Diversity in San Francisco
October 23, 2013

San Francisco is a fascinating place to visit, partly due to the large number of different communities that thrive within it. Of these, Chinatown, Japantown and Little Italy have become distinct parts of the city, each with their own personality.

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Read on to find out more about these areas and what you could get up to when visiting them.

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Not only does San Francisco have the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia, it is also the oldest in North America, making it a well established and interesting community to visit. The first Chinese immigrants arrived in the city in 1848, with a church and school erected in the area in 1853 and 1859 respectively. Chinatown’s population now tops 70,000.

Wandering around the characteristic streets and alleyways you will pick up the atmosphere of the place, which is a hive of everyday life for its residents. Along the way you may notice remarkable edifices such as the Bank of Canton and the Sing Chong Building.

The Bank of Canton occupies a building with a three-tiered roof, which once housed the Chinese Telephone Exchange. This historic institution has been on the site since 1891, but had to be rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake.

San Francisco’s Chinese community believed that it was rude to refer to people as numbers, so the telephone operators memorised each subscriber’s name, address and occupation, so they could help callers. Working for the Chinese telephone exchange also involved knowing five Chinese dialects as well as English.

It would be a shame to leave Chinatown without sampling some of the wonderful food on offer. Step into one of the hundreds of bakeries and restaurants that serve up authentic dishes for a delicious mooncake or dim sum.

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There are only three Japantowns left in the whole of the United States and having been founded in 1906, San Francisco’s in the oldest. Today, visitors can take a self-guided walk around the area and learn all about its history.

This is a worthwhile way to spend time in Japantown, as is visiting the Japanese Tea Garden, which is like stepping through a portal into the heart of Asia. Originally constructed for the 1894  California Midwinter International Exposition, this tranquil park was such a success that it remained.

Visit this pretty section of park to see a classical arched drum bridge, pagodas, stone lanterns, stepping stone paths, native Japanese plants, koi ponds and a zen garden. Those luckily enough to be in San Francisco in March and April will also see the cherry blossom trees coming into bloom.

Little Italy

While Little Italy is a relatively small area of San Francisco it is a particularly charming place to visit. Located not far from Chinatown it is possible to combine a trip to both at the same time. Immediately you will notice the difference from the rest of the city as the buildings are more colourful and have an obvious Italian influence.

Wandering the streets of Little Italy you will not be able to resist popping into the small restaurants and cafes that would not be out of place in Tuscany. Treat yourself to a delicious gelato in any one of the large selection of flavours.