checks only). Prices are moderate, with lower rates for students and 6- to 9-year-olds. 5 years old or younger can go for free.
- All About Chinatown: Tours are given daily, with advance reservations required. They last 2 hours. Prices are moderate and kids under 6 tour for free. They offer an optional dim sum lunch with your tour (for an extra charge), which will take an extra hour.
- Local Tastes of the City Tours: Reviews are somewhat mixed for this tour company, which offers tours in several areas of San Francisco. Their Chinatown tour gives you a chance to sample Dim Sum, fortune cookies and teas and to visit a shop selling authentic cookware.
- Chinese Culture Center: This cultural organization offers walking tours in Chinatown, with a focus on the area's cultural heritage. If you request it in advance, lunch is available after their morning tour (for an extra cost).
- Wok Wiz: Reviews are mixed for one of Chinatown's first food-oriented tours and sadly, founder Shirley Fong-Torres no longer guides it.
- Chinatown Ghost Tours: This tour gives you a chance to experience Chinatown after dark that includes a visit to a former gambling den where you'll enjoy a magic show. Those who have taken it say it's short on ghost stories - which seems more than odd given their name. They also offer a daytime tour that includes a Dim Sum lunch, tea ceremony and fortune cookie factory visit, along with a chance to learn more about the ancient art of feng shui. Tours last 2 hours and are by reservation only.