February 19 marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year. Thousands of Americans will celebrate the 15-day holiday, many in the Chinatown neighborhoods that have become fixtures of U.S. urban life.

Most major American cities have a “Chinatown,” easily identified by Chinese-language shop and street signs, Chinese restaurants and merchants selling Chinese goods. The neighborhoods have long histories and are popular tourist destinations.

The liveliest include:

San Francisco

(© AP Images)

San Francisco hosts the oldest American Chinatown, dating to the California Gold Rush of 1849. As the first port of entry for Chinese immigrants, it was a gateway between the Old and New Worlds. It quickly became a must-see for tourists and helped popularize Chinese food.

New York

(Patrick Kwan/Flickr)

When most people think of Chinatown in the Big Apple, they think of the Lower Manhattan neighborhood, with its narrow, crowded streets and colorful produce stands. But New York, home to the largest Chinese community outside Asia, has nearly a dozen Chinatown neighborhoods.



The United States’ first transcontinental railroad brought an influx of Chinese immigrants to Chicago as early as the 1870s, making the city’s Chinatown the nation’s second oldest. With its northern edge on the bank of the Chicago River, it can be reached by water taxi.



Seattle’s Chinatown dates back to the 1880s, when Chinese immigrants first settled there. But as other groups followed, the area became known as the International District. Today, it is home to Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Malaysian and Filipino residents.

If you plan a trip to the United States, get tips for visiting these and other cities.