Chinatown is approximately bounded by Broadway, and Bush, Kearny, and Powell Streets. There are parking lots under Portsmouth Square and at the Holiday Inn, but they are pricey; your best bet is to use public transportation (buses 30 and 75).
Area code is 415 unless noted.
Chinese Culture Center. Gift shop with books on Chinatown, plus two galleries that often feature local artists. From Tuesday through Saturday, the center offers a guided culinary walk and luncheon ($30) as well as a heritage walk ($15). On the third floor of the Holiday Inn, across the footbridge from Portsmouth Square. Closed Mon. 750 Kearny; 986-1822 or www.c-c-c.org.
Chinese Historical Society of America. The new headquarters in the Julia Morgan-designed Chinese YWCA building, scheduled to open later this year, will feature the group's 50,000 artifacts on Chinese immigration and Chinese Americans. 644 Broadway; 391-1188.
Chinese New Year celebration. The exuberant, nothing-else-like-it two-week celebration begins January 20, with lion dances, parades, and music ushering in the Year of the Snake. Contact the Chinese Chamber of Commerce (982-3000) for more information.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Watch cookies being made at this tiny shop, where you can purchase bags of standard, sesame, or almond cookies--and choose from regular or racy fortunes. 56 Ross Alley; 781-3956.
Old Saint Mary's Cathedral. Completed by Chinese workers in 1854, the brick building was the first cathedral in California. Across the street, St. Mary's Square is home to Beniamino Bufano's statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a Chinatown resident for a brief period. 660 California St.; 288-3800 or www.oldsaintmarys.org.
Portsmouth Square. The spot where Mexican governor Jose Figueroa first established the city of Yerba Buena. It's now the community's backyard: Residents practice tai chi, gamble, and smoke, and enjoy the sunshine here. At Kearny between Washington and Clay Streets.
Wok Wiz Chinatown Walking Tours and Cooking Center. Led by local personality Shirley Fong-Torres and her staff. Options include a 21/2-hour walking tour ($39) and the 4-hour "I Can't Believe I Ate My Way Through Chinatown" tour ($70). 654 Commercial St.; 981-8989, (650) 355-9657, or www.wokwiz.com.
Dining and shopping
Eastern Bakery. Good selection of buns and mooncakes. 8-8:30 daily. 720 Grant St.; 392-4497.
Far East Café. Old-style wood booths add charm to this 1920s restaurant; serves Cantonese standards. 11:30-10 daily. 631 Grant; 982-3245.
Four Seas Restaurant. Good Cantonese selections: Try the dumplings and sweet sesame balls. 11-10 Mon-Fri, 9-10 Sat-Sun. 731 Grant; 989-8188.
Gold Mountain. Very popular for vast variety of dim sum and noodles. 10:30-3, 5-9:30 Mon-Fri, 8-3, 5-9:30 Sat-Sun. 644 Broadway; 296-7733.
Kowloon Vegetarian Restaurant. Good tofu and veggie dishes. 10-10 daily. 909 Grant; 362-9888.
Sam Lok Restaurant. Spicy Szechuan choices, light on ambience. 11-10 daily. 655 Jackson St.; 981-8988.
Sam Wo Restaurant. Neighborhood classic, reportedly frequented by Jack Kerouac, still draws locals for late-night noodles in dining room above the kitchen. 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Mon-Sat, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sun. 813 Washington; 982-0596.
Ten Ren Tea Co. Nearly 50 different kinds of teas; samples available. 9-9 daily. 949 Grant; 362-0656.
Wok Shop. Woks, tea sets, bamboo steamers. 718 Grant; (888) 780-7171.
Y.K. Lau Studio. Chinese brush paintings of landscapes. 10-5 Mon-Sat. 30 Wentworth St.; 788-3366.
Holiday Inn Financial District. Located across from Portsmouth Square. From $179. 750 Kearny; (800) 424-829.
SW Hotel. Built in the early 1900s but recently refurbished, the hotel's Asian-Western decor suits its location between North Beach and Chinatown. From $119. 615 Broadway; 362-2999 or (888) 595-9188.
For further reading
Chinese Playground: A Memoir. Bill Lee's account of Chinatown's gang underground in the 1960s and 1970s, and his transition into the Silicon Valley business world. Rhapsody Press, San Francisco, 1999; $28; www.chineseplayground.com.
Fifth Chinese Daughter. Jade Snow Wong's memoir of growing up in pre-1950s Chinatown in the back of an overalls factory. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1989; $13.95; (206) 543-8870.
San Francisco Chinatown: A Walking Tour with Shirley Fong-Torres. Fong-Torres's endless energy comes through in this detailed tour of the neighborhood, with an emphasis on food. China Books & Periodicals, San Francisco, 1991; $10.95; (650) 355-9657 or www.wokwiz.com.
Songs of Gold Mountain. Poetry on gold mining, immigration, and assimilation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, collected by San Francisco State Asian American Studies professor Marlon K. Hom. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1992; $16.95; (800) 822-6657.