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Awkwafina and the dragon: Inside Chinatown’s biggest New Year Parade blowout ever

Colorful Chinese lion dance masks with a child peeking through the mouth of one.
A young lion dancer walks with her troupe toward the parade route on Market Street in the 2022 Chinese New Year Parade. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

With an A-list grand marshal—Awkwafina!—sold-out crowds and a brand new dragon, San Francisco is throwing everything in its arsenal at this year’s Chinese New Year Festival and Parade. The largest Lunar New Year parade outside of Asia, the celebration will snake its way through downtown and Chinatown Saturday evening in an event that San Francisco officials hope will remain festive and peaceful—unlike the mini-riot and Waymo bonfire that ignited in the neighborhood two weeks ago. 

The Year of the Dragon symbolizes good fortune—and it feels fitting, given that the Chinatown community is experiencing something of a renaissance after emerging from the dark days of the pandemic. Bleacher seats sold out two weeks ago (it’s still free to attend as a spectator along the route) and the Golden Globe-winning actress, singer and comedian Awkwafina will be leading the parade. 

But best of all is the dragon: A 288-foot mythical creature will be maneuvered by 100 performers from Leung’s White Crane martial arts school, who will cut a serpentine path along the length of the parade route—beginning at Second and Market Streets, winding around Union Square and ending at Kearny Street and Columbus Avenue. 

For the festival’s organizers, it felt appropriate to bring out a new dragon, which has a green body, in the Year of the Dragon. “The green of the Wood Dragon symbolizes new growth and a new beginning,” said Harlan Wong, the parade’s organizer. 

Performers in red and gold holding a long, green dragon costume, parading against an urban backdrop.
A dragon is paraded through the streets of Chinatown and downtown in 2022. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

The dragon is the most powerful animal in the Chinese zodiac, Wong said, and it symbolizes power, success and wisdom. “The parade revitalizes our economy,” he said. “Hotels are filled, and those hotel taxes fund the city’s arts community.” 

The parade is coming after footage of an unoccupied Waymo vehicle set on fire in Chinatown went viral, raising safety concerns among city dwellers. Yet San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott assured parade stakeholders at a press conference Tuesday that every possible precaution was being taken for the parade in light of the recent conflagration. 

Wong, for his part, hasn’t seen any indication that people are staying away because of the suspected arson, and he understands the positive association with the Year of the Dragon as relevant to more than only the local community. “It’s also hopefully a new beginning for the city, country and world,” he said. 

Here’s everything you need to know in advance of this Saturday’s parade.  

Parade route

The 1.3-mile-long parade route begins at Second and Market Streets and winds around Union Square before heading down Geary Street, turning right onto Powell Street, right on Post Street and left onto Kearny Street—eventually ending at Columbus Avenue. You can observe the parade anywhere along the route, though it becomes more crowded the further you get into Chinatown. 

Street closures

The streets around the bleacher areas of the parade—Washington and Jackson Streets, California and Sacramento Streets, Kearny Street and Grant Avenue, and Stockton and Powell Streets—will be closed from 3 a.m. Saturday on. From 3 p.m. on, the rest of the parade route will be closed. 

Parade timing 

Spectators are encouraged to get to the parade early, given crowds and street closures. Plan to arrive by 4 p.m. for the best viewing potential, with parade festivities beginning at 5:15 p.m. and the dragon parade starting at 6 p.m. and wrapping up around 8 p.m. 

Getting there 

Parade organizers highly encourage using public transportation to arrive at the parade, given the crowds, street closures and lack of parking. If you must drive, consider parking at the Portsmouth Square garage—it's offering two hours of free parking in the month of February. 

Fireworks show

After being on hiatus due to a lack of funding in 2023, fireworks are back on for 2024. The show will begin around 7:50 p.m. at Union Square and last under five minutes. 

Bleacher tickets

The tickets for seats in the four bleacher areas are sold out. If you already purchased bleacher tickets, parade organizers recommend you arrive at your assigned area by 4 p.m. Saturday. 

Not into crowds? 

If navigating around the hordes is not for you, try experiencing the public art project Wong called “a reverse parade” on your own time. In honor of the Year of the Wood Dragon, five dragon sculptures have been placed around the city, which allows spectators to celebrate according to their own route and schedule. The sculptures will be on view through March 2. 

Want to keep celebrating? 

There’s an event-studded calendar lined up to honor the Year of the Wood Dragon. New this year is a (completely adorable) Made in Chinatown pop-up shop at Rose Pak Station with items ranging from neighborhood-themed soaps to the famed dragon’s beard candy. The arts organization Edge on the Square has events on Saturday and Sunday that include lantern collaging, artisanal candy crafting and zine making. And you need not contain your celebration to Chinatown—there are ways to celebrate the auspicious Lunar New Year at small businesses across the city