13 Best Chinatowns In America You Must Visit At Least Once

Last Updated on May 09, 2024 by Nikki Jain

The United States is a nation of immigrants; because of this, all sorts of ethnic enclaves have sprung up all over the country. There are defined locations where immigrants (or the families of immigrants) have decided to carve out a small piece of the town or city to celebrate their culture.

Since the 1960s, there has been a massive wave of immigration from China, which means we have seen plenty of amazing Chinatowns around the country (although some were around in the 1800s). This page is a celebration of the best Chinatowns in America.

Here, we will go through thirteen of the largest Chinatowns in the US and tell you exactly why they are so great.

Best Chinatowns in the USA

Table of Contents [Show]

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1: Manhattan, New York City

Manhattan, New York City
Chinatown in Manhattan | Dreamstime/Wirestock

Manhattan's Chinatown has to be one of the most famous Chinatowns in the USA. While it certainly isn’t the largest, it is the most populated.

It has the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere. Up to 100,000 people live here, all packed into a space that is barely 0.75 square miles. Tight!

Although, that size is a bit up in the air. Chinatown in Manhattan has no defined boundary, so you’ll have a bit of an overspill into the surrounding areas.

While gentrification of the Manhattan Chinatown has shaken up the demographics a little and driven some of the smaller businesses out, this is still one of the most exciting of the Chinatowns to visit.

It is a stunning area that leans into Chinese culture (mostly Cantonese), and some of the best Asian restaurants in the city can be found in that tightly packed space.

Oh, and there are plenty of fantastic ingredients for whatever you decide to whip up at home.

It is worth noting that this is one of nine different Chinatowns in New York City, so if you're in NYC, you may as well visit them all.

Due to its size and history, we just picked this one for our list of the best Chinatowns in America.

Also Read: Top NYC Attractions & Things To Do

2: San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California
Chinatown in San Francisco | Dreamstime/Andrey Bayda

San Francisco's Chinatown is not only one of the must-visit Chinatowns in the USA but the oldest.

It has been around since 1848, and while there is no doubt that the population of San Francisco's Chinatown has gone through some particularly trying times, the population of this enclave has had a significant impact on influencing Chinese and Asian immigration to the USA.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is under ½ mile square. However, it manages to boast a population of 34,000. This makes it the second most densely packed Chinatown in the United States.

San Francisco's Chinatown grew when it became the chosen port of entry for Chinese immigrants arriving in the United States, and the population exploded in the 19th Century when it became somewhat of a tourist destination (albeit for its vices, which thankfully have been cleared up).

There are a few amazing places to eat and party in Chinatown, but the most famous destination is the Sam Wo restaurant. This restaurant has existed in some form since 1912 and has been featured in numerous TV shows and newspaper articles.

Of course, if you want the main sights of Chinatown in San Francisco, then make sure that you snap the Dragon Gate as you enter the area or head to Portsmouth Square, which is the oldest public square in the city.

Also Read: The Best San Francisco Attractions and Things To Do

3: Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois
Chicago Chinatown | Dreamstime/Sean Pavone

Back in the early 1900s, the Loop part of Chicago managed to attract the bulk of the Chinese immigrants.

However, in 1912, those Chinese immigrants moved south a bit, and now the immigrants, plus tons of Chinese Americans, can be found in a small area with a population of around 16,000.

One of the more famous sights in Chicago's Chinatown is the Chinatown Mural, which quickly depicts the history of Chinese immigration to the United States.

Chinese Square is where the bulk of the shopping and dining action happens, with beautiful Chinese Zodiac sculptures dotted around the place.

Others interested in Chinese culture and history may wish to visit the Chinese American Museum of Chicago.

If you are a movie buff (well, you like semi-OK movies), head to the fire station. This was where a scene in Backdraft (by Ron Howard) was filmed.

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Chicago

4: Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington
Seattle Chinatown | Dreamstime/Olgarimaschevsckaya

Chinese immigrants have tried to settle in Seattle for a long period of time. However, something always got in their way.

The Chinese Exclusion Act forced them to move on from where they were originally located in Seattle, and then the Great Fire of Seattle in 1869 drove them out even further.

It wasn't until 1907 that Chinese immigrants (and American Chinese) in Seattle found a place to call their own.

Unfortunately, it seems as if the Seattle may not be around for long, at least in its current form.

What was once regarded as one of the most amazing Chinatowns in the United States is feeling the effects of gentrification, and it is regarded as an endangered community.

Sure, the majority of the population in the area is Chinese, but it is now more of a multi-ethnic community with a bit more of a Chinese lean.

Still, it will be around for a while, and we doubt the whole aesthetic of the area will change. It is packed with Chinese supermarkets and celebrates Lunar New Year every year with style.

It also leans heavily into Chinese architectural design, which gives the area an absolutely stunning look. In our opinion, it is a must-visit.

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Seattle

5: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Chinatown | Dreamstime/Tupungato

Philadelphia's Chinatown may be one of the newer Chinatowns across America.

While the late 19th Century saw some Chinese immigrants in the area, it wasn't until the 1960s that Philadelphia's Chinatown became a Chinatown.

Although, it still remains one of the smallest Chinatowns in the US, with around 1,300 residents.

The main highlight of this area is the Chinatown Friendship Gate. This was the first authentic Chinese Gate built in the USA by proper Chinese artisans, and it looks absolutely stunning.

While this Chinatown certainly isn't massive, we think it is worth visiting Philadelphia alone so you can look at the beautiful gate.

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Philadelphia

6: Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii
Honolulu Chinatown | Dreamstime/Jeff Whyte

Honolulu's Chinatown was formed by Chinese laborers in the late 1900s. However, there have been times when the Chinatown here almost crumbled.

Perhaps the notable being the Bubonic Plague that started in 1899 and the Great Honolulu Chinatown Fire in 1900. However, each time, the area has managed to pull itself back up on its feet.

Although it may not be a traditional Chinatown in the way people see things normally. This is a multi-ethnic area, and just 50% of the population has Chinese heritage.

The area will be as lavishly decorated as some of the largest Chinatowns in the US, but Honolulu's Chinatown has retained some Chinese charm (despite many of the buildings being destroyed over the years) and some fantastic places to eat and shop.

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Honolulu

7: Boston, Massachusetts

Boston, Massachusetts
Boston Chinatown | Dreamstime/Enrico Della Pietra

While the population of Boston's Chinatown has been rising, the number of ethnic Chinese living there has been falling.

Like many Chinatowns in the United States, many are worried about the future of this area. However, we expect nothing will change too much, at least in the near future.

With almost 6,000 people packed into this small area, Boston’s Chinatown is the most densely packed area in the whole city (and anybody who has ever been to Boston will know that the place is as packed as it is!)

One of the cool things about Boston's Chinatown is that it has a blend of cuisines. As we said, most of the people living here are not Chinese.

This means that many restaurants seem to blend Chinese cooking with the cuisines of other nations, e.g., a Chinese/Fuji blend. The result is some of the best food in any of the Chinatowns.

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Boston

8: Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles Chinatown | Dreamstime/Shawn Hempel

The current Los Angeles Chinatown is one of the area's rare 'planned Chinatowns'.

It didn't have a natural growth from loads of Chinese immigrants moving in at once. Instead, it was developed in 1938 when the old Chinatown was demolished.

This may not be the biggest Chinatown in the US, but it comes pretty close. It is home to between 7,800 and 20,000 people, depending on where you measure Chinatown from. About 60% of these have Chinese ethnicity.

There is also a sizeable Vietnamese population here, so you get a healthy blend of stores as you wander the streets.

Unfortunately, Los Angeles Chinatown is going through a period of change, which means many smaller stores and restaurants have shut down.

However, you can still feel the Chinese culture around the place, with a dab of Vietnamese culture (those with Vietnamese ethnicity run many of the bazaars here).

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Los Angeles

9: Houston, Texas

Houston, Texas
Hong-Kong City Mall in Houston Chinatown

Houston's Chinatown has remained mostly a residential area. Although, there are a few shops and restaurants dotted around here.

The area went through the biggest development period in 1983 and remains one of the more spread-out Chinatowns. The entire area covers about 2.37 square miles, with a population of 30,000.

This Chinatown isn't a major tourist destination. Instead, it is a Chinatown meant for Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans to live and thrive.

This means you won't see any major tourist destinations pulling people in, but you will find plenty of Chinese businesses (including banks, restaurants, shops, etc.)

It is worth a wander around if you are looking for a Chinatown that isn’t just for tourists.

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Houston

10: Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.
Chinatown of Washington, D.C. | Dreamstime/Cvandyke

Chinatown in Washington D.C. is an incredibly small area, but the lavish decoration does have it up there as being one of the best Chinatowns in America.

This area started to be developed in the 1930s after many people were displaced from elsewhere in Washington, D.C.

Only 3,000 people live here, with around 21% of those of Asian heritage, but this place hasn't stopped looking amazing.

The highlight is the Friendship Archway as you walk into the area. It is stunning, and you will be in awe trying to look at all the beauty this structure boasts.

Once in Chinatown proper, you'll find countless businesses, stores, and restaurants (although not as many as there once were).

While many larger American brands, e.g., Subway, have moved into the area, they do try to have a bit of a Chinese flair to them. It helps them to fit in.

Also Read: Top Washington D.C. Attractions & Things To Do

11: Oakland, California

Oakland, California
Oakland Chinatown | Flickr/sfbaywalk

Oakland is unique in that it is one of only a few Chinatowns in the US that has not placed a gate signifying the entrance to Chinatown. All you have to go by once you are in is the unique architecture and the street signs.

There are three parks in Oakland Chinatown, each boasting a tiny Chinese flair. For example, Chinese Garden Park has a pagoda, while one of the children's play parks has a Chinese dragon for children to play on.

The library in Chinatown is unique insofar as it is one of only a few public libraries in the US that boasts a massive collection of Asian literature. In fact, the library here covers books in 8 different languages!

12: San Diego, California

San Diego, California
San Diego Chinatown | Flickr/Allan Ferguson

San Diego's Chinatown goes by the rather lengthy name of Asian Pacific Thematic Historic District, which, as you can probably guess from the name, this place isn't just about Chinese culture but culture from the Asia Pacific.

This is a preserved historic location, so it doesn't get much in the way of development.

However, some of the buildings here are from when Asian immigrants first settled in this part of San Diego, and they have retained a unique laid-back charm, unlike some of the other Chinatowns you find scattered around the United States.

The main attraction here is the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.

Also Read: Top San Diego Attractions & Things To Do

13: Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas Chinatown | Dreamstime/Chon Kit Leong

As you can probably guess, Las Vegas does the biggest and best when it comes to Chinatown, and it is one of the only Chinatowns that is constantly expanding.

Although, we suppose that a lot of this is down to tourism. The area didn't naturally develop like some of the other Chinatowns.

Las Vegas Chinatown covers a 3-mile strip loaded with over 150 shops and restaurants, with more being added almost every year.

Considering this cultural hub is a fairly new Chinatown, we are in awe at just how much there is to see and do here. You could probably just hang about, not see anything else in Vegas, and still feel like you had a fantastic trip.

Of course, since this is Vegas, everything is lavishly decorated, and at times, you will feel as if you have left the US and stepped into China. It is beautiful.

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Las Vegas and Best Things To Do On the Las Vegas Strip

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the biggest Chinatown in the US?

Manhattan Chinatown is the largest natural Chinatown in the US, although Las Vegas is beating it in terms of sheer size.

What is the most famous Chinatown in America?

Manhattan's Chinatown is the most famous Chinatown in the US, featuring in countless movies.

What is the oldest Chinatown in the US?

San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest in the US. It was developed in the mid-1800s.

Wrapping Up

If you are looking for the best Chinatowns in America, then we hope this list gave you some food for thought. Just remember that some of these Chinatowns are losing some cultural charm due to gentrification. So, if you want to see the raw beauty of some of these locations, you'll probably have to go sooner rather than later.

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