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Chinatown: The biggest "little China" in the USA

Starts at:

St. Mary's Park, Chinatown


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Stroll through Chinatown's lantern-lined streets and you'll taste delicious dim sum and freshly made fortune cookies. But to get a taste for the real Chinatown, you have to venture through its back alleys with someone who grew up here. On this Detour, Chinatown native Norman Fong will lead you out of the tourist traps and into the family businesses, ghost stories, and histories of segregation and assimilation that have made this neighborhood the largest and most vibrant Chinese community outside of China.

Along the way, Norman will take you into a Chinese-run mom-and-pop grocery to give you tips on how to cook on the cheap with the neighborhood’s plentiful ingredients. You’ll visit a glowing, incense-filled, sanctuary and have your fortune told. You’ll visit the alley where notable Chinatown gangster Shrimp Boy once had his headquarters, and hear about Norman’s youthful run-ins with Chinatown gangs too. You’ll go to a neighborhood hotel that stands for solidarity, order up a special energy (qi) soup mix from a local ginseng purveyor, and see that laundry lines tell stories.

As a kid growing up in Chinatown, Norman wrestled with his identity and the pressure to reject his Chinese-American heritage. On this Detour, he’ll show you all the things that make him embrace it today.

This Detour was produced in collaboration with KQED, public media for the Bay Area. Proceeds go to support KQED programming.

Tips & Hours

  • This Detour is best between 9:30 am - 3:30 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays when all of the businesses along the route are open, but can be taken anytime, any day. Most of the stops are open until 6pm.

  • Come hungry. Chinatown is known for its food and our narrator has plenty of recommendations in the Explore tab.

  • Bring some cash for a donation at the Tin How Temple, a Chinese coffee and bun, and any purchases at the Chinese herb shop or any of the other myriad of Chinatown stores along the way.