If you live in SoCal, you probably know someone who has camped out all night in Pasadena to be on the spot New Year's Day for the Rose Parade. And if you have kids, you're probably not willing to do that yourself. But there are all sorts of ways to enjoy the Rose Parade without pitching a tent on the sidewalk. Some of these ways may even more fun than the parade itself, which many of us feel is best watched in PJs under a blanket on the sofa.
Love watching the horses? Check out Equestfest. Have a soft spot for marching bands? Bandfest is for you. And if you are intrigued by all of these enormous masterpieces made entirely out of flowers, seeds, and leaves, then the Post Parade Showcase of Floats could be a more satisfying experience than the parade itself. One thing is for sure: any of these belongs on a bucket list of things to do before your Angeleno kid grows up.
I've been enjoying Equestfest for years. Dozens of horses in town for the parade and housed at the Equestrian Center in Burbank strut their stuff in the ring, while the audience sits comfortably around them. Everything from stunt riding cowgirls to the Budweiser Clydesdales appear in the show, and visitors can visit with them in their stalls after the performance. Arrive with a candycane or two in your pocket if you'd really like to make a horse's day. Buying tickets in advance is a good idea, as this event sometimes sells out. And wear sensible shoes for trekking around the stalls after the show.
What Equestfest is to horses, Bandfest is to marching bands, with three different performances over two days. Petting drum majors might not be as big a draw for your kids as petting miniature ponies, but it's a great way to see the musicians shine. If you manage to take in both of these events in the days leading up to the parade, you will have seen pretty much everything but the floats.
Speaking of the floats, there are ways to see them without spending a cold New Year's morning on Colorado Blvd. Perhaps the most interesting way to see the floats in advance is to help create them. During the two days leading up to the parade, an overwhelming number of flowers needs to be stuck in their places, and much of this work is done by volunteers. Most volunteer opportunities require planning ahead, filling out applications online, and committing to a full day's work. Kids ages 13 and up are able to help out alongisde their parents on most floats, though some organizations welcome younger volunters than that. The Burbank Tournament of Roses Association is particularly kid-friendly, not just in December but all year round; the group welcomes float builders to drop in and help pretty much any Saturday (call 818.840.0060 just to be sure).
If creating the parade floats is a little more involvement than you were looking for, the next best thing is to get a look at them close up, either before or after. The partially and fully decorated floats are open to visitors for five days leading up to the parade, at three different locations. Tickets cost $10-$15 and do sell out on some days—particularly as the big day gets closer. Paying a visit like this before parade day has the added bonus of making the view of the parade from the sofa in PJs more meaningful. Between decorating, previewing, and visiting the horses and bands in advance, watching the parade on TV can be like old home week.
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This year for the first time we drove up to Pasadena after the parade on January 1st, to check out the floats where they park for the afternoon's Showcase of Floats. I definitely felt like we got the better deal, sleeping as late as we liked, driving to Pasadena without traffic, and finding a parking space relatively easily after the rest of the world had headed home. The Post Parade event continues until January 3rd, but seeing the floats on parade day felt like it carried a little extra buzz. The first day of viewing sells out for sure, though, so buying tickets in advance is definitely the way to go.
The area with the floats has three entrances, each marked with a giant airborne balloon that makes it easier to track where you're going. The viewing area has plenty of concession stands, so no one needs to go hungry, and seeing all of the floats definitely requires staying a while. The event struck me as a much better deal than the parade in more ways than one—not just because of the comfort factor, but also because we got to look at every float from (almost) touching distance. White-coated parade staff are at every float, well equipped to answer questions. We were told who had sat on the float and what every seed, petal, and bloom was. Watching on the TV screen or crowded sidewalk would not have allowed us to scrutinize the Lakers' lentil and seaweed basketball quite so appreciatively.
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The Showcase of Floats takes place every year, starting the afternoon of the parade and continuing until January 3, and it's a great way to make the Rose Parade a local family ritual to brag about to family in other states, without giving up a good night's sleep on New Year's Eve.