Friday, February 10, 2012

Guest post: How to Prepare for The San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade

Float at the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco.
Photo from Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year and Parade
Festival Facebook Page
It's one of the top 10 Chinese New Year parades in the world, the kids will love it! For my friend Ronnie Sharpe from Marinhood, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade is a yearly tradition she never misses with her daughter. She likes the floats, she plans a dim sum meal, she watches the dragon - I mean, she's pretty much an expert. When I asked her to write a guest post on the topic, she whipped it up so fast and so comprehensively that I was blown away. If you're joining the parade this year, make sure to read this - it's based on years of standing in Chinatown watching the floats go by with her daughter. Here's for your eyes, her words of advice.

Guest Post by Ronnie Sharpe: How To Prepare For The San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade

Experience the sights and sounds of Chinatown during the community's most exciting time of the year, the Chinese New Year Parade! Steeped in legends and stories, the parade has been an annual tradition for San Francisco since the days of the Gold Rush. The parade is a particularly fun event for children but to avoid being overwhelmed, here's what recommend.

Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year
Lift the Flap Book. Cover art
Learn About The Traditions
The traditions, myths and superstitions that surround the celebration are fascinating and will enhance your experience of the events and parade. Susan Kunhardt, Children's Book Buyer at the Book Passage recommends "Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap" by Joan Holub, "Bringing in the New Year" by Grace Lin and "Celebrate Chinese New Year" by Carolyn Otto.

Getting There
I recommend arriving at lunchtime to eat, have time to enjoy the festivities and watch the parade. Chinatown has steep hills and alleys to navigate and temperatures fluctuate. Now you need to park. Chinatown can become extremely crowded and driving can be very frustrating on a good day - the parade makes this even more of a challenge.
Map location of the Chinese Culture Center

We park at the public lot for the Hilton on Washington St. which is under the Chinese Culture Center. We always sit near the Chinese Culture Center to watch the parade and when we are ready to leave, we can easily get to the car and not get tied up in crowds or traffic. A helpful parking website is but bear in mind the parade path and one-way streets - you do not want to get stuck and some garages may charge a different rate that day that may be not listed on this website.

Mastering the chopsticks! Photo by Ronnie Sharpe
Or if you prefer public transportation contact Golden Gate Transit or dial 511 or (415) 923-2000 or MUNI. Note that certain stops above ground on Market Street will not be operational during the parade so check the routes first. Underground is safer.

Plan A Chinese Lunch
Time to eat! One of my favorite dim sum places is  New Asia Restaurant on 772 Pacific near Stockton. Inexpensive, clean, delicious and easy seating. My daughter is always excited to see the bustling traffic of the dim sum carts race by.

The other place is House of Nanking on Kearny (close to Columbus) but it is so popular, there is almost always a line out the door and you will probably not find a place to sit.

Fortune Cookie Factory. Photo by Ronnie
Explore Chinatown
After lunch it's time to explore! Chinatown shuts the streets off early for the whole weekend to cars for the Community Street Fair. The block party area includes Grant Avenue from California to Pacific, Pacific Avenue from Kearny to Stockton, Washington and Jackson Streets from Kearny to Stockton and is a lot of fun.

We always visit Golden Gate Fortune Cookies (also known as the Fortune Cookie Factory) on Ross Alley just off Grant. On the opposite side of the alley, I discovered one year is the dressing rooms for the dragon and lion dancers in the parade (although that may have changed.) It was a chance to get up close to the main characters of the parade. My daughter was thrilled when one of the lion dancers put his mask on her.

Lion marionette. Photo by Ronnie Sharpe
There are a lot of tchotkes shops to explore and we love the moon cakes at the Eastern Bakery on Grant Ave. Check out some of the intriguing herb shops with exotic medicinal remedies, antique scales, calculations preformed by abacus and eastern doctors prescribing elaborate and unusual prescriptions. My favorite is The Great China Herb Company at 857 Washington Street which operates the same way it has since 1922.

I never miss getting a Chinese stamp hand carved in alabaster when I go. It is amazing to watch the artists at their trade. My favorite artist is an older gentleman, usually at a little outdoor make-shift stand, no name, and located on Grant Avenue, very unassuming, he only speaks Chinese and his wife is there to take your money. But he will hand you a book and you point to what you want and he will carve it for you with his tiny tools. The merchants in the area know him and I seek him out every year. It makes a great gift!

Curbside seats! Photo by Ronnie Sharpe
Enjoy the Parade!
The parade starts at 5:15 pm at Second and Market so we usually stand on the corner near the Chinese Culture Center about 5:30 p.m. I never get tickets for the bleachers and prefer sitting with the locals and tourists.

It is a great way to see the parade and we have met lots of people from all over the world. Once we met someone from China who was translating the stories, dances, and symbols which was a real treat. We experienced no problems sitting at the curb.

The Golden Dragon. Photo by Ronnie Sharpe
Watch for the crowd favorite - the spectacular 250' Golden Dragon ("Gum Lung"). Dragon and lion dances are common during Chinese New Year. It is believed that the loud beats of the drum and the deafening sounds of the cymbals together with the face of the dragon or lion dancing aggressively can evict bad or evil spirits.

Don't Forget The Annual Spring Festival Celebration!
On the weekend of the parade, the Chinese Culture Center throws a free event called Annual Spring Festival Celebration on the 3rd floor of its building on Kearny Street (11am – 3pm on February 11 and 12, 2012). There you can enjoy exhibitions, crafts, demonstrations, New Year food tastings, performances of lion dancers, martial arts, folk and classic dances and much more. Last but not least, register for the Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt from 4:30 p.m., a treasure that families with older children love.
Southwest Airlines Float 2011. Photo from Southwest Airlines
Chinese New Year and Parade Festival Facebook Page  

 These are just my recommendations; you may have your own favorites. Have fun exploring the streets and alleys of Chinatown. It’s a fascinating, authentic and historic neighborhood. Especially during this time of the year, don't miss one of San Francisco's most treasured celebration, the Chinese New Year Parade.

Enjoy the cultural events and vibrant history that Chinatown offers and welcome in the year of the dragon. Gung Hay Fat Choy! May prosperity be with you.......always. For more information visit the official parade website at


Once a small seed said...

Thanks so much for the tips! We have been trying to get to the parade now for 2 years, but illness seems to veer it ugly head around this time.

Frog Mom said...

@Once a small seed. The weather forecast for tomorrow is better than most years where the rain is miserable rain - it's partly sunny. Hopefully you find a way to make it, this year or next. It's really a great tradition and I love how Ronnie plans her whole family day around it.