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Chinatown walking tour: worthwhile, or just touristy?

zorra Jan 18, 2011 06:25 PM

Will be entertaining myself in the city for several days next week while DH attends a conference. Thinking about a Chinatown tour for one morning. Anybody have recent experience with Wok Wiz? Local Tastes of the City? Your opinion, please: either? Neither? Other options?
(I haven't been to SF in about 15 years so will be reorienting myself to downtown, etc. Looking forward to the Ferry Building, among other explorations.)

  1. c
    Canadian Cousin Jan 19, 2011 03:51 PM

    I have taken Shirleys tour on 3 separate occasions and each time I learn something new about Chinese culture. The sights, sounds and smells are not to be missed. Shirley and her staff speak of colours, customs and great food. Shirley is a great person who shares her personal stories and shows you a side of Chinatown you would never see on you own. A must do.

    1. k
      KimSpang Jan 19, 2011 03:07 PM

      Wok Wiz is worth it and a lot of food, fun, facts! It is nice to hear the history behind the buildings, alleys, shops, and restaurants. You get in some behind-the-scenes places that you won't get into on your own. The tour is well paced and the guides are friendly. I highly recommend! Kim

      1. l
        Lexma90 Jan 19, 2011 01:47 PM

        I will be in somewhat of the same boat later this Spring. Hubby will be in meetings. We go to S.F. every couple years or so, so I'm familiar with Chinatown. I make sure our hotel is near Chinatown, then go there every morning to pick up food for breakfast, and spend lots of time wandering around. I'd love to learn more about the cuisine.

        I know a little bit about Chinese food, well, dim sum - but I'd love to know more. Sounds like Wok Wiz tours are more for people who are novices to Chinese food - is that the case? I'd love an intermediate-level intro to dim sum. Would I get that if Shirley was leading the tour? Any other way to get that kind of introduction?

        Actually, what would really be great is to have a dim sum meal with a Chowhound who knows all about the cuisine...that would be so much better than a tour...

        1. k
          Keesey Jan 19, 2011 12:30 PM

          Are you looking for a walking tour that is food related? Or just a history of Chinatown?

          If the latter, I've always enjoyed City Guides: www.sfcityguides.org
          It's free and most last around 2 hrs. (though tips at the end are encouraged) Just show up and look for the group at the designated meeting point. Each guide has taken extensive courses to learn their specific tour and many collect unique stories only gathered from leading the guides themselves from other locals. Totally low key... no "follow the waving flag" I often see in more touristy type setups. You can even leave in the middle of it if you're not satisfied.

          They offer many other walking tours around SF... focusing on a neighborhood or architecture or even a certain era significant to SF (ie. Gold Rush, 1906 Quake).

          1. s
            Sally137 Jan 18, 2011 11:03 PM

            The Wok Wiz tour is a must. There is so much wonderful history revealed in Shirley Fong Torres's San Francisco. You will visit some fascinating little shops and sample some of the City's finest Chinese food. Just spending time with Shirley and sharing her love of the City is an experience not to be forgotten. On a scale of 1 - 10, the Wok WIz tour is a 10 !!

            3 Replies
            1. re: Sally137
              zorra Jan 19, 2011 08:05 AM

              But does Shirley herself usually lead the tours?

              1. re: zorra
                yimster Jan 19, 2011 01:07 PM

                She does but has at least eight others who help out in the busy season.

                If it's slow she is a working owner.

              2. re: Sally137
                mariacarmen Jan 19, 2011 08:09 AM

                good info, thanks!

              3. m
                ML8000 Jan 18, 2011 10:35 PM

                I haven't lived in SF for 6 years and didn't go to Chinatown much before that given parking and living in the Richmond. I had dinner there this past summer and there's enough change to make it interesting to walk around. Things have changed but a lot has stayed the same.

                The biggest change is the alley way improvements. No parking is now enforced in pedestrian alley/walk-ways, plus some streetscape changes. Fairly simple changes but big improvement, a huge difference.

                Re: a tour, I think it's worth it. Not all of them cost money either, and I think the Alley Way tour has local high school kids as guides.

                1. n
                  neobite Jan 18, 2011 09:09 PM

                  Worthwhile, absolutely. I took one of the Wok Wiz tours with Shirley and really had fun. Much more fun than I would have had wandering around on my own. I learned a few things, ate some great food I might not have otherwise found, and met some very nice people. It didn't feel cheap or touristy, just a very pleasant way to get to know the area.

                  1. s
                    sfbing Jan 18, 2011 08:58 PM

                    I like Chinatown Alley Way Tours, which are led by teens who grew up in Chinatown. I think they give visitors a feeling for Chinatown as a functional neighborhood (similar to what I grew up with) as opposed to a tourist attraction.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: sfbing
                      Robert Lauriston Jan 19, 2011 08:32 AM

                      The alleys themselves are pretty interesting and easy to miss, though you can easily find them with a decent map.

                    2. mariacarmen Jan 18, 2011 08:43 PM

                      Sorry, don't know anything about those tours, but I do like taking a stroll through Chinatown every now and again, even though I live here.

                      You might enjoy taking a walk in the Mission - Take BART to 16th street, walk to Valencia (one block) and walk from 16th to 24th on Valencia for various shops, taquerias and other restaurants (and bars, at night)- and then make a left on 24th to go to a really colorful, slightly more Latin area of the Mission. (Mission Street itself, which parallels Valencia, is much more Latino, but many feel it's a little grungier.)

                      1. yimster Jan 18, 2011 08:17 PM

                        I think you would be better off just walk around by yourself and just enjoy it. I would walk Stockton Street instead of Grant Ave. More interesting food store and less touristy. But what are you looking for maybe the local hounds can advise.

                        1. monku Jan 18, 2011 07:44 PM

                          Take a walk for a couple blocks if you must, but nothing has changed in 15 years. Visiting my mother in San Francisco for 20+ years, nothing in Chinatown has changed.

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