San Francisco's
Chinese New Year 2016

Celebrate the coming of the Year of the Monkey in San Francisco with tips from a local!

New Year Parade Chinatown Street Fair Flower Market Fair
Getting there/Parking New Year Customs Year of the Monkey

The Chinese lunar new year falls on February 8 this year, and San Francisco celebrates for two weeks, ending with the colorful Chinese New Year Parade on February 20.

If you're visiting the city around this time, you're in for a treat: parades, street fairs, fireworks and lots of friendly energy!

Chinese New Year Parade 2011
(Image thanks to Ed Schipul, under CC-BY-SA license.)

Chinese New Year Celebrations in the City

San Francisco has one of the biggest and oldest Chinese New Year celebrations outside Asia. Around 500,000 people come to the events here, so be prepared for crowds!

Highlights of the Chinese New Year Events in SF:

  • Chinese Flower Fair (Jan 30, 31)
  • Miss Chinatown USA Pageant (Feb 13)
  • Chinese New Year Parade (Feb 20)
  • Chinatown Community Street Fair (Feb 20, 21)

The Chinese New Year Parade

When: Saturday, Feb 20, 5:15 to 8 pm.

Where: Starts at 2nd and Market, up to Kearny, left up Post Street, right on Powell, then right on Sutter back down to Kearny again, and along Kearny to Columbus.

san francisco chinese new year parade map
Parade Route

The parade is loud and full of life. Group after group of dragon dancers, acrobats, martial arts displays, elaborate floats, costumed marchers and stilt walkers. Lots of pounding drums and firecrackers! Something to be experienced at least once in a lifetime; many people go year after year.

2014 SF New Year Parade, Dragon Boat
(© Kobby_dagan | - Chinese New Year Parade Photo)

Tips for enjoying the parade:

  • Get there early (by 4:30 at the latest).
  • Dress warmly, and bring an umbrella.
  • Bring water and snacks.
  • Book a seat if standing is a problem (see below).
  • Driving and parking? Book a spot in advance in a garage, with a parking app (see below).

If you can, stay till the end, because you'll be treated to the sight of the Golden Dragon. The huge dragon is all lit up, 200 feet long, and carried by 100 dragon dancers; this is the Grand Finale of the parade.

What are the best places to watch the parade from? See my tips, and photos of the parade route: parade tips. Also information on booking a seat in the stands.
SF Chinatown Mural

Getting to the Parade

By car: streets along the parade route will be closed at 5:00 pm, and traffic will be ugly, but you can still drive in and park. But garages will fill up fast; booking a spot with a parking app ahead of time is a safer bet. Caveat: sometimes garages have higher rates for special events.

Parking Garages in walking distance:

  • Sutter-Stockton Garage, 330 Stockton (enter on Bush Street)
  • Union Square Garage (Union Square, enter on Geary)
  • 450 Sutter Garage
  • Ellis-O'Farrell, 123 O'Farrell
  • Fifth and Mission Garage, 833 Mission at 5th Street.
  • 550 Kearny Garage (valet, enter 665 Sacramento Street).
  • Portsmouth Square Garage, 733 Kearny at Clay.
  • St. Mary's Square Garage, 433 Kearny.

Some of these garages are on the parade route; get there early!

Parking tip: if you plan to drive, book a parking spot through one of the parking apps, like,, or, well in advance if you can.

I found a spot through for $10 for the day of the parade at the 550 Kearny Garage, just off the parade route, so it's possible! But I booked it almost a month in advance. Go to Chinatown parking to see's parking lot choices and booking.

Parking Discount Codes: use SFCHINESENY for $5 off for first time users of, or SFCNY for a 30% discount with

See SF parking apps for a general review of the apps available in SF.

Public Transportation: it's easy to get to the parade by BART or Muni, but the crowds could be fierce. Best to come a bit early, and maybe hang out in Chinatown or North Beach for a late dinner afterwards.

BART and Muni (underground): Get off at the Montgomery or Powell Street stops, depending on where along the route you plan to go.

A number of bus routes go to this area. Check out the downloadable pdf from the city that shows all the bus routes: Muni System Map.

Chinese Flower Market Fair

When: Jan 30: 10 am to 8 pm.
Jan 31: 9 am to 6 pm.

Where: Grant Avenue, from Clay to Broadway, and Pacific, Jackson and Washington Streets, between Stockton and Kearny.

orange tree

This is a pretty tradition: city blocks of flowers, fruit trees, and fruit for sale, to welcome in the new year. Chinese tradition associates certain flowers and fruits with good luck, so many Chinese families come to purchase these items to decorate their homes before the new year, to bring good fortune to their family for the rest of the year.

Especially auspicious items: orchids, narcissus, peach blossoms, chrysanthemums, and little trees bearing oranges or tangerines.

There will be Chinese opera and lion dancing on the stage as well.

Around 400,000 people attend this fair! Very crowded.

Miss Chinatown USA Pageant

When: Saturday, Feb 13, 7:30 pm.

Where: Palace of Fine Arts Theater, 3301 Lyon Street.

Held in San Francisco annually for almost 60 years! For more info, see pageant.

Chinatown Community Street Fair

When: Saturday, Feb 20, 10 am to 4:30 pm.
Sunday, Feb 21, 9 am to 5 pm.

Where: Grant Avenue, from California Street to Broadway, and Sacramento, Washington, Jackson and Pacific Streets, between Stockton and Kearny.

This is a fun and colorful street fair. Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of Chinese culture: traditional Chinese music and dancing, acrobats, puppet shows, lion dancing, magic shows, lantern and kite-making, Chinese snacks, etc. Tons of people! (500,000 expected)

Walking through Chinatown the night of the parade was magical!

Evening in Chinatown

Chinese New Year Customs

The beginning of the lunar year is an extremely important time in Chinese tradition, because how one begins the year is said to affect one's fortunes for the entire year!

Want a lucky 2016? Here are the Do's and Don'ts...

Do: before the new year, thoroughly clean the house, put up "spring couplets" (two strips of red paper with good luck'll see these sold in the markets), decorate with lucky flowers and plants, buy new clothes for everyone in the family, and have a family reunion dinner. Set off firecrackers when the new year arrives to drive off bad spirits and bad luck.

New Year's day: wear the new clothes, give the children red envelopes with money, listen to the ringing of a large bell, show respect to the ancestors' altar (if you have one!), watch the dragon and lion dancers. Give a special new year's greeting to others.

Carrying New Year's Presents
SF Chinatown, 1912

Gung Hay Fat Choi (Cantonese) is not as traditional as some of the New Year's greetings, but it is one of the most popular and well-known locally. It doesn't literally mean Happy New Year but is wishing the other joy and prosperity.

Don't: Lots of these! Don't sweep or clean house for two days, or you'll sweep away all the accumulated good luck. Ditto for hair and clothes washing. Don't speak unlucky words (say "death" and you'll be sorry!). Don't eat porridge (brings poverty). More No's: crying children, broken dishes, knives, black or white clothing, no hospital visits, and no borrowing or lending money. And don't give any one a clock or a mirror. Whew! Fortunately, after a couple of days, you can go back to normal and it won't affect the entire year.

The Year of the Monkey 2016

Chinese tradition divides the year into 12 parts, each associated with one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. A person's character and personality are supposedly influenced by their birth sign.

little monkey playing

This year is associated with the monkey. He's known for his cleverness, but he's a mischievous little fellow, unpredictable but vigilant.

Will the Year of the Monkey be a good one or a bad one? The answer depends on which sign your were born under; Chinese astrology is complex and each animal interacts differently with all of the others.

If any generalizations can be made, financial issues will be dominant this coming year, and events can move quickly. Also, it's not usually a great year for those born under that year's sign (monkey years: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004). For better luck, wear a red item given you by an older relative. Or just ignore the whole thing and enjoy the festivities!

Insider Tip:

I've scouted the 2016 parade route for the best spots. Here are the results.

More to explore...

> > SF Chinese New Year

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