Chinese Historical Society of America

Tips to Visit this SF Chinatown Museum

A visit to the Chinese Historical Society of America offers a look into the history of the Chinese in the United States. Inside, you will find personal and historical narratives of the immigration challenges that faced this group as well as rotating exhibits featuring Chinese American artists.

This museum first opened in 1963. It moved to its current location, in the old Chinatown YMCA, in 2001.

chinese historical society
The entrance to the Chinese Historical Society in SF's Chinatown

Your visit begins the minute you step inside this SF museum. During my last visit, the lobby included an exhibit about the impact of the 1906 Earthquake on the Chinatown District.

You will often find at least one exhibit in this area.

Main Gallery

After you are done in the lobby, you will head to your left, into the main gallery. This is the heart of this Chinatown attraction.

The main gallery starts with the 'Crossing the Pacific' exhibit. This is where you can learn what it was like to take the journey from China to America.

From here, you then walk through the area that explains how the Chinese American's built their homes. It also takes you through the history of some of their early communities.

main gallery chinese historical

My favorite part of this gallery is the display explaining the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It was one of the most restrictive immigration laws ever. It mainly targeted Chinese laborers trying to come to the US.

It also affected Chinese immigrants that were already in the country. It made it very difficult for them to visit their families in China and then return to the US.

It's one of the only places where you can hear personal stories about those impacted by the act. You can also learn more about what their families went through, on both sides of the Pacific, after the act passed in the US.

exhibits in chinatown museum

The final part of this gallery includes traveling exhibits. Items on display range from modern day Chinese American artists to historical pieces.

Are you looking for other fun things to do in Chinatown? Here you will find a list of all the top attractions and activities in this popular SF district.

Other Things to See Here

The Courtyard

The courtyard is a small, outdoor space next to the main gallery. There aren't any exhibits out here, but it does offer some seating where you can relax and unwind during your visit.

zen garden sf

Circle and Square

The Circle and Square exhibit is part of the Chinese Historical Society of America's creative spaces project. This exhibit is by Leon Sun.

circle square chinatown

According to Sun, the circle and square together represent heaven and earth. The configuration you see in the picture above spells the Chinese character 'Tian', which means 'Field'. It represents human activities and presence on the land.

It's a replica of the one he created in his personal garden.

You are welcome to sit down and experience the Circle and Square exhibit during your visit.

Admission, Hours & Tips to Get Here

Entrance into the Chinese Historical Society of America is $5. You can either pay at the door or use your Go San Francisco card to enter.

The Go San Francisco card is a discount pass that includes admission to more than 30 SF and Bay Area attractions. If you plan to visit several attractions and museums, this card will save you money. Learn more about it and find a list of everything included with this pass.

Hours

This SF museum is open the following days and hours:

  • Tuesday - Friday: 12pm to 5pm
  • Saturday: 11am to 4pm
  • Closed on Sunday, Monday and major holidays

Location & Tips to Get Here

The museum is at 965 Clay Street, which is between Stockton and Powell Streets in Chinatown. Here is a map showing its location.

chinese museum map

From Union Square:

  • Walking: If you love walking, this is the best way to get from Union Square to the museum. It is half a mile (about 6.5 city blocks) from the heart of the square.
  • 30 Stockton: Another option is to take the 30-Stockton bus. This bus picks up along Sutter Street. It turns at Stockton to head north into Chinatown. It's a busy bus and runs often. Take the bus to the Clay and Stockton stop and walk a half block up Clay Street to the museum.

From Fisherman's Wharf:

  • Powell-Mason Cable Car: The easiest way to get here from Fisherman's Wharf is by taking the Powell-Mason Cable Car line. Pick it up at Bay and Taylor Streets. Take it all the way to the Powell and Clay Street stop. Walk down the hill a half a block to the museum.

Other Things to Do in Chinatown

golden gate fortune cookie chinatown chinese temples
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company
Guided Chinatown Tours
Chinese Temples Open to the Public

> > Chinese Historical Society

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