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Chinatown and North Beach

A few blocks uphill from Union Square is the abrupt beginning of dense and insular Chinatown—the oldest such community in the country. When the street signs have Chinese characters, produce stalls take up most of the sidewalk, and whole roast ducks hang in deli windows, you’ll know you’ve arrived.

The neighborhood fills the 17 blocks and 41 alleys bordered roughly by Bush, Kearny, and Powell Streets and Broadway. A number of neighborhood businesses closed or struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, as in other parts of San Francisco and in cities around America, the community is seeing an unfortunate rise in anti–Asian American incidents. The city is trying hard to support this landmark neighborhood and keep its largely elderly population safe.

At its northern end, Chinatown overlaps with North Beach, described by San Francisco novelist Herbert Gold as "the longest-running, most glorious, American bohemian operetta outside Greenwich Village." Indeed, to anyone who has spent some time in its eccentric old bars and cafés, North Beach evokes everything from the Barbary Coast days to the no-less-rowdy Beatnik era.

Italian delis appear frozen in time, rife with homages to writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and the area is dotted with adult-entertainment meccas nodding to North Beach's bawdy history, the modern equivalent of its once-wild sin city legacy. Although the outdoor café tables seem like a contrived scene of European alfresco dining, the real heart and soul of this part of the city remains inside the iconic enclaves, away from the throngs of tourists.

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