Ethnic Enclaves

Ethnic Enclaves: Travel around the world without leaving San Francisco.
Click on each title to go to the Neighborhood guide where that ethnic enclave is located.

  • Chinatown: The largest Chinese community outside of Asia, Chinatown feels like the real thing. Chinese immigrants began coming to San Francisco in the 1850s, drawn by labor work in mines, railroads, and the 1849 Goldrush. Many others opened up shops and restaurants, confined to the Chinatown area. Today, Chinese culture remains hugely influential in San Francisco, absolutely permeating outside of Chinatown—in fact about 22% of San Francisco’s population is of Chinese descent.
  • Japantown: The U.S.’s largest and oldest Japanese community, springing up after the 1906 Earthquake. During WWII, Japanese residents were sent to relocation camps, essentially shutting down Japantown. Following the war, the once-30 blocks of Japantown were reduced to less than 10 blocks. Albeit small, Japantown still offers a trip into Japanese culture.
  • Little Italy: Although still home to Italian culture, Little Italy has learned to share the neighborhood with other ethnic groups like neighboring (and encroaching) Chinatown, as well as beatnik subculture and wild nightlife. In terms of Italian culture, there are dozens of Italian ristoranti and delis, many staffed with Italians.
  • Little Russia: A concentration of Russian-speaking immigrants in the Richmond District, an area usually associated with a Chinese population. Spanning along Geary Boulevard between the Russian Cathedral of the Holy Virgin at 27th Avenue and the Russian Renaissance restaurant at 17th Avenue, Little Russia saw it’s first wave of Russian immigrants in the 1920s. Don’t miss Cinderella Bakery (436 Balboa St.) for yummy Russian baked goods and homebrewed Kvass.
  • Little SaigonLocated in the Tenderloin district, the businesses of this two-block stretch are more than 80% Vietnamese-owned, including the most infamous bahn mi place, Saigon Sandwich. Try one for yourself for just $3.75!
  • The Mission: Although a mixing pot of cultures, the Latino community prevails as most influential. To feel like you’ve traveled to Mexico, walk along Mission Street (instead of Valencia Street), and stop at one of several street vendors to get favorite Mexican street food (mine is fresh chile mango or elote). Then head down 24th Street and discover panaderias and joyerias until you find Balmy Alley, an alleyway covered in art murals, many of which celebrate Latino history and important Mission neighborhood residents.
  • The Richmond: The Richmond is home to a huge Chinese population, offering a less touristy Chinatown experience than Chinatown. Geary Boulevard and Clement Street bustle with Chinese produce markets, home good stores, and dim sum banquet halls. Some even say (and I agree!) that the Richmond offers better eats than Chinatown.