It’s pretty much impossible to envision life in Pasadena without the Rose Parade. Even parade-hating grinches have to deal with it, because the hullabaloo is so pervasive. Construction begins on the grandstands in the fall, and you can’t get into the Old Town Ralphs without negotiating the risers. Local high-school girls swarm the Rose Queen tryouts in September, RVs start appearing after Christmas, and everywhere you look, there’s a white car with a ToR (Tournament of Roses) vanity plate. That car is probably being driven by a normally staid local businessman or woman who has spent the last 30 years putting on a goofy white suit and volunteering in hopes of gaining a spot on the fourteen-member Executive Committee, the grandest of the Grand Poobahs in town.
As the 40 million Americans (and millions more around the world) who watch the parade on TV are told ad nauseum, the Tournament of Roses parade first took place on January 1, 1890; the posh Valley Hunt Club created it as a booster event—and, no doubt, to thumb their sunburned patrician noses at the snowbound East and Midwest. It was a modest spectacle at first, just a few horse-drawn carriages covered in flowers, but it quickly grew to include marching bands, motorized floats and such sporting events as ostrich races. Parade organizers added a college football game in 1902, but when the University of Michigan humiliated Stanford that year, they went back to showcasing chariot races for another fourteen years. Football returned for good in 1916, becoming so popular that a new stadium, dubbed the Rose Bowl, was built in 1922.
We longtime locals have our own Rose Parade traditions. On New Year’s Eve, some of us walk over to Rosemont or Orange Grove to see the floats get into position; it’s fun to see the flowers up close on a misty night. Others sleep in a little, then head out around 8:30 and find a tippy-toe spot on the sidewalk on the route’s east end, where the floats don’t arrive until about 9:30 or so. Or, if we’re lucky, a friend with an office along the parade route will host a party. As teenagers, we did the rite-of-passage overnight campout, when we discovered just how cold Pasadena can get at 3 a.m.; now our teenagers are learning the same lesson. Some of us just stay in our jammies and watch it on TV like the rest of the world.
Here’s our advice for visitors: Plan as far in advance as possible. Book your hotel room first, then order grandstand seats from Sharp Seating; they go on sale on February 1, eleven months before the parade, but they’re usually available into the fall. Consider the excellent packages offered by the Tournament of Roses, which offer hotel rooms, parade and football tickets, float viewing, a New Year’s Eve celebration and more.
If you want to camp out on Colorado for free seats, have your beach chairs, hibachi and sleeping bags ready to go at noon the day before, and be prepared for cold—this may be California, but it’s still the dead of winter. (And don’t expect to sleep, because you won’t.) If you have neither seats nor a campout spot, look for a parking space that morning in the neighborhoods between Allen and Sierra Madre Boulevard north of Colorado, and try to find an open few inches on the sidewalk to stand.
If all of the above sounds like too much trouble, go out and see the floats the night before (our personal favorite activity), have a fun New Year’s Eve, and watch the parade on TV in your hotel room. If you stay at one of the Colorado-adjacent places, like the Marriott or Westin, you’re likely to hear the marching bands from comfort of your room.
Rose Parade Facts
Date: New Year’s Day, unless it falls on a Sunday, then January 2
Starting time: 8 a.m.; parade usually lasts 2.5 hours
Route: Orange Grove at Ellis Street, north to Colorado Boulevard, right onto Colorado (TV cameras are at this corner), across town on Colorado, north on Sierra Madre Boulevard, ending at Paloma Street; route is 5.5 miles.
Grandstand tickets: $45-$90; Sharp Seating, 626.795.4171, sharpseating.com
Package tickets (parade, hotel, football): Tournament of Roses, 626.449.9550, tournamentofroses.com
Sidewalk viewing: Free; spots are easier to find that morning on the east end of Colorado, between Allen and Sierra Madre Blvd.
Camping: Overnight sidewalk camping allowed on New Year’s Eve only; campers can set up at noon on December 31
RV parking: Sharp Seating, 626.795.4171; Easy Parking, 626.286.7576; Brookside Park, 626.577.3100
Car parking: At many structures and lots across town; expect to pay dearly
General information: tournamentofroses.com, 626.449.4100