San Francisco is a major stop for Chinese visitors, and an agreement between China and the United States, announced in Beijing this month, promises to draw even more Chinese tourists to U.S. destinations. A day spent in the northern California city with some visitors from China shed light on some of the reasons they are coming.
Major West Coast cities are must-see destinations for Chinese tour groups, which take in sights that include San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Li Hong, who is here with her daughter, is impressed, saying, “It’s beautiful.” She said this is her first time in the U.S.
It’s pretty, and unlike China, she said, where pollution is a problem in the major cities. Here she sees blue skies and white clouds. She said her first impression is good.
Tourism from China is expected to grow since the announcement in early November that both countries will extend their multiple-entry business and tourist visas from the current one year to a maximum of 10 years.
Harry Chen of San Francisco-based Joy Holiday takes Asian tours to U.S. cities and scenic sites, including national parks. He said the visa change will help the economies of both countries.
“And also I think it’s a great way to get the two cultures to learn from each other, to build friendship, understanding,” he said.
Three friends from China sit on a bench at one of San Francisco’s scenic sites, the Palace of Fine Arts, with its Greek-style rotunda perched on the edge of a lagoon. Ni Xi from Shenzhen said she and her friends are at the start of their U.S. visit.
She said they will stay in San Francisco for the day, then will visit Los Angeles, where they would like to go shopping, for three or four days. Then they'll go to the Grand Canyon for the scenery, she said, and Las Vegas, to see the casinos and other sights.
It’s a common itinerary. While in San Francisco, visitors enjoy the distinctive neighborhoods. Tours stop in Haight-Ashbury, the psychedelic youth haven of the 1960s, and in the gay and lesbian Castro District.
Tour guide LanKun Weidner said Chinese visitors find the diversity exciting. “You get to see people from all over the place, and food and architecture, and even lifestyles,” said Weidner.
Across town, Linda Lee's company, called All About Chinatown, offers specialized walking tours. Both Western and Chinese visitors learn the history of the Chinese immigrants on the West Coast.
Some scenes are familiar, like one shop that sells traditional Chinese medicine. A man behind the counter pounds the herbs to make a powder. But some are unfamiliar — like the tiny Chinatown shop making fortune cookies, a Chinese-American dessert invented in California.
Linda Lee said the many private clubs found in Chinatown are new to the visitors from China. Some date to the 19th century and are still a haven. “All these private clubs were created by the Chinese to protect them and to make them feel at home,” she said.
It’s part of San Francisco’s story, and America’s story, which more and more visitors from China are experiencing.