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How To Apply For A Parade Permit in San Francisco


What is a parade defined as?

Let’s talk super fun San Francisco police code definitions (idea for a new best seller?). According to Article 4, Section 366, it is a non-athletic event (debatable—have they ever seen a Mardi Gras, second line, or New Orleans Style brass band parade?) in which people proceed as a collective body for more than one block on foot, in any sort of vehicle, or riding on an animal and obstructs or interferes with the normal flow of vehicular traffic.

So, by definition, the mob that tried to storm Frankenstein’s castle was really just a parade for a cause. Sounds like it could have been a fun time. Anyway, you don’t need any pitchforks or creepy lightening-lit castles, your parade is going to be epic (and maybe someone will be inspired to write a literary classic about it).

Who do I ask about getting a parade permit?

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Permit fairy, are you there? Ugh, if only it were that easy. You need to apply to the jurisdiction where your parade is going to make its magic happen. And there’s paperwork involved. Yuck.

Might as well start this parade permit paperwork

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Here you go, take and fill out the San Francisco Police Department application. Once it’s been properly filled out, it goes to the permit officer at the police station in the area where the parade starts.

If your parade is so awesome it can’t be contained to one jurisdiction (and we hope that is the case), no problem. Just submit the permit application to:

Sgt. Frank Hagan, SFPD

Traffic Division Event Coordinator

850 Bryant Street, Room 154San Francisco, CA 94103 (415) 553-1929

If there are any other government agencies that oversee the land where you are beginning or holding the parade, you’ll need to talk to them as well. For instance, if you are starting or ending your parade in or near a park, you need to get another permit from the San Francisco Recreation & Park Department.

How far in advance do I need to apply for a permit?

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The city of San Francisco recommends handing in your application at least 2 months before the event. It not only gives them enough time to process your permit, but it gives you enough time to appeal if they deny your parade (we know, who would ever want to deny something as awesome as a parade!).

Types of parades to consider

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You may have never seriously thought to yourself “I think I’ll throw a parade”. It sounds like it might be complicated and really, what kind of parade would I stage and why? Isn’t that for big organizers like Macy’s on Thanksgiving? The good news is, even regular people can organize and apply to stage a parade.

There are plenty of reasons to throw a parade. Some organize parades to celebrate holidays or commemorate important events or people. Some parades celebrate life in or an anniversary particular to a specific town or city. Of course, we couldn’t forget to mention the ultra-colorful and wildly fun Mardi Gras parades. But what about one of our personal favorites—the second line parade?

What is a second-line parade?

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Some have called it a festive moving block party, complete with spirited live music. Neighbors, friends, or social clubs usually organize these and head up the parade along with an honored guest (or guests) like a bride and groom. They actually make up the first “line” of the parade.

After the VIP first-line guests come to the brass band, enthusiastically leading the second line with lively music and often some killer dance moves and struts. Second-line parades are particularly great because, unlike most parades, it’s a very inclusive affairs. Anyone energetic enough to keep up can join in the parade, following the band and adding own their dancing and strutting to the fun.

Second-line revelers can also bring flare to the procession by adding to the beat of the band with hand clapping or pretty much any improvised instrument like sticks or bottles. Since a good deal of the movement and sound are made up as the procession goes, it’s fair to say that each parade is unique with its own distinct style based on its participants.

Originally, second-line parades were actually part of funeral and burial traditions that originated in West Africa. Some still carry on this upbeat tradition as a celebration of life, particularly for black musicians who are appropriately “buried with music”.

Nowadays, some bride and grooms get extra and add second-line parades to their wedding day festivities. They might hold them after the ceremony, choosing to parade from the ceremony site to the reception site. They are also held during receptions (help get even the most curmudgeonly wallflowers off their feet and dancing) or sometimes after the reception to close the night out with a bang.

Some couples even decide to celebrate in the streets with their second-line parade (and this is where the need for a permit would come in). In a typical raucous New Orleans second-line parade, police may blare sirens and clear the way for the bride, groom, and other paraders to dance their way down the street. Don’t be surprised when random people join in this type of parade, it’s almost impossible to resist! These parades usually go about 5-8 blocks and last around 20-30 minutes.

You don’t have to be in New Orleans (you might be in a city like San Francisco perhaps) in order to organize a second-line parade. New Orleans is happy to share their traditions with festive party people around the country and the globe. Wherever you decide to stomp your feet, just make sure you contact the local authorities and get your permit situation straight so you can parade without a care in the world.

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