Sounds like fun! San Francisco Chinatown is pretty small, so all you need is a few hours in the morning and/or afternoon to explore it all. Night time isn't so great when you have young children and grandma. A lot of the little stores and food marts close by 6'ish and it's pretty dead after that except for bars and a few dinner spots.
Yes, do visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory! It was one of my favorite places to visit as a kid and still is! It's in a non-descript spot in a little alley, but let your nose lead the way. Just a note: ask before taking photos of the ladies making the fortune cookies. They do get upset if you don't. I enjoy getting the flat round cookies that don't have the fortune in it. Without the fortune, you get more cookies ;)Eastern Bakery is really good. In elementary school, my dad used to take me here every day before class to pick out a breakfast treat. It's pretty popular, but it hasn't sold out and has remained the same dive-y bakery for decades. They didn't bother cleaning up when President Clinton visited in the 90s :PFor dim sum, New Asia Restaurant is probably my favorite spot for it in Chinatown. Sure, it's higher end-looking than all of the other spots around it, but the prices aren't bad at all. You can get a whole lobster garlic noodle dish for less than $15 during dim sum hour if it's in season.If you like egg tarts, head to Golden Gate Bakery. They are the place for egg tarts. Expect a line.Yes, R & G Lounge is great for their salt and pepper crab. People started flocking to it after one of our advisors, Anthony Bourdain (you can check out his Trippy profile here), mentioned it on his Travel Channel show No Reservations. Yes, you heard right about that lychee martini, too, made with locally-distilled vodka (Hangar 1)!Above all else, just wander. Stop off at all the little random bakeries and some pastries or dim sum to go. People watch. Wander into shops and markets. Take pictures off the architecture.
Hope you and your family have a blast! :)
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is really cool, you can also check out Golden Gate Bakery as well. I don't go to Chinatown too often, so I would just say a half day to explore... I recommend Great Eastern Restaurant for dim sum. Hope this helps!
My family's favorite thing to to in Chinatown is what we call a "walking dinner". It started by accident when we couldn't find a parking spot! But soon turned into a fun adventure.
What we do is each get a turn picking a food from the many small eating establishments, maybe a moon cake, or a bow bun from a bakery, or one of the many dim sum goodies. We always get some pork char su and have the butcher chop it into pieces so that we can eat it right from the bag as we seach for another tasty treat to sample.
You'll see other people doing the same thing. Be sure to go on the side streets and go west from the main drag. You'll see more of the working parts of China town and less of the touristy stores this way. If there are fruits and vegetables out front of some stores, you are probably in the right area.
have fun with it and try some things you might not otherwise try at a sit down restaurant!