Tips for Viewing the Rose Parade in Pasadena

Clown float at the Rose Parade

 Robert Landau / Getty Images

The Rose Parade is a long-held New Year's Day tradition in the city of Pasadena, California, just outside of Los Angeles. It's an iconic New Year's event, just as the Macy's Parade is for Thanksgiving. Not only do hundreds of thousands of attendees show up to view the procession in person, but millions more begin the new year by watching the parade live from their home televisions across the U.S. and the world.

Teams, including hundreds of volunteers, work for weeks to decorate the elaborate floats in accordance with the year's theme and the creative inspiration of the participants. It's a massive production that culminates in the Rose Bowl game, the annual college football match held in the nearby Rose Bowl stadium.

Rose Parade 2021

The traditional Rose Parade was canceled for 2021, and was not replaced by a public event happening in Pasadena. However, would-be spectators can tune in to a "Reimagined Rose Parade" event from their own living rooms. The broadcast features clips from previous years along with live-to-tape music performances and celebrity appearances. It airs on January 1, 2021, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

General Information

The first Rose Parade occurred in 1890, as a celebration for the abundance of blooming flowers around sunny Southern California while the majority of the country was enduring frigid winter. More than a century later, the parade has grown and become much more elaborate, but it still honors its floral roots. All of the floats are required to be covered in flowers or some other natural material, such as leaves, bark, or seeds. Roses and other delicate flowers are placed in individual vials of water built into the float, and must be placed one by one.

Each year, the parade has a theme and the float designs must adhere to that theme. In 2020, the theme was "The Power of Hope."

In addition to the floats, spectators can expect to see marching bands and equestrian units. The bands come from high schools, universities, and military units from across the country.

The Rose Parade is held annually on New Year's Day. However, if the first of the year falls on a Sunday, the parade is postponed one day to January 2. It typically begins at 8 a.m. Pacific time, with the kick-off for the Rose Bowl game around 1 p.m.

The Parade Route

The 5.5-mile parade route goes through downtown Pasadena, beginning at the corner of Green Street and Orange Grove Boulevard. The parade continues north along Orange Grove Boulevard and then turns east at Colorado Boulevard, which is where the majority of the viewing takes place. Later, the parade turns north onto Sierra Madre Boulevard and concludes at Villa Street.

The parade moves at a leisurely pace of 2.5 miles per hour, and it takes about two hours for the floats to move from start to end.

Seating Options

There are two options for viewing the parade: ticketed seating or non-ticketed seating. Non-ticketed spots are curbside and standing only, and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Spectators can begin to line up on the sidewalk at noon on December 31, so be prepared to spend the night outside if you want a decent view of the parade.

Ticketed seating is also available in the grandstands set up along the parade route. The grandstands are organized by area, and the areas closest to the Rose Bowl stadium are the most expensive. For the 2020 parade, tickets ranged from $60 to $110 per person. Everyone in the grandstands must have a ticket to enter, with the only exception being children 2 years old or younger who can sit on an adult's lap.

Seating for People With Disabilities

Limited seating sections are available for people who have trouble standing for long periods of time or coping with large crowds. Seating in accessible areas is free of charge, but you must reserve a spot beforehand to enter. Applicants with disabilities may bring up to four people with them.

If the accessible seating sections are full, purchasing a seat in the grandstands is the best option for viewing the parade.

The Best Sections

Seats at the beginning of the parade along Orange Grove Boulevard and around the corner onto Colorado Boulevard have an unobstructed view and there is no curbside viewing in front of the grandstands. These are the most expensive seats, and you have to be there the earliest. 

The cheapest seats are along Colorado Boulevard. The view in this area may be partially obstructed by poles, trees, or the corner of a building, so they are not great seats for photography, but you can see everything. Most of the other grandstand areas have a clear view. All the grandstands are built up so that the lowest seats are five feet off the ground, allowing people seated at the bottom to see over curbside viewers. It's just a matter of choice whether you prefer to be higher up and farther back or lower and closer to the parade.

Look for seats on the south side of the street (most of them are) so you won't have the sun in your eyes the whole time.

Arriving by Car

Parking is extremely limited in Pasadena during the Rose Parade. The best option is to reserve a spot in one of the parking lots around the route in advance, so you have a confirmed place to leave your car during the parade. If you purchase grandstand seating tickets, you will have the option to purchase parking with your tickets and be automatically assigned the parking garage closest to your seats.

Otherwise, there are other paid lots around Pasadena that are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Parking anywhere along the parade route is prohibited, and the streets along the route are closed off beginning at 10 p.m. on the night before.

Arriving by Metro

If you can, skip the hassle of LA traffic and parking in Pasadena and take public transportation. If you are coming from downtown Los Angeles, the gold line of the metro takes you directly to Pasadena and will offer extended service to accommodate the crowds. Depending on where you plan to see the parade, the Del Mar, Memorial Park, Lake, and Allen stations are all within walking distance from the parade route.

  • Del Mar and Memorial Park Stations are two of the closest to the parade route, two blocks away from Colorado Boulevard at Arroyo Parkway. Grandstands from 120 to 500 Colorado are closest to these stations.
  • Lake Metro Station is about four blocks north of Colorado Boulevard on Lake Avenue. The closest grandstands are at 792 Colorado Blvd. There are not a lot of grandstands between Lake and Hill avenues, so this is a good area for curbside viewing.
  • Allen Metro Station is four blocks north of Colorado Boulevard at Allen Avenue. It is the closest metro stop to the Pasadena City College Grandstands (Colorado 1500-1680). There are additional grandstands on the other side of Allen Avenue at 1880 Colorado and beyond.
  • Sierra Madre Villa Station at the Sierra Madre and the 210 Freeway is near the end of the parade route on ​the Sierra Madre. It is actually the shortest walk to the parade route, but there aren't a lot of grandstands at this end of the parade. If you take the train to Sierra Madre Villa Station, you can get there a little later, since the parade takes about two hours to get to this point.

There are also buses to Pasadena from all over Los Angeles county that run on January 1.

Hotel Options Around Pasadena

There are plenty of places to stay in Pasadena, many along the parade route. However, what are normally budget hotels in Pasadena are way overpriced for the Tournament of Roses. Hotel rooms that are normally $70 go for over $200 during New Year's weekend. If you're willing to spend $600 per night, you can get a nice room in Pasadena right up until the last minute. If you're looking for a better deal, try hotels in Glendale or Monrovia. Or better still, look for New Year's bargains in Downtown LA or Hollywood, where some of the hottest New Year's Eve parties are happening. Then take the metro to the parade in the morning.