• Little Saigon

    Little Saigon and Tendernob

    Little Saigon and the Tendernob are two Tenderloin neighborhoods that are home to large immigrant populations and some of the best food in the city. Join us as we take you on the only food tour of this district and explore the flavors of Asia, the Middle East, and beyond!
  • The Mission

    The Mission District

    San Francisco's 1st neighborhood, The Mission District is still the heart & soul of this vibrant city. This area is so rich in culture, that we have 4 Mission food tours & 2 neighborhood walks.
  • North Beach

    North Beach

    North Beach is that rare thing -- a neighborhood that manages to be a perennial hit with tourists, and also to remain beloved by San Franciscans. It's San Francisco's Little Italy and the home of the beatniks.
  • Scenic Running

    Scenic Running

    Just a short run from the urban landscape of San Francisco's busy city streets you will find numerous trails and parks offering phenomenal views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the City Skyline and other gems.
  • Chinatown


    Established in the 1840s, San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside Asia. Our food and walking tours are 2nd to none.
  • Parrots!


    Wild Parrots in San Francisco? Yes there are officially at least two flocks of wild Parrots here. These Parrots have evolved into a brand new species of parrot indigenous to San Francisco.

Hidden Gems of San Francisco: Hidden Temples of Chinatown – What you should visit and where to stay

Hidden Gems of SF


By Alixx Ortiz

San Francisco’s Chinatown boasts a significant number of temples dedicated to a variety of gods and family ancestors. I’ve visited a number of them, and am always impressed at how willing the volunteers and staff are to chat with visitors about the particulars of a given temple. Many of these temples are a walk up to the third or fourth floor of a family association, the potent odor of incense wafting throughout the hallways I make my way through. My favorite is the Kong Chow Temple, dedicated to the God of War and Literature, an unlikely combination that works within its context!

The woman behind the front desk eyed me suspiciously, at first, but eventually relaxed. As there were a large number of worshipers in the temple, I stood off to the side on the balcony for a few moments to observe, and then decided to return when there were fewer people in the temple.”

Kong Chow Temple to the God of War (and Literature) 855 Stockton at Clay St 788-1339 Open seven days weekly, 10 AM – 4 PM. Take the elevator to the fourth floor above the Post Office.

Guan Gong, a historical figure who lived from CE 220-CE 280, fought to prevent political disintegration of the Han dynasty. He was captured in battle and beheaded. After his death, he became revered for his loyalty, righteous, bravery and benevolence. Subsequent emperors honored him, and he eventually gained status as a god of both war and literature.Interior Kong Chow Temple

Like many temples in Chinatown, Kong Chow is handsomely appointed according to the temple’s theme — in this case, statuary of soldiers’ dresses for battle with their war horses at the ready, relief carving of battle scenes, and in the center, an imposing figure of the God of War on his throne, ready to receive worshipers.  Incense urns are arranged throughout the temple, and a fireplace to burn Joss-paper offerings to the ancestors sits off to the right. A balcony open to the outside rounds both sides of the corner.

My first visit to the temple was in the weeks prior to the lunar New Year, and the temple received a steady stream of worshipers, far more than the other temples I’ve visited. I have enough experience to know that non-Chinese tourists are not always aware that these are working temples, not museums, to be entered quietly and respectfully. The woman behind the front desk eyed me suspiciously, at first, but eventually relaxed. As there were a large number of worshipers in the temple, I stood off to the side on the balcony for a few moments to observe, and then decided to return when there were fewer people in the temple.

I returned a few weeks after the holiday, this time I stayed  at an affordable and comfortable Columbus Residence, you can find it and even more for either rental or buy at https://www.siamrealestate.com/, since you may guess It’s impossible to visit everything in a single day, It’s centric located so almost every point of interest isn’t more than 10-20 minutes away.
The woman seemed to recognize me, and when I acknowledged “no pictures,” she smiled and waved me in.  A younger woman working at the temple asked me if I would like to pray, and took me through the entire ceremony of lighting the candles and incense and then said “talk to the Buddha!” I kneeled in front of the statue for just a bit, and when I attempted to get up, she said “No! Talk longer!” After a bit, she folded some Joss papers and told me to light them, say a few prayers — quickly — and toss them into the fireplace. This was my first time making an offering to the ancestors! I ended with tossing my fortune, thanked the staff and left. A few weeks later I returned with a small tour group. The woman recognized me, and as there were no other worshippers there, she handed me the candles and incense and told me to show my group how to pray! Her lighthearted snicker told me that I more or less got it right!If you want to pray, the incense and candles, which are bundled in the correct number, will cost you $5, with an extra 50 cents the staff will tell your fortune. A donation of a few dollars is always appropriate. Come later in the afternoon, after about 2:30, when it is less crowded, be polite. And always remember that these are working temples, be respectful. After all, you would not enter a church during Mass and approach the altar chatting away and snapping photographs, or would you?

On our Explore Chinatown Tours on Saturdays, we take our guests to this temple, where they have the opportunity to take part in the ceremony; it is an honor and a thrill.

Explore San Francisco is a locally owned co-op of guides who help us explore and discover the City’s “hidden gems”. For more information on touring SF, check out their website at ExploreSanFrancisco.biz or call them at 415.793.1104

May 2013

Grant Ave. in Chinatown, San Francisco. Grant Ave. in Chinatown, San Francisco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Incense burning at a temple in Taipei

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