Exploring Chinatown's History and Culture ... Tours, Museums

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Exploring Chinatown's history and culture ... tours, museums

Still the largest Chinese community in the West, San Francisco's Chinatown, with a population estimated at 80,000, remains a source of fascination and some mystery. Two museums help unlock the history and culture of this famous section of town. And a third focuses on the cultures of the Pacific Rim. Remember that you can't reach Chinatown via the Embarcadero Freeway (closed after the October '89 quake). From U.S. 101 northbound, take the Fourth Street exit, head east on Bryant Street, then left at the Embarcadero; follow signs. From the Bay Bridge, take the Main Street--Embarcadero exit (from left lane), turn right at Harrison Street, then left at the Embarcadero; follow signs.

Chinese Culture Center, 750 Kearny Street, on the third floor of the Holiday Inn on Portsmouth Square, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The center's big two-room gallery offers a permanent exhibition of contemporary and historical art by Chinese and Chinese-Americans. May 12 through June 30, the main gallery features an exhibit titled Dragon Threads: Chinese Costumes and Accessories. Allow time to browse in the gallery's fine book and gift shop. Saturdays at 2, docents lead Chinese Heritage Walks through traditional Chinatown (bounded by Bush, Broadway, Stockton, and Kearny). Starting from the culture center's gallery, each 1- to 2-hour walk winds through narrow alleys and dark side streets. You visit a fragrant herb shop, an overwarm fortune cooky factory full of sweet smells, a hushed Buddhist temple, and other buildings of architectural and historical interest. …