We all think we visit the Chinatown International District in Seattle, but in reality most of us just pass through. We get groceries at Uwajimaya. Or maybe dim sum with friends. And maybe we pop by for bubble tea on our way to a game at a stadium. But when was the last time we gave the Chinatown International District our full attention? Maybe it’s time to take a tour.
Touring Chinatown: Wing Luke Museum
The best way to deep dive into the history of the Chinatown International District is to visit the Wing Luke Museum. Wing Chong Luke was born in 1925 and immigrated to the United States at the age of 6. He went on to become the first Asian American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest. Wing Luke was elected to the Seattle City Council in 1962. He died in a small plane crash at the age of 40. A foundation for his legacy was created and called the Wing Luke Asian Foundation. Ultimately the museum is his legacy, too. It is a showcase for Asian American history and culture as well as the history of Seattle’s Chinatown International District.
The Wing Luke Museum has six exhibitions a year and some have hands-on activities for kids.
There are also free tours of the Kong Yick building. You’ll want to make sure you try to make it for one of these tours. The tours are usually twice a day, Wednesday-Friday, and three times a day on Saturdays and Sundays. These tours take place within the museum, but in areas that are not open to the public. Visitors can see places like the Yick Fung store or walk up a steep set of stairs to a hotel room in the Freeman Hotel. The hotel room is significant because Chinese in Seattle were not allowed to own property due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Many Chinese people had to stay in hotel rooms like this while they worked in Seattle.
The grocery store was in the building when it was acquired by the Wing Luke Museum. It was the Yick Fung store and it was one of the longest running stores in Chinatown from 1910-2008. The owners donated the store, in its entirety, to the museum. It’s a way to see a slice of Seattle’s history, completely preserved in time, and you can only see it if you are on the museum tour.
The docents who lead the tours are very knowledgeable about the history of Seattle’s Chinatown International District and make information easy to understand.
A guided walking tour around Chinatown
The museum has other tours that take you out of the museum and through the neighborhood. There’s have a Bruce Lee tour, a Chinatown Discovery tour and seasonal food tours like an international dumpling tour. With a Wing Luke Museum membership you can save 15% of the fee. Kids under 5 are free at the museum and on these tours too. History Link Tours also has an online tour that gives you the background of 25 places in the area.
Find interesting and seasonal events using the Seattle Chinatown ID website: They have a series of food walks like the Small Business Saturday Food walk in November or Summer Series food walks that happen on the third Saturday of the month in June, July and August.
Experience local restaurants and shops
If you’re hungry after a day at the museum you can walk about two minutes and have a meal at Tai Tung Restaurant, Seattle’s oldest Chinese restaurant and a favorite of Bruce Lee. We’ve also ordered takeout from the restaurant next door to the museum, Harbour City Restaurant.
If you need a place to stop for a fun snack before your museum visit, my kids always appreciate fortune cookies from Tsue Chong, just steps from the museum as well. You can buy a 5-pound bag of “unfortunate fortunes,” round, flat cookies that didn’t get made into the traditional shapes we recognize but are still delicious. We also just wander the area and try to eat at a new-to-us place each time. There is so much here to see and do.
More shopping, treats and tea
Uwajimaya is always a favorite stop for my kids and it’s where we do some of our grocery shopping — especially for things like rice, soy sauces and frozen udon and ramen. We have a rule that we all get to pick something to try every time we visit. Lately my guys like to get treats from Beanfish or Dochi. Uwajimaya is walkable from the Wing Luke Museum and it also has its own parking lot with parking validation. If we have extra time with our validation we always run to get bubble tea from Young Tea or Seattle’s Best Tea (this one is right next to the Historic Chinatown Gate). Now that it’s cooler weather, I need to try the pandan latte at Hood Famous.
Take your treats to go and visit Hing Hay Park, a popular spot with seating for picnics and an open space for performances.
With so many things to do and see in Seattle’s historic Chinatown, you’ll want to visit more than once to experience all of it.