Three reasons to include Chinatown in an S.F. event

With our San Francisco offices located quite near Chinatown, I often find myself strolling the district during lunches and after work. And it frequently strikes me that the group tours that are so prevalent in North Beach and other S.F. neighborhoods are nowhere to be seen there.

Personally, however, I think Chinatown is a superb neighborhood for groups to explore and enjoy—and offers more distinctive flavors and settings than perhaps anywhere else in the entire city.

Here are three reasons to bring your next San Francisco group to Chinatown, with some tips on making the most of your explorations:

Colorful Culture

Visiting Chinatown is like walking into a foreign city without the jet lag or expense of a long flight. The neighborhood is authentically Chinese, and seems designed for the most part not as a tourist trap but for the actual Asian residents of the area. It is still an intriguing experience after my hundreds of visits to find myself in a ‘foreign land’ simply by walking one block off of Columbus Avenue.

And as the largest Asian district outside of Asia itself, it is truly one of the most international neighborhoods in the world.

Affordable Dining

A strong case could be made that the dining scene in Chinatown offers not only the best food in the city but some of the most affordable as well. Sure the Mission District (and its many taco joints) is cost-friendly, but the variety and quality don’t live up to what you can find in Chinatown.

For a small group, it’s nice to just check out the no-frills places found on every street, and the ambience often has no connection to the quality of the dishes. Some of the tastiest fare has for decades been found at Yuet Lee, at Stockton and Broadway, though the interior design is probably best described as Circa-1974 Bruce Lee wall-calendar. The ‘salt and pepper shrimp’(in-shell) is legendary here.

Another authentic-style experience can be found at one of the many boisterous dim-sum restaurants, with carts rolling by non-stop with different small plates. Two of the best in this regard are You’s Dim Sum (on Stockton) and Great Eastern (on Jackson).

For something more elegant, and with some fantastic views, check out Empress of China (on Grant), a sixth-floor establishment that’s been a celebrity favorite for decades. Before jumping on the elevator, take in some of the autographed lobby photos of famous diners from years past, running the gamut from Diane Feinstein to Chuck Norris to Jayne Mansfield.

Offbeat Shopping/Tempting Team Building

 When it comes to the offbeat and unexpected, it’s impossible to beat the shopping scene in Chinatown. From high-end authentic antiques to absolutely bizarre tchotchkes and souvenirs, it is an unmatchable blend of treasure and trash. I find Grant Avenue to offer the greatest wealth of shops and galleries, but Jackson and Pacific Streets are good too.

It has crossed my mind on many occasions what a great locale Chinatown and its wild shops would make for a scavenger hunt, or other team-building affair. One fun challenge might be to see which group can find the strangest item for under $10, or something along those lines.

But regardless of what you see or do in this frenetic neighborhood, your group will take home some unique memories.

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