San Francisco: a multicultural city
San Francisco, located in northern California, is home to an incredibly ethnically diverse population. San Francisco’s people are mostly of European, East Asian and Hispanic ancestry, and the European-Americans are in the minority.
San Francisco has several famous ethnic neighbourhoods, including old Chinatown and the Mission District. However, many recent immigrants now live further afield, in Oakland and the suburbs. Much of the city, including the historically ethnic areas, is mixed and wonderfully diverse. You’ll see multicultural influences in the city centre and in almost every neighbourhood.
San Francisco’s Chinese-American Community
From the nineteenth century to the present day, China has been a major source of immigration to San Francisco. The Chinese community is extremely well established. San Francisco’s Chinatown, located in the city centre with Grant Avenue and Stockton Street as its two main roads, occupies several square miles. Today, however, the majority of San Franciscans of Chinese ancestry live elsewhere and only visit Chinatown to shop.
Old Chinatown is still a great place to buy inexpensive goods and to eat Chinese-style food. It’s a lively and attractive neighbourhood full of interesting shops, where you can often negotiate a bargain.
San Francisco’s Other East Asian Communities
The Japanese in San Francisco traditionally lived in Japan Town, which is on Post Street between Laguna Street and Fillmore Street. Unfortunately, many lost their homes there during World War II, when they were temporarily placed in internment camps. Many of San Francisco’s ethnic Japanese people now live in San Mateo. However, you can still find plenty of Japanese and Japanese-American culture in J-Town.
Little Saigon is in the Tenderloin, on Larkin Street between O’Farrell Street and Eddy Street. It’s only two blocks long, but its businesses are 80 percent Vietnamese-owned. Don’t miss the delicious bun and pho.
The Bay Area’s Koreatown is in Oakland rather than San Francisco. It’s between 20th Street and 35th Street on Telegraph Avenue, and there are hundreds of businesses owned by Korean-Americans in the area.
San Francisco’s Hispanic Communities
The Mission District is the traditional home of San Francisco’s Spanish-speaking community, but there are also many south-of-the-border immigrants and descendants in the Tenderloin District, the Excelsior District and the suburbs. The Mission District has hipsters and artists, as well, and the pubs and clubs there are fantastic. Visit the Mission District to sample San Francisco’s unique style of Mexican food. If you’re lucky, you may catch one of its exciting festivals.
San Francisco’s Russian Community
San Francisco’s Little Russia was first settled in the 1920s and has experienced several waves of immigrants since then, most recently in the 1980s and 1990s, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. It’s on Geary Boulevard between 17th Avenue and 27th Avenue, bookended by San Francisco’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Russian Renaissance restaurant. There’s plenty of fresh sausage, Russian sweets and vodka to be found in Little Russia.
When you visit San Francisco, you’ll find that it’s not necessary to seek out an ethnic neighbourhood to experience its unique, east Asian-influenced culture. However, the traditional ethnic neighbourhoods all have interesting stories, good food and unique shopping opportunities. They’re well worth visiting.
San Francisco has reasonably good public transport, but like most American cities, it can only be fully explored by car. Car hire in San Francisco is straightforward. Arrange for a rental in advance and pick up the car at the airport. Then, explore San Francisco’s multicultural mosaic.