San Francisco's
Chinese New Year 2018


Happy puppy drawing, wagging tail

Chinese New Year arrives February 16, 2018.

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



The Chinese lunar new year falls on February 16 for 2018, and San Francisco celebrates for two weeks, ending with the colorful Chinese New Year Parade on February 24, 2018.

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

SF Chinese New Year Parade
(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 2018 Chinese New Year Events in SF:
(details below)

  • Mini-Parade Preview (Feb 10)
  • Chinese Flower Fair (Feb 10, 11)
  • Miss Chinatown USA Pageant (Feb 22)
  • Chinese New Year Parade (Feb 24)
  • Chinatown Street Fair (Feb 24, 25)


The Chinese New Year Parade 2018


When: Saturday, Feb 24, 2018, 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.

san francisco 2018 chinese new year parade map
2018 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.

dragon boat in san francisco chinese new years parade 2014
SF New Year Parade, Dragon Boat
(© Kobby_dagan | Dreamstime.com - Chinese New Year Parade Photo)

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.

Tips for enjoying the parade:

  • Get there early (by 4:30 at the latest, 3:30 for front row spots).
  • Dress warmly, and bring an umbrella; the parade goes rain or shine.
  • 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, over 200 feet long, and carried by 100 dragon dancers; this is the Grand Finale of the parade. Drums, firecrackers, and magic!

san francisco chinatown dragon mural
SF Chinatown Mural


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.


Getting to the Parade

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:

  • Sutter-Stockton Garage, 330 Stockton (enter on Bush or Stockton 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 (also an entrance on California St.)

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.

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

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. Go to Chinatown parking to see spothero.com's parking lot choices and booking.

Another good bet is Parking Panda. Looking in December 2017, I saw $8 for the day of the parade (Feb 24, 2018) at the 550 Kearny Garage I used the past year. The word is, plan ahead! Check out their parking choices here.

Parking Discount Code: use CUPID14 for up to $5 off for existing customers of spothero.com (through Feb 12).

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.



Chinese Flower Market Fair 2018


When: Feb 10: 10 am to 8 pm.
Feb 11: 9 am to 6 pm.

Where: along Grant Avenue (Clay to Broadway), and on 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 2018


Held in San Francisco annually for almost 60 years!

When: Thursday, Feb 22, 7:30 pm.

Where: War Memorial Herbst Theater, 410 Van Ness Ave.

For more info, see pageant.



Chinatown Community Street Fair 2018


When: Saturday, Feb 24, 10 am to 4:30 pm.
Sunday, Feb 25, 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. 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

The Mini-Parade 2018

Want a taste of the New Year's Parade without the huge crowds and long wait (and nippy night air)? The Mini Parade goes down the original parade route from 150 years ago, lasts 20 minutes, and ends up with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the SF mayor.

The Route: starts at St. Mary's Square, goes down Grant Avenue to Washington Street where a stage is set up.

When: Saturday, February 10, at 10:30 am.

They'll have lion dancers, dragons, stilt-walkers and cute kids marching in the parade. You can check out the Flower Market at the same time.

The Mayor will be there on the stage at 10:45 am to cut the ribbon and open the New Year celebrations.


More Chinese New Year Events


Asian Art Museum. Lunar New Year Celebration, Sunday, Feb 18, 10:30-4. Lion dancers, acrobats, and story-telling; have your name written in Chinese calligraphy. See schedule.

San Francisco Symphony. Chinese New Year Concert, Saturday, Feb 24, 3 pm. Reception with lion dancing and refreshments at 2 pm, Imperial Dinner after the concert. See SF Symphony New Year for more info and tickets.

Bay Area Discovery Museum. Chinese New Year Celebration, Monday, Feb 19, 9-4. Celebrate the Year of the Dog with lion dancers, calligraphy and Kung Fu demonstrations. See schedule for more info and tickets.



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 2018? Here are the Do's and Don'ts...


happy face icon

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.

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.

sad face icon

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 Dog 2018

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.

Golden Retriever on sofa with cat
A Dog's Life

Who is this dog? He's a loyal friend, brave and smart, but can be stubborn, and reluctant to try new things. He's good-natured and honest, but tends to be sensitive, and sometimes struggles to communicate.

His presence in a home is considered lucky; he's the bringer of good fortune.

Will the Year of the Dog 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.

As happens every year, it's not usually a great year for those born under that year's sign (dog years: 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018). 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 2018 parade route for the best viewing spots. Here are the results, with photos.



More to explore...


> > SF Chinese New Year



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