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Dragon Gate

Dragon Gate

Chinatown's Gateway is known as the Dragon Gate

San Francisco’s Chinatown, crowned by the majestic Dragon Gate at the intersection of Grant Avenue and Bush Street, is a vibrant tapestry of cultural heritage, bustling markets, and rich history. Since its unveiling in 1970, the Dragon Gate has welcomed visitors into one of the city’s most dynamic neighborhoods, offering a glimpse into the Chinese-American experience.


About The Chinatown Dragon Gate

Chinatown Gateway known as the Dragon Gate
Chinatown Gateway known as the Dragon Gate

Like most Chinese ceremonial gates, the Chinatown Gateway has three portals facing south. The two smaller west and east (pedestrian) portals flank the larger central (automotive) portal, and the structure is supported on stone columns rising from the sidewalks on either side of Grant. The stone columns adhere to standards for Chinese gateways in contrast, most ‘Chinese’ gateways constructed in the United States use wooden support columns. 

Each portal is covered with green tiles, leading north along Grant Avenue into Chinatown  Three shallow steps lead up to each pedestrian portal.

Chinese guardian lion 
Chinese guardian lion

Each pedestrian portal features a stone Chinese guardian lion on the side away from the street. By tradition, the lion pair consists of one male and one female. The male lion, at the west portal, stands with his right fore paw atop a pearl or stone, symbolically guarding the structure or empire. The female lion, at the east portal, stands with her left fore paw atop a juvenile lion, symbolically guarding the occupants within

There are four Chinese characters above each portal. Each sign is read from right to left.

The central portal sign reads Chinese: 天下為公; pinyin: tiānxià wèi gōng; literally: ‘All under heaven is for the good of the people’ (a motto attributed to Dr. Sun Yat-sen)

; the east portal sign reads 忠孝仁愛; zhōngxiào rén’ài; ‘respect (filial piety); love’

and the west reads 信義和平; xìnyì hépíng; ‘trust (confidence); peace

Chinatown’s roots in San Francisco date back to the Gold Rush era, making it one of the oldest and most established Chinese enclaves outside Asia. Over the years, it has served as a sanctuary for Chinese immigrants, preserving their customs and traditions amidst the bustling city. The construction of the Dragon Gate in 1970 symbolized the community’s strong cultural identity and welcomed visitors to explore the rich tapestry of life within Chinatown’s streets.

Did you know? The Dragon Gate is one of the few authentic ceremonial gates outside China, adhering to traditional Chinese architectural standards with its stone support columns, unlike the wooden columns typically used in other “Chinese” gateways in the United States.

Chinatown Today

Today, Chinatown is a bustling neighborhood that draws more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a place where the past and present merge, offering an array of experiences from culinary adventures in dim sum restaurants and teahouses to cultural explorations in its many shops and markets. The Dragon Gate stands as a testament to the neighborhood’s enduring spirit and cultural pride.

Not to Be Missed

  • Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory: Venture into this small but fascinating factory at 56 Ross Alley, where you can witness the creation of fortune cookies, a process that has remained largely unchanged for decades. Sampling a fresh, warm cookie straight from the press is a delight not to be missed.

  • Portsmouth Square: Often referred to as the “Heart of Chinatown,” this bustling plaza is a social and historical hub, dotted with markers, statues, and playgrounds. It’s a perfect spot to observe the daily life and community spirit of Chinatown.


Dragon Gate:

  • Location: Grant Avenue at Bush Street, San Francisco, CA
  • Hours: Open 24/7, accessible to the public.

The gate’s design features three portals, with the larger central one for automotive passage and two flanking pedestrian portals, each guarded by a stone Chinese lion. The inscriptions above the portals offer messages of peace, respect, and communal well-being, reflecting the philosophical and cultural values of the community.

Fun Fact: The male and female guardian lions at the pedestrian portals symbolize the protection of the empire and its occupants, with the male lion’s paw resting on a pearl and the female’s on a playful cub.


While Chinatown is known for its urban environment, Portsmouth Square offers a green respite amidst the neighborhood’s dense layout. This square is a lively gathering place for residents and visitors, providing open space for relaxation and community events.

In Popular Culture

Chinatown has been immortalized in film, literature, and art, capturing the imagination of creators and audiences alike. Its streets, markets, and the iconic Dragon Gate have served as settings for stories that explore the complexities of identity, tradition, and migration.

Why You Should Visit

Visiting Chinatown is an immersive experience that transcends the typical tourist path. It’s a journey through a neighborhood that has maintained its cultural heritage while evolving into a dynamic part of San Francisco’s mosaic. From the historical significance of the Dragon Gate to the culinary delights hidden in its alleys, Chinatown offers a unique blend of history, culture, and community life.

As you wander Chinatown’s bustling streets, let the scents of jasmine tea and fresh dumplings guide you through its history, present delights, and the enduring spirit of its community. Whether exploring the cultural landmarks, sampling the culinary offerings, or simply soaking in the vibrant atmosphere, Chinatown invites you to experience the richness of San Francisco’s Chinese heritage—a journey that begins at the Dragon Gate and continues through every corner of this captivating neighborhood.


Nearby Points of Interest

This outdoor plaza offers hours of shopping, dining, and more! Located two blocks from Chinatown, visitors can sit down in Union Square to people-watch or can skip into one of the stores along the way.
Cable Car Museum: Just a few blocks (but some steep hills) west on Mason Street.
“Little Italy” North Beach was named as one of ten “Great Neighborhoods in America”
Lombard Street’s 8 world-famous hairpin turns have earned it the nickname the crookedest street in the world
is San Francisco’s #1 tourist destination! Fisherman’s Wharf is a bustling hub of activity from morning until after dark. Check out Crab Stands and the picturesque fishing harbor
Dragon Gate photo courtesy of:

The Dragon Gate is featured on these tours:

City Tour
Lucky Tuk Tuk Sightseeing Tours at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Lucky Tuk Tuk City Tour

Explore beautiful San Francisco in your own private, electric Tuk Tuk! Perfect for families and groups. A personal guide for your party commandeers this modern-day rickshaw at a pace that’s right for you!
Evening Tour
Night View of Bay Bridge and Coit Tower from San Francisco

Night Private Charter San Francisco Lights Tour

Explore San Francisco at night in a cozy, electric Tuk Tuk! Get up close to the glittering lights and go where buses don’t dare in this modern-day rickshaw. Live commentary included!

Jump Aboard these Other Fun Tours and Rentals to Explore San Francisco

Buckle in and explore the city with an entertaining driving tour of or a trip over the Golden Gate Bridge to walk among the .
San Francisco Jeep Tours will drive you and up to 6 guests in a convertible Jeep. You’ll see all the iconic sites and attractions on exclusive routes with a fun and experienced tour guide.

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