I walked the parade route for the 2016 Chinese New Year Parade to see what the best viewing spots would be. Here's what I found:
The parade starts at Second and Market Streets, downtown and works its way past Union Square, ending up in Chinatown at Kearny and Washington.
As I went along the route, I looked for spots on the second floor or above that would make for better views above the heads of the crowd. Result: slim pickings, but there are a few good spots! Here are the highlights.
The parade begins at Second and Market.
Turns right onto Kearny after one block.
Short trip down Kearny, then left on Post Street.
Down Post Street to Union Square, past all the fancy stores: Gucci, Cartier, Brooks Brothers, Armani, etc.
Along the north side of Union Square (past Saks).
Right on Powell, around the corner at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Great views from the second and third floor corner windows of Saks, but they close those areas off the day of the parade.
One block down Powell, then right on Sutter Street. The Sir Francis Drake Hotel is on that corner.
The first real find! The Sutter/Stockton Garage overlooks the parade route and has several open levels above the street (that aren't blocked by those trees).
Note: the streets on the parade route will of course be blocked off for the parade starting at 5:00 pm, but the garage also has an entrance on Bush Street in back, and Stockton Street on the side. As far as I can tell, this garage doesn't do reserved spaces like some of the others, so it may not be a great place to park, unless you get there really early. Still, you should be able to go in there and check out the view as a pedestrian.
Update: this actually turned out to be a great place to watch from. Very few people were up there, almost no one until right before the parade started.
The parade route continues down Sutter to Kearny, and left on Kearny. All the way down Kearny to Washington Street where the judging stands will be.
The parade judges will be at Kearny and Washington, near the City College campus on the corner.
The glass walls of the City College campus offer a view of the end of the parade near the judges stands; I don't know how good of a view it will be, or how crowded, but it's a possibility. The second story is the library; I don't know if it will be open during the parade.
There is a bridge crossing Kearny Street in front of the Hilton just before the judges stands. It looks like a great viewing spot, and it is, but to get up there you have to buy a ticket for the stands that will be set up on the overpass (see below).
At several locations on the parade route, viewing stands like bleachers will be set up. You can buy a ticket for a seat in one of the stands.
This year, the stands will be set up at four locations:
For the tickets for the Sutter Street stands and Kearny stands between California and Sacramento, you can purchase them through the official parade site, at chineseparade.com. $30 each plus $8 shipping and handling fee for less than 10 tickets. 10% off for 10 or more tickets. Under 2 yrs free.
Groupon is offering a deal on the tickets for the stands in front of the Hilton Hotel on Kearny near Washington: $39 for the ones in front of the hotel and $59 for the seats on the bridge in front of the Hilton. See parade tickets.
The bridge looks like a great place to watch the parade!
Here is what the stands seating actually looks like:
This suggestion might be a little on the lame side, but if you get there earlyish, it might work out well. At the corner of Kearny and California, there are two buildings that have a series of steps going up to them. Standing on a step could give you a bit better view over the heads of the crowd. Just a thought.
Update: the steps at 600 California were blocked off, but the 601 steps were popular.
Opinions vary as to whether it's better to watch from a spot towards the beginning of the route (performers have more energy) or towards the end (less crowded); difficult call!
Staying in the city on February 20, 2016? Several major hotels are right on the parade route. But only some rooms look down on the parade.
The Westin Saint Francis Hotel on Union Square is on the corner of Post and Powell, where the parade makes a turn. Your room would have to be looking down on that corner (northeast corner of the hotel).
Check out the Saint Francis Hotel on TripAdvisor.com.
The next hotel on the route is the Sir Francis Drake. It's on the corner of Powell and Sutter, where the parade makes another turn. Rooms facing Powell or Sutter should look down on the route.
Check out the Sir Francisco Drake on TripAdvisor.com.
The San Francisco Marriott Union Square is on Sutter, right at Powell, just across the street from the Sir Francis Drake. Rooms on Sutter Street look down on the parade route.
Check out the Marriott on TripAdvisor.com.
Also, the Grand Hyatt San Francisco (north side, on Sutter) faces the parade route.
Check out the Grand Hyatt on TripAdvisor.com.