At first glance, navigating the street vendors, traffic, and crowds of Canal Street can seem intimidating for families. But with a little planning, Chinatown opens up into a world of wonders. Explore parks, temples, turn-of-the century architecture, festivities, and, of course, amazing food in one of NYC's fastest-growing neighborhoods.
Chinatown is unlike other hot spots in Manhattan. It is a living, breathing neighborhood with a real community and real residents. Although dependent on tourists, Chinatown is unapologetically authentic. Be fearless, kind, and patient. as you step into this city within a city. Growing up in NYC, I've seen Chinatown evolve yet never change, holding steadfast to traditions while still exploring and innovating. As an adult, I plan to make Chinatown a part of my children's lives for years to come.
Get the insider's scoop on more of NYC's popular areas, such as Koreatown, with our Neighborhood Guides.
We've organized this list to run from morning to night, representing the best things to do with a one-day visit to lower Manhattan's Chinatown section, which occupies a slice of downtown that runs roughly between West Broadway to the East River and between Grand Street in the North and East Broadway north to south. Those borders are blurry, though, as the area blends into the Lower East Side and other nabes. Mott Street has long been the "unofficial" main drag, although East Broadway is fast becoming "Little Fuzhou."
It's probably too much to do in one day, so we suggest picking a couple of things from each category that most interest your family and suit your kids' ages. Either way, get on your walking shoes and wear some loose-fitting pants because you're about to embark on a unique and delicious adventure.
1. Ease into your day with custard buns and creamy sweet coffee at either Tai Pan or Fay-Da Bakery.
2. Look up as you walk through the jungle of fire escapes and gaze at the turn-of-the century architecture along Mulberry and Mott Streets.
Children might enjoy traditional treats like fried sesame balls filled with sweet red bean paste. Photo by the author.
3. Go old school with char siu bao (roast pork buns) and jian dui (deep-fried sesame balls filled with sweet red bean paste) at Lung Moon Bakery.
4. While cutting through the maze south of Canal Street, take a quick history trip down Mosco Street, one of the last remnants of the infamous Five Points, or the crooked Doyers St., once nicknamed "The Bloody Angle" for being the most violent intersection in New York City.
5. For lunch, go vegan with Buddha Bodai Mott or Buddha Bodai Mulberry. The two competing locations have drama, but are certainly tasty.
Go for lunch at Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles. Photo by Bobby Cooper via Instagram.
6. Or, while on Doyers, stop for lunch at Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles. That slapping sound you're hearing is the sound of the dough hitting the countertops.
7. Tourist: "What's the best place to get dim sum?" Chinatown resident: "Flushing!" That said, dim sum in Chinatown isn't bad. If you're new to dim sum, try tourist favorite Nom Wah Tea Parlor with easy menu pictures, novelty decor, and a facade that hasn't changed for almost a hundred years.
8. If you're up for dim sum Level 2, with carts and shared tables, test the lines at Jing Fong, Golden Unicorn, or Joy Luck Palace.
9. In the mood for spicy, head to Xi'an Famous Foods, which earned praise from Anthony Bourdain back in 2009.
10. Have some Chinese-style barbeque with duck or suckling pig over rice at Sun Sai Gai restaurant.
11. Next up? Playtime: Tour the Museum of Chinese in America. Check out its website in advance for family-friendly activities such as calligraphy and kite making.
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The vibrancy of Chinatown is hard to beat in an otherwise gentrified NYC. Photo by Jamie Dodds via Instagram.
12. Or burn off those calories with a souvenir excursion. Don't be fooled by the shallow sidewalk shops on Canal—there are doorways in the back that lead to more shopping.
13. Donate a dollar at the Mahayana Buddhist Temple to find out your fortune or see the giant Buddha.
14. Search for Pokemon, get your palm read or watch residents practice kung fu and tai chi at Columbus Park. Oh, and there's a great playground.
15. Snack along Canal Street at egg cake or dragon beard carts.
16. Catch your breath at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, a community gathering spot that's home to one of our favorite NYC playgrounds.
17. Or hit the Chinatown Fun Fair on Mott Street for retro video games. It's an NYC institution.
18. Stock up on poke sticks, sauces, wonton skins and other kitchen staples at the Hong Kong Supermarket.
19. Take home a bag of frozen dumplings from the famed Vanessa's Dumpling House to savor the flavors of Chinatown.
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Watch ice cream being rolled at 10Below. Photo by Shira Kronzon.
20. Savor the Asian ice cream revolution at Juicy Spot, 10Below, or Taiyaki NYC for rolled ice cream and other out-of-cone treats.
21. Or go with a 30-year-old tradition with a scoop of taro or red bean ice cream at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.
22. Kids will enjoy filling their own candy bags at Aji Ichiban.
23. Locals might consider joining the Chinatown YMCA for its family swim lessons, child care during workouts, and kid programming like open play and teen nights.
24. Tired of Chinese food? Chinatown is also home to a large Vietnamese population. Slurp down a bowl of pho at Nam Son.
25. Crack open lychee and rambutan from fruit and vegetable stands under the Manhattan Bridge.
Top photo: Steamed buns at Joy Luck Palace. Photo by manhattanarchitect via Instagram.