San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade is the perfect place to branch out in taste, crowds and a unique experience.
1. For the Crowd.
One of the best things about San Francisco’s CNY parade is the incredible diversity of attendees: young and old, families and friends, visitors and San Franciscans. Squeezing between crowds of people and buildings as you walk the parade route, you will meet strangers of every age and color, shake hands with little toddlers sitting on their parents shoulders, and watch in awe at the acrobatic skillfulness of patrons perched on every elevated surface available. People climb hydrants, mailboxes, ledges, light poles, and fences, balancing sometimes on one foot or against a tree to glimpse the passing floats. You will see strangers hoisting up one another, laughing and retrieving their cameras urgently to capture the approaching floats. Everyone is smiling, as no one seems to have grown out of the excitement of music, fireworks, and sequined costumes. Become friends with people standing near you, the closer you get, the warmer you stay!
2. For the Performers.
Thousands of performers young and old participate in the event every year. By far the most noisy were the musicians; gongs, symbols, drums, and hoards of brass marched in the parade, sometimes overlapping and rising in a giant cacophony of sound. As the parade moves, the sound and tone of the parade changes, from exciting and explosive to pensive and methodical. Every few minutes, a different performance rounds the corner, bringing with it a new sound and dance.
By far the most popular is the dragon dance, which symbolizes the chasing away of evil spirits. Children from schools all over the Bay Area performed the dance, heads tucked under the dragon’s body, lunging at audience members and undulating with the sound of the drums. The dancers ranged in age; high school performers raced to keep up with the yelled cues of teachers donning tracksuits and whistles, and small children walked in organized formations, shaking sequin covered snakes in the air and doing little skip steps to stay in line. The multitude and variety of performances made grabbing for your camera phone an compulsive habit.
3. For the Food.
This parade is the perfect time to experience Chinatown cuisine. There is nothing like a long afternoon of parade watching to work up your appetite, so take the time to weave out of the Financial District toward the narrow streets of Chinatown for some authentic grub. You’ll know you’re in Chinatown when you see the “pop-its” spark and explode in the middle of the street, causing passersby to clutch their chests and old ladies to drop their shopping bags.
This year I found Hong Kong Clay Pot, an authentic Chinese restaurant on Grant and Jackson Street. Locating the restaurant feels much like looking for Platform 9 ¾, as the sign out front is tucked between neighboring awnings, and the door appears to open into a maroon carpeted stairway. Don’t be fooled, there really is a restaurant upstairs. Not only is the seafood hotpot the best in town, but part of the fun is sitting at large circular tables with different parties, talking and enjoying the food together. The inclusive tables, complete with spinning Lazy Susans, create a warm, family ambiance that warms visitors as quickly as the hot green tea. Hong Kong Clay Pot was the perfect hole-in-the-wall spot for a post-parade hot-pot cravings.
Photos by Maximilian M. Huitron.