Chinese New Year arrives on February 12, 2021.
Celebrate the coming of the Year of the Ox in San Francisco with tips from a local!
Celebrations for Chinese New Year in 2021 will be rather subdued, due to the Covid precautions.
The Chinese New Year Parade is canceled for 2021, and the activity schedule for other events hasn't been released yet.
|New Year Parade||Chinatown Street Fair||Flower Market Fair|
|Getting there/Parking||New Year Customs||Year of the rat|
|New Year Parade||Chinatown Street Fair|
|Flower Market Fair||Year of the rat|
|Getting there/Parking||New Year Customs|
The Chinese Lunar New Year falls on February 12 for 2021, 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! Not so much for 2021, but Covid rules change weekly in SF, so stay tuned.
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 2020 Chinese New Year Events in SF:
When: Saturday, Feb 8, 2020, 5:15 to 8 pm.
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; somewhat different route from last year.
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.
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 three sets of bleachers along the route provide a good view of the parade (and a guaranteed place to sit down).
To see what the bleacher seating looked like in a recent parade, go to bleacher seats.
Tips for enjoying the parade:
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? You can also watch it live on TV. Two local stations will carry it: 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.
Another good bet is Parking Panda. 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.
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.
When: Feb 18, 2020: 10 am to 8 pm.
Feb 19, 2020: 9 am to 6 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 1, 2020, at 7:30 pm.
Where: Palace of fine Arts Theater, 3301 Lyon Street.
For more info and tickets, see pageant.
The Coronation Ball is Feb 7, 2020.
When: Saturday, Feb 8, 2020, from 10 am to 4:30 pm.
Sunday, Feb 9, 2020, 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!
Asian Art Museum. Lunar New Year Celebration. In past years, they've had new year festivities at the museum. Not announced yet.
San Francisco Symphony. Chinese New Year Concert, Saturday, Feb 1, 2020, at 5 pm. Reception with lion dancing and refreshments before the concert, Imperial Dinner after the concert. See SF Symphony Chinese New Year for more info and tickets.
Bay Area Discovery Museum. The museum hosts an annual Chinese New Year Celebration. Celebrate the Year of the rat with lion dancers, calligraphy and Kung Fu demonstrations. Date to be announced. See schedule 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 rat? He's a lively, clever fellow, kind and well-liked, but he can be a bit stingy, with a tendency to hoard.
The rat does well financially, due to his prudent approach to money; he's smart and optimistic, but cautious.
His health can be delicate, and he may suffer from frequent colds, so he needs to pay attention to his diet and not overtire himself with work, but he tends to live a long life in spite of that.
Will the Year of the Rat 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.
Unlike most years, it's not a bad year for those born under this year's sign (rat years: 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020). 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!
I've scouted the 2020 parade route for the best viewing spots. Here are the results, with photos.
COVID-19 Status: at midnight on Monday, March 16, San Francisco was placed under a "shelter-in-place order.
All residents were ordered to stay home, except for necessary trips to grocery stores and essential medical visits, and solo outdoor activities like hiking.
The city had been gradually reopening of many businesses and activities, but in December, came under a strict, stay-at-home directive, due to a sudden increase in infection and hospitalization rates.
Since then, Covid numbers have dropped significantly.
Big changes coming June 15 (assuming the Covid numbers stay down). California is scheduled to fully reopen, meaning all business sectors will reopen to full or almost full capacity, including concerts, stadium sports and festivals.
Most recently, March 23, 2021, SF has moved to a somewhat less restrictive status.
Public transportation options have been cut back. See SF transit for more info.
See COVID rules for current SF status.
Mask rules: everyone in SF is required to wear a mask when they are outside and within 30 feet of other people.
Masks must be worn in stores and places of business and people not within the same household must stay 6 feet apart.
SF Curfew has been ended.
What is open? Muir Woods, the Botanic Gardens, Golden Gate Park, Japanese Tea Garden, Pier 39, SF beaches, Golden Gate Bridge, and Twin Peaks (car access on Portola, main parking lot open) are all open.
Parking lots for SF beaches, Twin Peaks, and the Golden Gate Bridge are open. But the Welcome Center lot and Merchant Road lot at the bridge are closed.
Restaurants can now be open to 50% capacity for indoor and outdoor dining, and many restaurants are open for take-out or delivery.
Bars that serve food can serve customers indoors.
Businesses can allow customers inside, on a limited basis (grocery stores 50%).The SF Zoo is open again.
Alcatraz is open. Day Tour tickets only. See Alcatraz.
Hair salons, and open air tour buses and boat cruises can now operate.
Indoor museums are open, including the CA Academy of Sciences.
Travel to SF: non-essential travel to SF is discouraged but the quarantine requirements are no longer in effect.
Hotels are accepting reservations, up to 25% capacity, but travelers are urged to limit contact with others in the hotel.
Exploratorium: still closed.
Indoor swimming pools are open to 25% capacity.
Schools: many private schools are open. SF public schools will start in person learning for elementary students April 12. Older grades: negotiations are ongoing. Hopefully will open for fall classes.
Limited opening: indoor gyms to 25% capacity and indoor movie theaters to 50%.
Indoor concerts, live theater, and sporting events, are scheduled to open April 12 at 35% capacity. Proof of vaccination or negative Covid test will be required. See more info on indoor events.
Some venues are waiting until June 15 because capacity limits don't work for those businesses.
Napa and Sonoma county wineries are open.
For a handy list of what's open or closed in SF, plus info on what's open in other cities and counties of California, see California reopening schedules.
See coronavirus news in the SF Chronicle for details and updates.
See SF closures timeline.
Most recent Bay Area stay home order.
Also see site and parking lot closures for the National Park Service (Alcatraz, Muir Woods, etc.)
Plus helpful info on which parks and hiking trails are open in the Bay Area.
Get the latest tips on visiting San Francisco.