We  Parades


San Francisco is a lively and livable city precisely because there is so much to see and do here, and one of the reasons we have so much to do is that we are willing to close streets to traffic and open them for people to enjoy. Our streets are not just for transportation; we regularly turn them into racetracks, event arenas, promenades, or parade grounds, and we use them for a variety of sporting events, exercise venues, festivals, parties, and parades.

Parades are a really big deal here and we have several annual parades that are truly major events:

Chinese New Year Parade

Usually held in February, this is a really spectacular parade and draws a huge crowd along the entire route. It’s said to be the largest Lunar New Year parade outside Asia. This parade has it all: elaborate floats, beautiful costumes, acrobats, dancers, delightful children in Year-of-the-Tiger costumes, Miss Chinatown and her court, and lots and lots of firecrackers, lion dancers, and dragons.

The dragons are especially cool as they writhe and weave their way along the parade route, always chasing the pearl of wisdom. The parade ends with Gum Lung, the longest, grandest dragon of all. This 201-foot dragon is carried by a 100-person team from the White Crane martial arts group and enters the parade behind a barrage of fireworks that light up the street.  Like a lantern, Gum Lung (golden dragon) is lighted from within so the entire body glows from head to tail — it’s awesome.


St. Patrick’s Day

Held in mid-March and billed as the largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival west of the Mississippi, this popular parade brings out a large crowd. This is a working person’s parade with contingents from the police, fire and public works departments, labor unions, and schools. There are school bands, bag pipers, Irish dance groups, and even Irish wolfhounds. The costumes and floats are not as elaborate as some of the other parades, but the participants are no less enthusiastic. The floats are mostly trucks or motorized cable cars with lots of green decorations and lots of smiling people on board who wave to the crowd and toss candy and beads to the kids along the route.

I especially like the Irish wolfhound organization with their beautiful dogs, and the step dancing troupes of little girls in their Celtic costumes. It’s even better if you’re lucky enough to watch the parade from a vantage point where you can see the girls dance.



Held on Sunday during Memorial Day weekend, this is another huge parade that attracts a large crowd. This parade has nonstop music and dancing; it’s lively, colorful, loud, long and fun. The costumes are elaborate, beautiful and, in some cases, pretty skimpy. Most of the participants are dance groups and fall roughly into three categories. There are a few Aztec dance groups, in full-feathered regalia, who perform traditional dances. There are also a few groups who represent specific south or central American counties by wearing their traditional clothing and marching (or dancing) to their traditional music. But most of the groups are elaborately costumed dance groups along the lines of what you’d expect at the Samba Parade at Carnaval in Rio.


Bay to Breakers

Okay, technically this is a 12K race, not a parade, but trust me, after the serious runners cross the start line, this turns into a full-on parade. Most of the people are walking, not running, and many are in costumes. There are lots of groups of people in coordinated costumes like cavemen pushing a giant wooly mammoth or the entire cast of Snow White. One of the most interesting is a group of young men dressed in full-body, salmon costumes who run the course in reverse – like salmon, they swim up stream. There are also lots of movie characters, superheroes, and mobile parties pushing their bars on wheels.

Held on the third Sunday in May, Bay to Breakers is a huge event with a long history. The 2010 race will be the 99th annual. There are typically about 70,000 participants in the race/parade and perhaps as many spectators lining the route from the Bay to Ocean Beach.


There are several other annual parades in San Francisco that I’m simply going to list (with links and approximate dates) because I’ve not been to them recently (if ever). Some of these are small and pretty informal; some are a really big deal. I’ll get to all of them — eventually:

  • St. Stupid’s Day Parade – April 1st

  • Union Street Easter Parade – Easter Sun

  • Cherry Blossom Festival – Mid April

  • San Francisco Pride – Late June)

  • Love Parade – Early October

  • Italian Heritage Day – Mid October


© Virginia E. Vail 2012