San Francisco

Article excerpt

Gateway to America for many and home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, San Francisco is a prism of cultures, many of them Eastern. Around every corner discover a new world. Grand museums and traditional neigborhoods live in harmony with gleaming skyscrapers. Begin your visit by walking through Chinatown's "Dragon's Gate."

To get acquainted with this charming district, packed with shops crammed with trinkets to fine antiques, family-style noodle bars, elegant Chinese restaurants, art galleries and museums, take a docent-conducted walking tour sponsored by the Chinese Culture Center. The "Historic Walk" stops at the Chinese Historical Society of America for an overview of the Chinese immigration story, and the popular "Culinary Walk" includes fish shops, a fortune cookie factory, Chinese grocery and herb shops, then culminates with a dim sum luncheon.

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San Francisco's Chinese New Year celebration is the largest celebration of its kind outside of Asia. It follows the lunar calendar so dates vary from year to year, but it's always a lively experience that ends with a parade filled with floats and colorful costumes, bands, acrobats, firecrackers and lion dances. The finale is a 201-foot dragon that seems to dance in the air. San Francisco's Vietnamese community also celebrates the lunar New Year, known as Tet, with a solemn but uplifting festival in the Tenderloin District. Families pay respect to ancestors, red envelopes with new dollar bills are given to children and, at the stroke of midnight, firecrackers are set off to welcome the New Year. It's a time of joy and hope in a bright new future.

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The heart of Japantown--or Nihonmachi--is Japan Center, a five-acre complex of hotels, shops, theaters, sushi bars and restaurants at Post and Buchanan Streets. It is crowned by a five-tiered pagoda, a symbol of eternal peace. You can find everything Japanese from embroidered kimonos to tea ceremony utensils. More than 12,000 San Franciscans of Japanese descent make their home here. …