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San Francisco Chinatown holiday season shopping guide: 2023 edition

Colorful lanterns hang in a narrow San Francisco alleyway that has a red terrace and a red sign.
People walk down Ross Alley in San Francisco Chinatown. | Source: Han Li/The Standard

Holiday shopping doesn’t have to be a chore—so turn it into a joyful exploration by making your gifting destination the oldest ethnic enclave in San Francisco, Chinatown. 

At a time when narratives of San Francisco’s demise can feel ubiquitous, there is perhaps no other neighborhood that represents the city’s renaissance better

Our Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia, and it’s hot off a successful night market, sporting a brand new transit hub and planning for the coming revitalization of Portsmouth Square. It’s also basking in the light of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which drew renewed attention to the neighborhood and spurred activity from an art block party to a bar and nightclub crawl

A colorful bird kite hangs from the ceiling of a kite shop.
Chinatown's kite shop sells a phoenix kite, the mythical bird that is a symbol of San Francisco. | Source: Julie Zigoris/The Standard

Chinatown Kite Shop

📍 717 Grant Ave. 
🔗 chinatownkite.store

Open since 1972, Chinatown Kite Shop is a one-of-a-kind store and San Francisco legacy business that has a Zoltar fortune-telling machine out front and an incredible selection of kites inside. Offering everything from simple children’s kites to elaborate handmade dragon kites, you can find a range of gifts at various price points (including options of the non-kite variety). Perfect for San Franciscans, the store even has on sale a phoenix kite—the mythical bird that serves as the city’s symbol. 

A blue and pink kite hangs in s hope crowded with kites and other merchandise.
The Chinatown Kite Shop at 717 Grant Ave. has been in business on Grant Avenue in Chinatown since 1971. | Source: Julie Zigoris/The Standard

Ellie and Eva Company

📍 709 Jackson St.
🔗 No website

Established in 1970, the Ellie and Eva Company is a music store—and another legacy business—that carries both new and vintage instruments as well as Chinese pinwheels that symbolize good luck. The company responsible for creating the beautiful teardrop-shaped keychains for APEC swag bags.

The entrance to a store shows hanging woks and pans, kitchen tools, postcards and paper lanterns.
There's a large selection of woks and other home goods on sale at Chinatown's Wok Shop. | Source: Julie Zigoris/The Standard

The Wok Shop 

📍 718 Grant Ave. 
🔗 wokshop.com

While you’ll want to forego picking up any knives as gifts—tradition says that’s bad luck—there’s a whole variety of woks and other kitchen items on sale at the Wok Shop that make the perfect present for the foodie in your life. It’s a delight to search through the filled-to-the-brim, atmospheric shop where the prices are reasonable and the woks are aplenty. In business since 1972, the Wok Shop is a neighborhood institution worth patronizing. 

Kim+Ono

📍 729 Grant Ave. 
🔗 kimandono.com

Kim+Ono specializes in silk and charmeuse handcrafted kimonos in botanical prints, and the serene store is a calm oasis in the midst of frenetic Chinatown. Buy your darling a real silk kimono trimmed with velvet, and they will feel like absolute royalty. The shop also has a beautifully curated selection of books, smudge sticks and other gifts for those who prioritize wellness.  

A long shelf with a counter in front of it holds metal canisters of tea.
Vital Tea Leaf stocks a large variety of teas and offers free samples. | Source: Julie Zigoris/The Standard

Vital Tea Leaf 

📍 95 Grant Ave.
🔗 vitaltealeaf.net

You won’t just be shopping for tea, but getting life lessons—and splashes of humor—from owner Kenny when you stroll into Vital Tea Leaf on Grant Avenue. Owner Uncle Gee has his own words of wisdom: “Tea makes you younger, smarter, and twice as sexy,” as the store’s website informs you. You can sample any of the store’s various offerings—including black, green, white, oolong and tisane—for free and also pick up teaware sets as gifts. 

Pieces of chocolates in colors ranging from orange to blue and with different patterns are visible through a glass display case.
The beautiful handmade chocolates for sale at Jade come in different shapes and colors. | Source: Julie Zigoris/The Standard

Jade Chocolates 

📍 607 Grant Ave. 
🔗 jadechocolates.com

Jade Chocolates is a feast of the senses, a beautifully appointed store where you can shop for some of the most delicious chocolates in the city. There, delicate confections come in a range of shapes, flavors and colors, each more gorgeous than the next. We recommend a salted caramel called the Gold Mountain (the Chinese nickname for San Francisco during the Gold Rush), the olive oil and yuzu piece, and the peanut and mango jam Buddha, dusted with gold and in the shape of its namesake’s head. The signature chocolate bars—in particular, the Genmai—are also insanely delectable. 

A green-wrapped chocolate bar is tied with a golden ribbon.
The Genmai chocolate bar at Jade Chocolates is one of the shop's bestsellers. | Source: Julie Zigoris/The Standard

The Chinese Culture Center Gift Shop

📍 750 Kearny St., 3rd Floor 
🔗 ccsf.us

Tucked alongside the Hilton Chinatown San Francisco Hotel on Kearny Street, the Chinese Culture Center has a delightful gift shop that’s like a miniature SFMOMA with its delightful array of quirky goods. Here’s where you can stock up on dim sum pins, Vitasoy keychains and Get Rich earrings to give to your friends—and gift them complete with a Chinese zodiac postcard. As an added bonus, you know your purchase is going to support a cultural institution that supports Chinatown’s vibrant heritage. 

Abacus Row 

📍 1256 Mason St. 
🔗 abacusrow.com

Abacus Row owner Christine Trac curates an ever-changing assortment of locally made jewelry and gifts at a variety of price points at this Mason Street shop. While the store is arguably in Nob Hill, Trac is a fierce advocate for small businesses in Chinatown and features many of them in her own shop. 

Canton Bazaar 

📍 616 Grant Ave. 
🔗 No website 

There are numerous emporia crowded with wares on the cramped streets of Chinatown, and Canton Bazaar is one of the better ones to find a large assortment of gifts at a range of prices. Try picking up a set of silk pillowcases—your loved one will never sleep better—or a mahjong set for wiling away lazy Sunday afternoons.  

A man sits in a tiny factory space that has fortune cookie making equipment and bags of fortune cookies.
Owner Kevin Chan sits at his Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in San Francisco's Chinatown. | Source: Xinhua/Wu Xiaoling/Getty Images

📍 56 Ross Alley 
🔗 goldengatefortunecookies.com

For a truly unique gift—or over-the-top marriage proposal—place an order for custom fortune cookies at the factory where the signature Chinese treat (which is technically a Japanese invention) was born. You can customize each order with up to three different messages, and you also have the choice of five different flavors. Visit the atmospheric store to watch the cookies being made and select from an even wider range of flavors, sizes and messages—including X-rated ones. 

Julie Zigoris can be reached at jzigoris@sfstandard.com