17 Best Things to Do in Chinatown, Chicago

Chinatown, Chicago
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The Chinatown in Chicago is one of the United States' oldest Chinese communities.

Around 1870, Chinese immigrants fled California's rising racial tensions and settled in the Midwestern city.

The current Chinatown was founded in 1915 when individuals from the Loop began moving to the south.

Over a third of the state's Chinese population lives in this South Side neighborhood, making the community one of the most densely populated Chinese communities in the United States.

Around 1912, settlers went south from the first Chinese enclaves in the 19th century to build what is now known as Chicago's Chinatown.

The neighborhood around Argyle Street, known as "New Chinatown," mainly populated by persons of Southeast Asian descent, is sometimes mistaken for Chinatown on the city's North Side.

From 1915 until the present, the neighborhood's Chinese population has created a vibrant community.

Colorful stores, restaurants, medicine shops, marketplaces, and murals abound along Chinatown's streets.

Even though this neighborhood has so many options to explore, these are our top picks of things to see and do in Chinatown, Chicago:

Catch a Dragon Boat Race at Ping Tom Memorial Park

View of Ping Tom Memorial Park
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In 1998, the Chicago Park District began transforming this 17-acre railyard into a much-needed park.

The park, located at 1700 S Wentworth, has a magnificent exhibition of Chinese culture through antiques and texture.

Dragon Boat Race at Ping Tom Memorial Park
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One of Chicago's most prominent civic leaders and longtime Chinatown residents, Ping Tom Memorial Park features an indoor swimming pool, a terrace, and more views of the city's waterway.

In the area, there is a river, which offers kayaking and hiking options. In the globe, you won't find anything like this combination of Chicago and China!

This year's dragon boat race, which takes place in June, is one of the most popular.

View of Ping Tom Memorial Park
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Take a Break and Snack at Chinatown's Chiu Quon Bakery

Chiu Quon Bakery in Chicago's Chinatown was established in 1986, making it the city's oldest Chinese bakery.

They've remained a neighborhood institution because of their delicious steamed buns, classic pastries, and puffy cream cakes.

In addition, they provide some of the most fantastic dim sums in Chicago.

Start your day of exploration in Chinatown with their assortment of beef dumplings, steam rice crepes, and marinated chicken feet.

Discover the Chinese-American History at the Chinese American Museum of Chicago

You can find the museum at the old Quong Yick Co. building at 238 West 23rd Street in Chicago's Chinatown.

In 2005, the museum opened its doors for public viewing for the first time.

It ceased operations for renovations following a terrible fire in September 2008, but it reopened in October.

Statues at Chinese American Museum of Chicago
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This Chinese American museum is a great place to learn about the history of Chinese immigrants in the Midwest.

It used to be the Quong Yick Co. grocery, but now it's home to the museum. Visitor attractions include "Great Wall to Great Lakes: Chinese Immigration to the Midwest," an exhibit that chronicles the migratory routes used by Chinese immigrants from California and beyond to the Midwest.

Admission is free, but the museum operators would appreciate a donation of $5 for adults and $3 for students and elders.

Bring Home Souvenir Items From Aj Housewares and Gifts

At Aj Housewares and Gifts, you'll find everything you need and even those you don't!

Does your shopping list contain a stress ball, a necklace, and even a high-volume work?

Check out this houseware and gift shop at Chinatown!

There's no chance you'll leave empty-handed with floor-to-ceiling racks of home goods, toys, presents, accessories, cookware, plants, décor, lights, scroll art, and nunchucks.

Ride a Chinatown Water Taxi

View of Chinatown Water Taxi
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You can get there by using the Red Line or riding a water taxi for those interested in a Chinatown adventure.

Chicago's Water Taxi is the most popular mode of transportation to Chinatown in the summer.

Its magnificent elegance more than compensates for the lack of speed it possesses.

View of Chinatown Water Taxi
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You may see some of Chicago's most iconic architectural features as you travel down the Chicago River on this route.

You may enjoy it at any time of day; however, the nighttime city lights are particularly stunning.

Check Out Herbs and Tea at Yin Wall City

Since ancient times, herbal remedies such as teas and powders have been popular in Chinese medicine, and it is only lately that Westerners have begun to recognize the benefits of these natural substances.

The Yin Wall City Tea House must be at the top of your list whether you're interested in learning more about the medicinal properties of ginseng or want outstanding loose-leaf tea.

All of the elements of a typical apothecary are present here, and their helpful staff will do all in their power to answer any queries you may have.

Shop at Chinatown Square

View of Chinatown Square
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Chinatown Square, the neighborhood's focal point, is a two-story shopping center home to various local businesses, such as teahouses, restaurants, beauty salons, and candy merchants.

The Imperial Court of China influenced architectural elements, and the area has statues depicting every Chinese zodiac animal, all of which were the pride of the artisans in the Chinese city of Xiamen.

If you come to the plaza during the summer, you could be lucky enough to see live music jams or dance performances.

View of Chinatown Square
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Hoi polloi is a disparaging phrase that refers to the masses or working-class, yet Hoypoloi Gallery embraces the name and exploits it to make art easily accessible to the general public by giving rare art.

Hoypoloi now has two gift stores at O'Hare International Airport and a more conventional gallery in Chinatown.

They sell various items ranging from paintings to carvings to jewelry, all of which are one-of-a-kind.

It is also an opportunity to gaze at the artwork and speak with the knowledgeable owner.

Take Snaps With the Nine Dragon Wall

View of Nine Dragon Wall
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The decorated wall on the border of the parking lot welcomes commuters near the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line station.

The wall honors both the mythological beast that represents China's soul and the numerological significance of nine.

Nine-dragon walls are common in Chinese temples and gardens, and this wall is a smaller version of the wall at Beijing's Beihai Park.

View of Nine Dragon Wall
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A little plaque on the wall provides further information about the history of the green and gold wall.

It resulted from the hard work of the city's business chamber, rather than the Chinese emperors, and is a widely-known location for tourists to take photographs.

Hop on a Food and Cultural Walking Tour With Chinatown Adventure Food Tour

If you only have a limited amount of time available to you and you've got a lot of hunger and want to experience Chinatown through its food, hop on a food tour!

Chinatown Adventure Food Tour by Chicago Food Planet is a great way to sample the best of Chinatown.

Their knowledgeable guides will lead you to some of the area's lesser-known treasures, and they'll explain the stories behind each dish.

Learn the history of Chinatown's prominent monuments while feasting on Hong Kong dumplings, spicy Szechuan dishes, and classic Chinese sweets during a tour of the neighborhood.

Join the Festivities on Chinese Lunar New Year

View of Chinese Lunar New Year
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The Chinese Lunar New Year Parade is a fantastic opportunity to honor the rich cultural legacy of the Chinese people each year.

A different animal represents every year in the Chinese calendar.

View of Chinese Lunar New Year
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Traditional dragons, lion dances, and animal-themed floats make up the massive procession.

The Chinese Lunar New Year Procession includes everything you might dream for in a classic Chinese parade, including floats, marching bands, dragon and lion dancers, as well as a 100-foot dragon.

It's the closest you can come to being in China without actually being there.

Sing Your Heart Out at Sakura Karaoke Bar

Sakura Karaoke Bar is the place to go if you're looking for a raucous good time.

Located just a few blocks from Chinatown's red line stop, this bar is one of Chicago's most popular karaoke establishments.

You can expect yourself to leave with a positive impression of the place.

They refurbished and extended their bar in 2021 to better satisfy and entertain their customers.

This famed Japanese karaoke club has a stage, dance floor, two bars, and eight VIP rooms.

Over 100,000 of the most famous American and Asian songs are available for you to enjoy.

Over twenty house-made tasty martinis and a large variety of liquors are also available to quench your thirst at the establishment.

Their restaurant offers a diverse selection of Asian and Western cuisine to suit every palate.

Learn About the Area's Chinese Heritage at Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch

Outside View of Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch
Steven Kevil, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1972, a modest business on Wentworth Avenue provided library service to Chinatown residents. September 28, 1990, marked the dedication of an 11,000-square-foot rental facility.

Chinatown and Chinese culture are the focus of the branch's educational and cultural activities.

This branch of the Chicago Public Library on the city's South Side is unlike any other.

View of Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch
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Featuring a partially covered "living" roof, Feng shui interior architecture, and stunning views of the Chicago cityscape, the new two-story, 16,000-square-foot Chinatown Branch opened on August 29, 2015.

A mural by CJ Hungerman entitled "Universal Transverse Immigration Proclamation," a tribute to the neighborhood's history and culture, is also on display at the branch.

Join Tai Chi Classes at Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute

To develop cross-cultural understanding, the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute provides training, consultation, hospitality, and special events for companies and introduces Chinese language and culture programs into public institutions, including schools, libraries, and museums.

Chinatown's sights and eateries are the most popular destinations for this group's trips, which it hopes to introduce to libraries and schools.

By visiting their website, learn more about the Cultural Institute's programs, including public and private tours, dumpling-making dinners, and Tai Chi sessions.

Appreciate the Architecture of Pui Tak Center

Stunning Architecture of Pui Tak Center
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This center is one of Chinatown's most recognizable landmarks and a fine example of the traditional architecture of China.

Inspired by traditional Chinese architectural elements such as towering gables, the center has modern Western touches.

A Chinese Christian church, which provides ESL education and immigration assistance to the community, bought the facility in 2010.

Pay Honor to War Heroes at Chinese American Veterans Memorial

The Chinese American Veteran's Memorial, located on the intersection of Cermak and Archer, is a fitting homage to individuals of Chinese heritage who fought to safeguard the United States of America.

Despite its small size, this is an excellent way to show appreciation for all veterans out there.

For that reason alone, it is well worth your time to visit this place.

Pose Like a Kung Fu Master at Chinatown Gate

View of Chinatown Gate
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Visitors and locals alike are greeted by the Chinatown Gate, which towers above the neighborhood's bustling streets.

The gate, completed in 1975, serves as a gateway to the neighborhood's Chinatown.

Based on a gate in Beijing, architect Peter Fung created this piece.

The phrase "The globe belongs to the commonwealth," hand-painted on the gate's decorative tiles, dates from China's transition to republican rule in the early twentieth century.

View of Chinatown Gate
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In Chinatown, the primary thoroughfare is South Wentworth Avenue.

As a doorway to Old Chinatown, you'll find more crowded streets, restaurants, and stores than Chinatown Square or Archer Avenue.

Show off your best martial arts moves and snap the camera!

Those who enter, there's a lot to look forward to that will delight all your senses.

Grab Some Sweet Treats at Aji Ichiban Candy Store

Take a trip to Aji Ichiban Candy Store, a Chicago-based branch of the famed Hong Kong confectionery company, and fulfill every child's fantasy.

Bin after bin of Asian sweets, savory nibbles, and dried fruits are available for the taking, and they are all free.

Although pre-packaged goods are available, we recommend purchasing in quantity to ensure that you have the opportunity to sample everything from Green Tea Kit Kats to crisp seaweed.

Grab a bag, head to the city, and prepare to experience the eventual sugar rush.

Final Thoughts

Why travel to China to experience its culture when you have Chinatown?

What makes Chicago Chinatown genuinely remarkable is the hardworking and hospitable immigrants and the fusion of Chinese and Western cultures.

Experience more of Chicago's lively and diverse community by exploring this fascinating neighborhood!