Celebrate Lunar New Year in San Francisco

Chinese New Year Parade. Photo by May Wong.

Chinese New Year Parade. Photo by May Wong.

February is one of my favorite months in San Francisco, and I feel very fortunate to live in a place where I can say that. While much of the country hunkers down under the oppressive chill of the Polar Vortex, our hillsides are greening, and the first wave of flowering trees, like the black cherry plums in front of my house, are showing their colors. Speaking of colors, February is also when some of the most colorful and fun activities happen for Lunar New Year.

One of the best ways to experience this festival is through food. Every region has its own culinary traditions, from noodles representing long life, to purse-shaped dumplings auguring wealth and prosperity, to crisp and creamy radish cakes. For a breakdown on the various regional cuisines of China and where to enjoy them in the Bay Area, check out the Chronicle’s excellent guide, Many Chinas, Many Tables.

A casual stroll through Chinatown can result in an exciting excursion, as lions dance down the street, bestowing blessings of fortune on local businesses and chasing away evil spirits. Consider taking a walking tour of Chinatown to get a deeper appreciation of the community’s history in the city.

The biggest event is the Chinese New Year Festival & Parade, full of explosively colorful floats, not to mention the 288-foot-long dragon that wends its way through the streets. The parade dates back more than 150 years in San Francisco, and it’s rated as one of the top 10 parades in the world by International Festivals & Events Association.

But for an alternative way to experience it, I’m a big fan of the Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt. Teams are given packets with clues to decipher that lead them to spots where they have to find something to indicate they’ve solved the riddle correctly. It pays to have team members who know their local history and trivia. It’s utterly exhausting, you end up going down some pretty sketchy (and stinky) alleys, and you inevitably end up having to cross the path of the parade, sometimes more than once—and it’s a total blast.