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As a trip to China without the 12-hour flight, San Francisco's Chinatown makes you feel that you are traveling in time: in a flash you go in the order of the costume and tie of the financial district of the city the largest Chinatown outside Asia (and the oldest in the US), with crowded sidewalks and chatter in Cantonese and Mandarin, full of food stalls and mysterious-looking shops. It is a journey in every sense of the word and probably as close as you can get to Asia without a passport.

Although it is okay to stay on Chinatown's main street Grant Street, full of markets and shops of souvenirs and jade (the latter particularly grouped around the entrance to Chinatown, in the southern end), go to quieter streets to make more surprising discoveries. Here are nine destinations worth knowing; to discover even more surprises, consider joining a guided hike, such as those offered by Chinatown Walking Tours, or the food-centric tour, Wok Wiz.

Plan your trip to coincide with the Lunar New Year (usually in late January or February, to coincide with the lunar calendar) for a real surprise: the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade. Started in 1860 to commemorate the birthplace of the growing Chinese immigrant population in the city (attracted to San Francisco during the Gold Rush), the event, now the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside Asia, includes fires and the coronation of Miss Chinatown.

Chinese Historical Society of the United States

Temple Tin How

Take a trip back in time to the Buddhist temple of more than a century housed in a four-story apartment building where locals pray, they burn incense and make them tell the future. A donation is requested; the address is 125 Waverly Place.

Great China Herb Company

Do you feel apathetic? Allow the local doctor to prescribe revitalizing teas and tonics prepared with dry herbs in this highly respected Chinese apothecary. The address is 857 Washington Street.

R & G Lounge

An ancient restaurant beloved for its high quality Cantonese dishes; Favorite favorites include tender glazed ribs and delicate Dungeness crabs with salt and pepper. The address is 631 Kearny Street.

Vital Tea Leaf

Try the different teas at this bar and tea shop. It has an extraordinary variety of teas, with fascinating mixtures like chrysanthemum and ginger, and also the most traditional green, white and oolong tea. The address is 1044 Grant Street (also at 509 and 905 Grant Street).

Ming Lee Trading

from grocery and emporium to sweets and snacks seems to have everything from sweet litchi and Kit Kats to green tea to dried and salted fruits, noodles and spices. The address is 759 Jackson Street.

Golden Gate Bakery

If you are in the market looking for dan tat of Chinese egg with a buttery crust puffed up, make the row in this incredible bakery. Do not be intimidated by the ranks; the products are worth the wait. The address is 1029 Grant Street.

The Wok Shop

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