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The first Chinese immigrants to the United States arrived in San Francisco in 1848, before the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. In the ensuing decades, Chinese immigrants came to the United States to work on the track for the first transcontinental railroad. By 1852, California was known as “Gold Mountain” to those living in poverty in the old country, and significant numbers of Chinese came to make a quick fortune and return to their own country and culture. Given the prejudices of the time, as well as the need to stick together to maintain traditions, Chinese settlements were established across the state. The first and largest was established in San Francisco. By 1853, there was a Chinese Presbyterian Church; in 1859, a school was begun specifically for Chinese children, who were not allowed to attend any other public educational facilities in the city.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the prime tourist attractions in the city. Covering twenty-four square blocks, it contains small alleyways as well as major streets. Restaurants flourish in the area, and a Chinese meal while visiting San Francisco is a standard activity. In addition, tourists can wander past various businesses, from herb shops to tourist traps, getting a sense of what life was like in the past for Chinese immigrants. Certain buildings have been preserved over the years, and there is a grand gated arch marking the west entrance to the enclave.
The original site of the Los Angeles Chinatown is now Union Station. The displaced community moved to several different areas, with the most prominent being the New Chinatown site northeast of the original. The Central Plaza mall opened to great fanfare in 1938, with various businesses relocating there and to the surrounding city blocks. Visitors can take a Metro Train to the Chinatown stop, located on the Gold Line. Shopping, restaurants, and special events continue to make this area a vibrant part of Los Angeles culture.
While there is no official Chinatown in San Diego, there is a historical museum dedicated to the history and culture of Chinese in that city. Located at the corner of Third and J close to the "Gaslamp District" (as the historical area is known), the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum was founded in 1996 on the site of 1927 Chinese Mission. The museum contains a Chinese garden in addition to various exhibits on the history of San Diego Chinese culture as well as models of various buildings from the area. The museum also hosts events that celebrate various aspects of Chinese culture. More information can be found on the museum’s web site.
Across the bay from San Francisco, Oakland also has a Chinatown, although it is considerably less touristy than the one in San Francisco. Ventura’s Chinatown has largely disappeared, although there is a remaining alley close to the mission designated an historic point of interest. Remnants of Chinese communities also exists inland in Stockton and in Locke.
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