8 Fun Things to Do in Chinatown, NYC | Girl in Translation Literary Date
The beautiful, the compelling, the book that takes hold of your heart, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, has inspired a delicious and fun tour of Chinatown, NYC. Kimberly and her mom spend a lot of time in Chinatown so it seems like the perfect way to go on this literary date. I know there’s so much to explore in Chinatown and it’s about time I really get to know it. I also hope this literary date will give you ideas of lots of fun things to do in Chinatown, NYC when you visit.
If you don’t know about the book that inspired this Chinatown, NYC tour, then read my Girl in Translation Literary Date Book Review first to learn more about it.
To give you a little snippet, we follow the story through Kimberly’s eyes as she and her mom emigrate to the U.S. from Hong Kong and live in pretty terrible conditions. To survive, mom works at a sweatshop in Chinatown while Kimberly goes to school during the day and joins her mom at night to work alongside her. We follow Kimberly from childhood to adulthood, she has struggles and triumphs as a very gifted student.
There are so many things to do and see in Chinatown, NYC that I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface here. I plan to continue exploring and updating this regularly to make it a top-notch guide to Chinatown in New York City.
Where to begin?
Somewhere bookish seems like a good start to me.
1. Yu and Me Books
If this bookstore would have been around when the fictional character Kimberly was around in Girl in Translation, she would have been visiting every day, I’m sure of it. If you love books, it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Chinatown, NYC.
I loved visiting this bookstore because I could tell how much the community loves it. I got to observe people coming in and chatting with the owner, Lucy Yu and they all sounded like old pals. Only 27 years old, Lucy recently opened this bookstore that “focuses on the strong, diverse voices of our community, with focus on immigrant stories.”
As a pretty shy person, at first, was perusing on my own, but I wanted to know if Lucy had any good recommendations for books set in NYC, so I finally asked. Lucy was so warm and friendly and walked me over to the New York section and told me how much she loved The City We Became. That one has actually been on my TBR for a while but I’m moving it on up! Lucy told me she was so engrossed in it that she read it in two days. Sold!
When she said to me, “I can’t wait to hear what you think about it,” it felt completely genuine. I’m going to finish it and go back. I also picked up two other books you see in the picture and told Lucy, “I didn’t mean to get three books!” Her response, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell!” I chuckled. Lucy provided bookmarks for all three!
I loved visiting and can’t wait to go back!
2. Red Apple Gift Shop
One of the best things to do in Chinatown, NYC is go shopping. You can find so many cute souvenirs and unique gifts throughout Chinatown. In Red Apple Gift Shop, I bought myself a pretty, red ring. l love it. But I’m most in love with the cat figurines I got including a waving cat. In Chinese and Japanese cultures, they believe they attract good luck and fortune.
I keep mine on my desk where I work to encourage that good fortune. I think they are working.
This store is like candy for your eyes. It’s pretty fabulous. And a bonus is that Kimberly in Girl in Translation, bought a sword from a “kung fu store” to put under her pillow to take away worries and bad dreams and I found some options…the lovely woman working here allowed me to take pictures.
3. Ting’s Gift Shop
It’s been open since 1958 when Mrs. Ting came here from Hong Kong. It’s a tiny shop filled with authentic gifts and trinkets from China.
I got the happy little cat and sleeping cat from this shop. The black waving cat is from Red Apple. I enjoyed perusing this little shop. Someone was in there chatting with who I assume must have been Mrs. Ting and they seemed like old friends. There’s a real sense of community in Chinatown and I appreciate that.
You have to go to the 2nd floor of this building to reach oo35mm, an amazing beauty store that makes “hard to find products from all over the world accessible…” I found a vegan serum and moisturizer that I’ve been enjoying for a while now. I can’t say it has made me look 10 years younger, but it does feel really good on my face!
5. Doyers Street
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Chinatown, NYC then heading to Doyers Street is a must. According to TimeOut, this colorful mural on Doyers Street Spans 4851 square feet located between Pell Street and Bowery. Most online sources write it’s pedestrian-only in late summer and fall but I was there a couple of times in the spring and it was also only open to pedestrians. Probably the pandemic has kept it open.
NYC DOT has partnered with artists to paint these large-scale murals on pedestrian-only streets using arts and culture to “enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers in the public realm.”
Chilean-born street artist Dasic Fernández created the Doyers’ Street mural, which represents rice cultivation terraces seen in China landscapes. This street has ambiance, I would love to sit out here and enjoy some yummy food and/or drinks in this atmosphere.
6. Buddha Bodai Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant
This wouldn’t be a great list of fun things to do in Chinatown, NYC if we don’t discuss yummy eats! Yes, I did go to a Chinese vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown, don’t hate. It was delicious! I had the orange “chicken” and my friend had sweet and sour “ribs,” which granted didn’t taste like ribs but you’re gonna want those ribs. They were uniquely delicious and I want to go back and order them. I did love my dish too although I didn’t really taste any orange flavor. I barely have a sense of smell though so it could be that. Ha!
I still plan on going to Vanessa’s Dumpling House since it was recommended to me by a reader. Any other spots I should go to? Let me know in the comments.
7. The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
I’m not gonna lie, I was most excited about this spot. You know I love ice cream! This spot is one of the best things to do in Chinatown, NYC and there’s a cute park nearby you can sit down to enjoy your ice cream. They’ve got red bean, green tea, lychee, thai ice tea, green tea oreo, maple bacon, and taro ice cream…just to name a million. I got zen butter and cookies & chocolate, which was absolutely delicious. Zen Butter is a peanut butter flavor. I have to go back at least twenty more times but why would I stop at twenty? Oh and I should mention, for the more daring types, they also have a wasabi flavor.
This place is an institution and should be a national landmark.
8. Vivi Bubble Tea
Bubble tea in Chinatown, NYC is a must and I’m so glad I stopped at this spot. The bubble tea at Vivi’s sounds so decadent with flavors like Flaming Brown Sugar and Oreo Crème Brûlée but I was surprised that it didn’t feel heavy in my stomach. I got the Oreo one, which was delicious and goes down easy. I was a little nervous since bubble tea in the past has caused me an unhappy belly but not this time. My belly was so happy!
They asked if I wanted milk tea or regular so I asked them what they recommended and milk tea apparently is the way to go. Perhaps that’s what made for an extra yummy treat and happy belly?
I also plan on trying Ten Ren’s Tea Time and other spots for traditional Chinese tea. If you have any recommendations, I’ll take them!
Thank you all for reading. This is it for now but I will continue to explore and update this post. I hope this has given you some good ideas for some fun things to do in Chinatown, NYC when you visit. There’s so much to see and do when you come. I highly recommend visiting Chinatown during your next trip to NYC. Or if you live here, definitely take advantage of what is here. I just scratched the surface, lots more yumminess and fun things to do in Chinatown, NYC, I guarantee it.
If you haven’t read Girl in Translation yet, I highly recommend you do. It’s such a beautiful book. Thank you to author Jean Kwok for putting this masterpiece of writing out in the world. Also, thank you to author Sarah Smith for recommending it to me.
Buy the Book: Bookshop | Amazon
Next Up for Literary Dates
LITERARY DATES IS GOING TO LONDON!!!! EEEEEEEK! I’m so excited. I’ve been reading a TON of books set in London and I think I’ve narrowed them down to which would make good literary dates. I hope I can fit it all in.
I am too excited. When I started literary dates, my dream was to take it internationally but wasn’t sure if I could take the plunge. This year I said, forget it, I’m just doing it! I think London is a good starter spot for my first solo trip but also I’ve just always wanted to visit. Please give me any London tips you have and/or travel tips in general.
Literary Dates will go on a bit of a hiatus because so far my plan is to write up a bunch of London posts at once so I can then post them on more of a consistent schedule. I will, however, try to remain active on Instagram and other social media so make sure you’re following me:
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it!
I loved the vibe of Yu & Me books. She was soo nice and I left like I knew her for years! I will definitely return.
Eeeek!!! London solo trip?! Thats amazing!! I wonder what books and stores you might visit. Will Harry Potter be involved? Time will tell.
What a fun post! Especially since it’s been 20 years since I’ve been to Chinatown and I seriously needed a virtual tour like this one to remember how much we loved it. It’s changed so much and yet some things are still the same, like the fun shopping experience you can have there. And of course, I loved Girl in Translation, so it was cool to see where this book took us through your NYC adventures.
I’m so excited about your London trip. Haven’t been in such a long time, but I remember we fell in love in the few days we were there. You’re going to have a blast!
Aww, I love bookstores + that’s such a cute name for a bookstore, hehe. I’m definitely gonna have to go there the next time I’m in NYC Chinatown! Those little cat figures are adorable, and yay for oo35m! <3
Hope you have a tonnnnn of fun in London!! Can't wait to hear about where you end up going there! 😀