The largest celebration of its kind outside of Asia, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival & Parade draws tens of thousands of revelers every February, and is viewed on television and via live stream by over three million worldwide. The undeniable highlight of the free event—as evidenced by the huge crowds that show up to witness it—is the nighttime parade snaking through San Francisco’s Chinatown. Swirling lion dancers and the elaborate, 200-foot-long Golden Dragon, which requires more than 100 men and women to hoist and set in motion, make their way down street in order to clear out any evil spirits that might muck up the year ahead. Keep in mind that this event can be seriously loud—it’s tradition to fling more than half a million fireworks at New Year’s—so be ready for an endless snap-crackle-pop well into the night.
What else can you expect to see, do, hear? In addition to the ferociously stomping Golden Dragon, more than 100 elaborately decorated floats glide along the parade route, representing the theme of the year’s Chinese zodiac sign, such as the Year of the Dragon, or Year of the Monkey, etc. School marching bands, squads of martial artists, acrobats, the newly crowned Miss Chinatown USA, and local dignitaries riding in convertibles round out the procession.
In preparation for the big event, the Chinese New Year Flower Market Fair is held the weekend prior, so attendees can load up on fresh flowers, candies, and fruit for the upcoming lunar year. Be sure to buy an orange or tangerine from one of the 120 booths as they symbolize abundant happiness. Traditional Chinese magicians, acrobats, folk dancers, and opera singers perform throughout the weekend.
If you can’t make it to Chinatown for the New Year Festival & Parade, check the neighborhood’s calendar of events to see what will be going on when you are there.
Useful info: For attendees with limited mobility, or for those who simply would like a place to sit with a view of the festivities, bleacher seats are available for a fee. The festivities take place rain or shine. You can find a map of the parade route on the event’s FAQ page.