How to Rose Parade: Getting Tickets, Where to Sit, What to Bring to Pasadena
Make no mistake: Planning for each year’s Rose Parade starts early. If you want seats, tickets go on sale around February 1st for the parade that kicks off 11 months later, on January 1. Sharp Seating is the official provider of grandstand seating—that is, the bleachers at the beginning of the parade route on Orange Grove Boulevard (a.k.a. Pasadena’s “Millionaire’s Row”) and along Colorado Boulevard. Those stadium-style, reserved seats will run you as much as $100 apiece (not including parking)—and although there are 70,000 of them available every year, they routinely sell out in advance. For much of the rest of the 5 and 1/2 mile route, anyone can stake out a piece of curb for free.
The floats travel at a mere two miles per hour and the parade lasts about two hours—if you're waiting at the end of the route, you'll wait about two hours after the start time to see the first floats. So you’ve got some flexibility with your arrival time depending on the location of your viewing spot—unless you’ve bought one of those grandstand seats at the beginning. The parade kicks off at 8am, but reserved seating ticketholders are required to get into position no later than 6:30am. If you’re planning on getting up that early, you might as well stop by the First United Methodist Church Pasadena (at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Oakland Avenue) for its traditional pancake breakfast, which runs from 5:30 to 8am.
Some intrepid souls brave the chilly temperatures to camp out overnight to secure a good spot along the curb—but if you want to catch a few more winks, you can arrive as late as 9 or 9:30am as long as you choose a spot after the parade route turns from Colorado Boulevard onto Sierra Madre Boulevard.
If you’re reserving a spot starting the night before, pack as you would for a camping trip. You may not sleep, but you’ll need plenty of protection from the elements because temperatures can dip into the 30s Fahrenheit (single digits Celsius) in Pasadena during the winter. Likewise, the daytime can be warm and sunny, so it’s best to bring layers, wear sun protection, and carry plenty of water. It’s unlikely that you’ll need rain protection—it only rained once during the Rose Parade, in 2005—but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
You’re allowed to bring food, coolers, and even low folding chairs, but note that open containers of alcohol are not allowed—nor is cooking equipment that uses an open flame. (Keep those grills at home!) And if you’re driving yourself, bring cash—preferably $10 bills—for parking, in case you have to pay for your spot.
Along the main commercial strip in the Paseo Colorado area, the taller buildings cast shadows on the street. Spectators on the northern side of Colorado will be facing the sun (and sunglasses are a must for that bright morning light). You may be more comfortable sitting in the shade, but also remember you’ll get a more colorful view in a spot with better lighting—which improves on the eastern end of the route where tall buildings are more sparse.
One of the challenges of watching the parade from a long, straight stretch is that you only get to see one side of everything. For a more complete view, look for one of the intersections where the parade turns (like from Orange Grove onto Colorado, from Colorado onto Sierra Madre, or where Sierra Madre curves as it heads northeast). Another insider trick for viewing the Rose Parade is bypassing both the grandstand seating and the curbside viewing and getting a spot at a local business that’s throwing a viewing party. For a fee (which varies), you can get a guaranteed spot indoors (with heat!), plus refreshments. This takes research and some phone calls, though, since the participating businesses change each year.
The Tournament of Roses chooses a different theme for the parade every year, which is enough reason to make visiting an annual tradition. As per the rules of the parade, pretty much every inch of every float must be decorated by a natural material, from the famous roses and other flowers to cinnamon, berries, citrus fruit, and other edible delights. (Look closely; the face pictured above includes oatmeal and beans.) While some creations swim, surf, and even fly, most of them are about local pride, whether it’s for Southern California wildlife, the military (recent parades kicked off with an overflight by a B-2 Stealth bomber), firefighters and other first responders, sports, or architecture.
In addition to the floats—many of which are elaborated with smoke and animatronics—expect classic cars, including ones ridden by celebrities like the year's grand marshal. But the Rose Parade isn't just a visual experience. You also smell it as the blossom-covered floats drift past you. And you hear it—from the clip-clopping of the horse teams to the musical ensembles that fly from around the country and the world for the honor of performing along this five-mile route, often accompanied by drummers and flag-waving color guard, whose abilities and stamina are just as impressive.
If you want to get in on the action, roll up your sleeves and get your hands a little flowery with one of the professional float decorating companies, like Fiesta Parade Floats or Phoenix Decorating Company, or chip in with one of the cities or groups that builds its own entries. You don’t even have to be a local to help: Cities like Glendale, Burbank, La Canada Flintridge, South Pasadena, Downey, and Sierra Madre all welcome outsiders to help create their creations. Some people actually fly in from all over the country to help as an annual family tradition. The busiest time is “Deco Week,” the week following Christmas and before the parade, when the float structures have pretty much been built but still need to be festooned with flowers.
If you miss the parade and Deco Week—or if you were seated too far away to see of the glittering fine details—you’ve got one last chance at the Post-Parade Showcase. After the parade ends, the floats park at the end of the route at Sierra Madre Boulevard and East Washington Boulevard (by Pasadena High School) and are available for viewing for a couple of days, rain or shine, for around $15. Here’s where you can stand within feet of them and, in some cases, witness their animated features up close. There’s nothing like getting right up to them while their flowers still have their scent.
Wear comfortable shoes, because the display requires a couple of miles of walking if you do the whole thing. To expedite entry (lines can get pretty long, especially right after the parade), purchase a ticket in advance through Sharp Seating. Get there early enough to see the floats before the winter sun sets in the late afternoon.
The Tournament of Roses headquarters (391 S. Orange Grove Blvd.) occupies what was once the mansion of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., who did most of his candy business out of Chicago but liked Southern California so much that he bought the island of Catalina (and also called that home). It was one of the more modest of the mansions that were built along Pasadena's Millionaire's Row, but it's also one of the only ones that remain after most of the other ones were razed. Tournament House, with its free museum, is only open to visitors from February through August (the rest of the year, it's monopolized by planning for the Rose Parade and Bowl), but you can always visit the exterior and its rose garden, which is maintained by the Pacific Rose Society and open year-round as a park.
If you're in Pasadena the week before New Year's, you may like attending Band Fest performances, in which the marching bands from the upcoming parade show their prowess on the field of a stadium at Pasadena City College. Outside of Rose Parade season, you can also take one of the public tours of the Rose Bowl stadium, home of five Super Bowls, the Olympics (1932, 1984, and the soccer matches in 2028), MLS Soccer Matches and, of course, the Rose Bowl football game. Tours generally go on the last Friday of the month, and tickets are available directly from the Rose Bowl.