Updated December 28, 2023
Celebrate the coming of the Year of the Dragon with Chinese New Year in San Francisco... with tips from a local!
Chinese New Year this year arrives on February 10, 2024.
Celebrations for Chinese New Year in 2024 will be be similar to past years, including the parade, markets, pageants and street fairs.
The SF Chinese New Year Parade will be held on Saturday, February 24, 2024.
The Chinese Lunar New Year falls on February 10 for 2024, and San Francisco celebrates for two-and-a-half weeks.
If you're visiting the city around this time, you're usually in for a treat: parades, street fairs, fireworks and lots of friendly energy!
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!
When: Saturday, Feb 24, 2024. Starts 5:15 pm. Lasts about 2.5 hours.
Where: Starts at 2nd and Market, goes down Market to 3rd St, up Geary to Powell, right on Powell for one block, then right on Post down to Kearny, left on Kearny, then along Kearny all the way to Columbus. This year it goes all around Union Square.
I scoped out the route the parade will take. See my tips on the good spots to watch from, and photos of the parade route at parade tips.
The four sets of bleachers along the route provide a good view of the parade (and a guaranteed place to sit down).
For bleacher seating, they recommend you get there by 4 pm.
To see what the bleacher seating looked like in a previous parade, go to bleacher seats.
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.
(© Kobby_dagan | Dreamstime.com - Chinese New Year Parade Photo)
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, over 200 feet long, and carried by 100 dragon dancers; this is the Grand Finale of the parade. Drums, firecrackers, and magic!
Can't get there? In past years, it's been broadcast live on TV. Two local stations carried it, so check later to see if it's happening this year: KTVU Fox 2 and KTSF Channel 26 (6 to 8 pm).
Or watch it online, at http://www.ktvu.com/news/ktvu-live-stream or via the KTSF app for mobile devices. The KTSF broadcast will probably be in Chinese.
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By car: streets along the parade route will be closed at 4:30 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; another reason to book ahead.
Parking Garages in walking distance:
Tip: The Portsmouth Square, Union Square, St. Mary's Square, and 550 Kearny garages are all on the parade route, but the last two have access from other streets, so you can still get in and out during the parade.
The Portsmouth Square and Union Square garages' entrances/exits will be blocked off after 4:30 p.m. until the parade is over.
A couple of years back, I found a spot through Spot Hero for $10 for the day of the parade at the 550 Kearny Garage, right on the parade route, so it's possible. But I booked it almost a month in advance.
In the past, I've seen $8 for the day of the parade at the 550 Kearny Garage. The word is, plan ahead!
See SF parking apps for a general review of the parking apps available in SF.
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.
When: Feb 3 & 4, 2024: 10 am to 8 pm.
Where: along Grant Avenue (Clay to Broadway), and on Pacific, Jackson and Washington Streets (between Stockton and Kearny).
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.
Held in San Francisco annually for almost 60 years!
When: Saturday, Feb 23, 2024, at 7:30 pm.
Where: Hilton San Francisco, on Union Square.
For details of the event, see pageant.
The Coronation Ball for Miss Chinatown is also Feb 23, 2024, at the Hilton, after after the pageant.
When: Saturday, Feb 24, 2024, from 10 am to 4:30 pm.
Sunday, Feb 25, 2024, from 9 am to 5 pm.
Where: Grant Avenue, (California Street to Broadway), and Sacramento, Washington, Jackson and Pacific Streets (Stockton to Kearny).
This is a fun and colorful street fair. Surround yourself in a celebration 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!
San Francisco Symphony: Lunar New Year Concert.
Sunday, Feb 17, 2024, at 5 pm.
Performances of works by Chinese composers, both classical and folk selections. You can make a night of it by adding on the special banquet.
See SF Symphony Chinese New Year for more info and tickets.
If you're planning to stay in San Francisco for Chinese New Year and want to be in the heart of all the festivities, I've created a list of the hotels on the parade route.
See Hotels on the Parade Route for photos and more info.
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!
Do: before the new year, thoroughly clean the house, put up "spring couplets" (two strips of red paper with good luck sayings...you'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.
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.
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.
Who is this dragon? He's an adventurous and honorable fellow, energetic and courageous, and full of ambition.
The dragon is very generous, and inclined to be temperamental; he is fiercely loyal and can be impulsive.
He finds it difficult to show affection, but once he loves, he does so wholeheartedly.
Will the Year of the Dragon 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.
It's not a great year for those born under this year's sign; it's considered unlucky.
Dragon years: 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024.
But for even better luck, wear a red item given you by an older relative. Or just ignore the whole thing and enjoy the festivities!
Check out the best places to watch the parade, with photos.