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Chinatown (Washington, DC)

Updated: Aug 8, 2020

Friendship Archway in Chinatown Washington, DC
Friendship Archway

Overview: Heart of Chinatown

Chinatown in Washington, DC is a small historic section of the city that has no proper boundaries. Located downtown, the district is a few blocks east of the White House. It is reachable from the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro Station using the Red, Green, or Yellow lines.

Beginning in the 1930s, the once German and Jewish neighborhoods of the area began to experience a large influx of Chinese immigrants. A Synagogue still stands today in the district as a monument to this period. Chinatown became a thriving residential and commercial area for many Chinese immigrants for more than 3 decades. At one point, many East Asian markets were located in the region along with a wide range of clubs and organizations for the local diaspora. In recent decades, gentrification has led to significant displacements of Chinese families. This fragmentation of the Chinese population has reduced traditional community activities. Due to its multicultural importance in Washington, D.C.’s past, the Chinatown Historic District is registered on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Destination: Chinatown District

Washington, DC’s Chinatown is the hub of Chinese culture in the city center. A prominent feature is the Friendship Archway, spanning H street, which is one of the largest ceremonial arches outside of China. The Friendship Archway is a Guinness Book of World Records holder for the largest single-span archway in the world. The archway was built in celebration of the sister city designation between Beijing and Washington, DC.

Chinese Zodiac themed crosswalk In Chinatown, Washington, DC
Chinese Zodiac Crosswalk

Local government regulations promote many Chinese design elements to maintain a traditional Chinatown atmosphere. Some of these rules include Chinese characters on buildings and bilingual store signs. Chinese zodiac symbols are also painted on the pedestrian walkways in the main square near the Friendship Archway.

Additionally, the district holds the Chinatown Community Cultural Center. This community center aims to preserve the unique dynamic of the area. Visitors can also find guided walking tours of Chinatown from the Cultural Center. The recent gentrification and commodification of Chinese culture in the area has created a not-so-authentic Chinatown experience. Even so, there are a plethora of great restaurants and sights to see for anyone touring the district. Many companies in the area have adopted the practice of displaying Chinese characters on their storefronts.

Travel Recommendations

The surrounding area harbors many authentic Chinese restaurants including Chinatown Express and Wok & Roll. The wide range of options makes Chinatown wonderful for an evening out and is walkable from the National Mall. Many of these restaurants serve dim sum and other Chinese specialties that are sure to ignite your passion for East Asian cuisine.

The National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum are one block southwest of Chinatown in the Old Patent Office Building. The Capital One Arena, inside Chinatown, is the home of both the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals. So you can catch a game or explore some of the museums Washington DC has to offer all within the Chinatown area.

Two blocks north of the Chinatown district on K Street is another DC staple, Busboys & Poets. This space is a combined bookstore, restaurant, coffee shop, and an artistic haven committed to social progress. Busboys and Poets feature a diverse menu with a variety of vegan options suitable for everyone.

The Chinatown district is a fantastic location to hang out and grab dinner after a long day of touring sites in downtown Washington, DC. The district is only a short walk from the National Mall and Smithsonian area. You can even take a walking night tour of the National Monuments after a nice evening in Chinatown.


604 H St NW STE 600, Washington, DC 20001


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