Family in Chinatown
Chinese New Year is a time of year when the entire community comes out to celebrate.

A Visitor's Guide to
Celebrating Lunar New Year in San Francisco

This winter, San Francisco will welcome the Year of the Rabbit with tournaments, pageants, a parade, fireworks, and more. 

In San Francisco, as in other Chinese population centers, the first days of the new lunar year will be celebrated within the immediate family circle. While most of the festivities will be concentrated in Chinatown and San Francisco’s downtown area, there are activities scheduled throughout the city.

Year of the Rabbit

According to lunar new year pros, the Year of the Rabbit is all about hope, prosperity, and a sense of peace. According to several astrological sources, people born in the Year of the Rabbit are gentle, good-humored, and enjoy expressing themselves creatively. Famous individuals born in the Year of the Rabbit include legendary athletes Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and David Beckham; Oscar winners Angelia Jolie, Kate Winslet, and Brad Pitt; and the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein. 

Dim Sum and Then Some

There is little doubt that Chinese food as we know it in America started in San Francisco in the mid-1800s. The adaption of Chinese cuisine has gone through countless transformations and has produced some of the best restaurants on the West Coast. Head to popular places like China Live, Mister Jiu's, and Palette Tea House for some of the best Chinese cuisine in the city.

A variety of dim sum dishes at San Francisco's Yank Sing restaurant.
Yank Sing is one of San Francisco's most celebrated dim sum palaces. Credit: @yanksing

Explore Chinatown and Union Square

Most Chinese New Year activities will be in Chinatown, the oldest and largest of its kind in the United States. On Saturday, Feb. 4, the parade will start on Market Street, snaking around downtown with the end of the parade route in the heart of Chinatown.

Night Moves

No New Year’s celebration is complete without nighttime libations. Find the best places to have a drink in Chinatown or any other San Francisco neighborhoods with our guide to the city after hours.

Walking Tours

Chinatown’s rich history is difficult to condense. Luckily, San Francisco City Guides, Wok Wiz Tours and All About Chinatown Tours are reliable ways to get educated about this storied neighborhood as you explore with all your senses. Be sure to include a visit to the Chinese Historical Society of America for a deeper understanding of the community, too.

Ladies looking down Grant Street in Chinatown

Here Be Dragons (And Lions)

Be sure you know the difference between a dragon and a lion when you’re talking about lunar wildlife. The dragon mascot of the annual Alaska Airlines Chinese New Year parade measures more than 200 feet long and takes a team of more than 100 men and women from martial arts group White Crane to propel along the parade route. While there are some smaller versions, there’s no mistaking the behemoth that climaxes the parade amid a fusillade of firecrackers. Lions, on the other hand, usually only require two performers, one to handle the head and another for the tail. In most cases, the tail extends about 12 feet!

What’s All the Noise About?

Firecrackers, beating drums, gongs and crashing cymbals drive away evil spirits. Throughout the Chinese New Year celebration—and especially on parade night—the festivities will be preceded by a loud outburst of firecrackers. Bring earplugs.

Tyler Cohn headshot
Tyler Cohn

Tyler is the Sr. Manager of Global Content & Communications at San Francisco Travel. He has lived in San Francisco since 2015 and has been part of the San Francisco Travel team for just as long. He enjoys splashy production numbers and outdoor sporting events equally, which means you can usually find him at one of San Francisco’s many great theaters or at Oracle Park, cheering on the Giants.