Mark Twain was said to have quipped, "The coldest winter I ever saw was the
summer I spent in San Francisco."
Some things haven't changed since the 1800s, and one of those is the general
sweep of the weather in the "City By The Bay." Summers
can indeed be cold and foggy, but the good news is that the "shoulder season"
-- the months of October and November, and the months of February and March --
can be absolutely lovely! Here is the first in a series of my favorite urban
hikes in San Francisco: Chinatown.
Established in the 1840s, San Francisco's
Chinatown is the oldest and largest Chinatown in North
America. It was the primary point of entry for the many Chinese
who emigrated to the United States
in the mid-1800s to work on the railroad system. As the population of the
enclave grew, its residents established a strong residential, commercial, and
political infrastructure, becoming in many ways a self-sustaining island within
the city. While the many restaurants and retail shops do a brisk tourist trade,
the area remains a vibrant Asian community. Today's Chinatown
is home to over 100,000 residents.
One Suggested Walk
A traditional starting place for a stroll through Chinatown
(at least, since 1970, when this archway was dedicated) is the Dragon Gate at
Grant and Bush. Head through the gate and north on Grant.
Take in the street scene and poke your head in a few shops -- wares range from
fine art and couture to outlandishly silly kitsch. At California Street, turn right and proceed
one block to see the Old St. Mary's Cathedral (as opposed to the "new" one, an
architectural darling across town at Gough and Geary). The first St. Mary's on this site was built
in 1854. Contrary to popular lore, it survived the 1906 earthquake itself, but
fell victim to the fires following the catastrophic quake. The church you see
today is a century old, completed in 1909. It faces an open, grassy square
featuring a sculpture of Sun Yat-Sen
by noted artist Beniamino ("Benny") Bufano.
Stroll back down Commercial to Grant and head north again. From here, it's
potluck to Jackson or Pacific, perhaps jogging
west (left) to Stockton
to make a loop of it. Waverly Place, a narrow two-block street that
parallels Grant and Stockton between Sacramento and Washington, is worth a
stroll for the unique, less-touristy shops and historic sites including Tin
How, said to be the oldest Chinese temple in the U.S.
On your way back down Grant toward the entry gate, look for Eastern Bakery
on your left just past Commercial
Street. Opened in the 1920s, it is said to be the
oldest Chinese bakery in the U.S.
Shortly past the bakery, you'll find it hard to miss the impressive
architecture of the Gold Mountain Sagely Monastery on the corner of Grant and Sacramento.
The California cable car route travels
east-west through the very heart of Chinatown, just two blocks north of the Chinatown gates at Bush and Grant and passing immediately
in front of Old St. Mary's Cathedral. If you're taking Bay Area Rapid Transit
(BART) into the city, the closest stop is Montgomery Street. Just walk a block and
a half west on Post then turn right on Grant; the gates are only two blocks away.
To combine the BART and cable car experience, take BART to the Powell Street
station, ride north and disembark anywhere between Grant and Jackson.
Please read more about hking San Francisco in Part 2.
Sally O'Neal is an inveterate walker and hiker who made her home in the San
Francisco Bay Area from 1979 to 1985 and visits the area frequently. She writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.