Snap a photo then pass beneath the 40-foot-tall Friendship Gate, an authentic arch curving over N. 10th Street at Arch Street that serves as one “unofficial” entrance to the district. The gate – with bright carvings and red and gold accents – was a gift from Philadelphia’s sister city, Tianjin, China in 1984. The four Chinese characters at top read “Philadelphia Chinatown.” Just a few blocks north of the arch, at N. 10th Street and the Vine Street Expressway, is Chinatown’s other welcome mat: 10th Street Plaza, which features an Asian-style pergola and two seven-ton Chinese lions, the neighborhood’s “protectors.”
Nearby, the “History of Chinatown” mural features workers wringing clothing and the number “913” – an ode to the first business in the district, a laundry at 913 Race Street owned by a man named Lee Fong. Admire the dragon mural on the side of the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Engine 20/Ladder 23, which is also known as “The House of Dragons.”
Observe Asian-inspired architecture throughout the neighborhood, including a Buddhist Temple featuring red columns accented with coiling gold dragons, jade-colored tile awnings and a building with characteristics of a Mandarin Palace. Shop for gifts, toys, candy and snacks at Asia Crafts Inc. and then stop by the Asian Arts Initiative to browse their rotating series of exhibitions, performances, and other events celebrating Asian American artists. For beauty supplies, including Korean skincare products, don’t miss Ga-In Beauty Zone along 11th Street.
Head to nearby Franklin Square for family-friendly outdoor fun, including a carousel and Philadelphia’s only mini-golf course (featuring miniature versions of city landmarks throughout the 18-hole course). The historic square activates its recently restored fountain in a thrilling fashion throughout the year, with dancing water performances set to pop music in the summer and a dazzling holiday light show in the winter. Not to be missed is the park’s Chinese Lantern Festival, typically held each spring.
Visit Chinatown around the Lunar New Year holiday to enjoy a series of festive events including midnight lion dances, neighborhood-filling parades and parties, and other ceremonies and activities.
Cover photo: Chinese New Year 2020 Sunday Parade. Photo by A. Lee