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Union Square Blog
February 14, 2014

Union Square SF's Guide to the Chinese New Year Parade

San Francisco's spectacular annual Chinese New Year Parade takes place tomorrow, and we want to make sure you get the most out of it! Here are our top tips and info on the parade and what to do on parade day in Union Square.

Parade Day

The Southwest Chinese New Year Parade is the largest of its kind outside of Asia with over 100 dazzling floats, feisty dancing lions, firecrackers, marching bands and acrobats. Plus, catch martial arts groups, stilt walkers and the newly crowned Miss Chinatown USA, as well as a 268-foot Golden Dragon, accompanied by 600,000 firecrackers. This special dragon was made in Foshan by a prestigious company of costume crafters and is outfitted with rainbow colored pompons, bright lights, silver rivets and white rabbit fur. It takes a team of 100 people to carry and animate it.

If you’re looking for a spot to catch the parade, there’s no better place than right in the heart of the action. Since the parade wraps around three sides of the Square, it’s guaranteed to be the perfect spot to take in the lights, music, dancing and intricate costumes that make this parade famous. Inspired by several of the festive businesses around Union Square, we’ve adorned the Park with red and gold paper lanterns along the parade route just for the occasion. Be sure to arrive early, as this is a very popular event. While the bleacher seats are sold out for the year, we recommend you scout out a good sidewalk spot early or even host a party in one of the surrounding hotels or restaurants with a view!

Where to Eat & Play

If you’re looking for a bite pre- or post-parade, there are plenty of delicious, on-theme restaurants right here in Union Square. Try the high-end Chinese cuisine at Hakkasan, the traditional with a twist cuisine at M.Y. China or the pan-Asian cuisine at E&O Asian Kitchen. One of the best parts is all three restaurants have excellent wine and cocktail programs, so if you just want a pre-parade snack and drink, you’ll find yourself enjoying something like the Unbridled cocktail at E&O with Szechuan infused vodka, lychee and lemon or the Green Destiny martini at Hakkasan with grass vodka, cucumber, kiwi and apple.

We do recommend a reservation, as it can get crowded around the event! Of course, we also recommend you take some time to explore Chinatown and the many traditional restaurants they have to offer!

A Little Lunar New Year Background

Need a conversation starter while you wait for your favorite float? How about the origins of Chinese New Year? According to legend Lunar New Year traditions began with a battle against a mythical beast called Nian. Apparently, the beast would eat livestock, crops and sometimes even children on the first day of the New Year. People began to leave food on their doorsteps in hopes of satiating the monster’s desires. Then, a revelation came when one of the villagers saw that Nian was frightened by a small child wearing red. The villagers began to hang red lanterns and scrolls and light firecrackers every New Year to frighten away the beast, and apparently it worked! In the legend, Nian is eventually captured by a monk named Hongjun Laozu and subdued. So, there you go – the story of Chinese New Year!