Major cities the world over host New Year celebrations, but none quite like Pasadena, California. How did this suburb of Los Angeles end up on the world’s stage hosting one of the longest-running New Years’ traditions combining parades, marching bands, and football? From the pageantry of the Tournament of Roses Parade to the collegiate match-ups of the Rose Bowl Game, the one-two punch of these two Pasadena events should be on your bucket list of New Years Celebrations this year.
Why These Pasadena Events Should Be
On Your New Years Celebration Bucket List
The Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl Game are attended by hundreds of thousands of people and watched by millions of people around the world. Both Pasadena events usher in the new year with hope, promise, and a whole lot of flowers. Here’s a brief history of how these two Pasadena events began, why 100 years later people still line the streets to partake in this New Years’ spectacle and, why, this year, you should plan to see them for yourself, in person.
How the Tournament of Roses Parade Began
The Tournament of Roses Parade is to Pasadena and Los Angeles what the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is to New York City. But, instead of giant inflatable balloons, you get elaborate floats decorated with natural materials like flowers, leaves, seeds, and bark. Unlike the Macy’s Parade, which always served to usher in the holiday shopping season for the company’s flagship store in New York City, the Tournament of Roses Parade began as a homegrown tradition by a group of early settlers to the area around the turn of the 20th century.
Pasadenans have always been a social bunch. A group of Indiana residents sought to escape the exceptionally cold midwest winter of 1872-73 and journeyed west in search of sunshine. Once the Indiana colonists were fully settled in Pasadena, California by 1890, they formed the Valley Hunt Club, a social club that exists to this day.
Founding members of the Valley Hunt Club wanted to show the world, especially their friends back home in Indiana, about the warm-weathered paradise they found in Southern California. So, like any good socialites would do, they staged events to show off their Mediterranean climate full of blooming flowers and abundant citrus groves while the rest of the country was covered in snow. It was their version of an Instagrammable moment.
In the early years, the Pasadena events that were staged on New Year’s Day included things like chariot and ostrich races, bronco busting demonstrations, and a race between a camel and elephant (the elephant won, by the way). By 1895, the Tournament of Roses was formed to take charge of the Pasadena events which included horse-drawn carriages covered in flowers, marching bands, equestrian units, and later, motorized floats.
Eastern seaboard cities began to take notice of the event, and shortly thereafter these annual Pasadena events, the Tournament of Roses Parade and later Rose Bowl Game, became bucket-list activities for people to see and do at least once in their lives.
“How to” Rose Parade Today
When the Tournament of Roses Parade rolls down Colorado Boulevard (Pasadena’s main thoroughfare and a segment of what was the former Route 66), throngs of people line the street to watch the spectacle. Visitors checking off the Tournament of Roses Parade on their bucket list can watch the parade one of two ways.
The city of Pasadena, for one night only, allows people to camp overnight along the parade route beginning at noon on New Year’s Eve day. It just might be the world’s largest urban campout, and quite the party full of marshmallow throwing and silly string, but it is the most common – and free – way to watch the parade.
If camping is really not your thing, then you’ll want to grab reserved tickets in grandstands to get the best view of the Rose Queen and her court, the Grand Marshal, the equestrian units, and the marching bands which come from all over the world to perform in the parade. An opening show kicks off the Tournament of Roses Parade followed by a spectacular military flyover of the B-2 Stealth Bomber with the 509th Bomb Wing from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
As far as floats go, the line-up is always changing. Float entries come from cities across California, non-profits spreading messages of goodwill, corporations honoring American ideals and culture, and, occasionally, a controversial float that draws protesters who get to express their First Amendment rights as the unofficial last entry in the parade.
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America’s Sport Meets New Year’s Day
If attending or watching the Tournament of Roses Parade is too early a wake-up call after a New Year’s Eve Party, then the collegiate Rose Bowl Football Game might be your kind of headliner of the Pasadena events showcased on New Year’s Day. The Rose Bowl Game, also sponsored by the Tournament of Roses, is a premier collegiate football game known as the “Granddaddy of Them All” amongst all college bowl games nationwide.
As far as New Year’s day and Pasadena events are concerned, the Rose Bowl Game wasn’t always part of the mix. The Tournament of Roses Parade, for college football fans, is the opening act to one of the most respected college football games in the post-season.
The first Rose Bowl Game was played in 1902, and has been played annually since 1916. Since 1945, the Rose Bowl Game has proudly held onto the title of the highest attended college football game. The first game was an East-West match-up of the University of Michigan and Stanford University Football teams. Since the beginning, with the exception of years spanning World War I, the Rose Bowl Game pitted a team, usually a conference champion, from the Pac-12 against an opponent from the East Coast, or later the Big Ten.
The Rose Bowl Stadium was constructed in 1922. As part of the Rose Bowl Game experience, visitors in town for the New Year’s Pasadena events should most definitely book a tour of the Rose Bowl Stadium. Tour highlights of this National Historic Landmark include a visit to the original 1922 locker room and an up-close look at the iconic field where the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame played in 1925, where Brandi Chastain’s game-winning kick clinched the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final and where professional Super Bowl athletes and music giants have battled and performed to sold-out stadium crowds to the delight of sports and music fans of all kinds. It’s no wonder that Sports Illustrated recently named the Rose Bowl Stadium the GREATEST STADIUM in college football history.
More Than Just A Day, New Year’s in Pasadena
If these Pasadena events have you itching to check off a line item on your Bucket-List, consider this: New Year’s is more than just a day in Pasadena. The Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl Game generally round out a full week’s worth of events in Pasadena, California.
You, too, can get on the Tournament of Roses Parade float action by volunteering to decorate a float in the days preceding the parade. Volunteers must be 13 years of age to participate and typically a 4-hour time commitment is required. Volunteers get to place a variety of seeds, bark, fruits and vegetables, and grasses directly onto the floats under the supervision of experienced professionals.
Don’t feel like volunteering? Experience the magic of the floats by touring the float barns on foot and watching how the floats are made, especially in the final stages before they are judged and hit the famed Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena’s downtown.
Read More: Before or After the Parade, Check Out These Child Centric Vacation Ideas in Southern California
Sip & Savor, added in 2018, is a new addition to America’s New Year Celebration and will return again in 2019. Sip & Savor is adjacent to the float decorating activities and features fine wines and craft brews, along with the best of So-Cal’s foodie scene, with front-row entertainment under California Oak Trees and a stone’s throw from the Rose Bowl Stadium.
Other Pasadena events associated with the Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl Game include Bandfest, a musical exposition of all of the outstanding bands selected to participate in the Rose Parade. Another parade-related event includes Equestfest featuring the beautiful horses and riders that will perform on New Year’s Day performing arena drills, dances, trick-riding and roping to the delight of spectators.
And, finally, if you miss your chance to tour the floats prior to the Tournament of Roses Parade, for two days visitors can marvel at the floral masterpieces and incredible workmanship up-close as they remain parked in the last mile or so of the parade route. Tournament of Roses volunteers, of which there are nearly 1,000 and who are known as “white suiters,” are on hand to impart cool tidbits and help with photos of the tens of thousands of spectators who attend the float viewing showcase year-after-year.
Even if you thought these Pasadena events were not on your bucket list of things to do and places to visit for the New Year, rest assured that Pasadena, California is a destination in its own right. With a global cuisine scene featuring more restaurants per capita than New York City and the “Best Arts Scene” as named by Sunset Magazine, the Pasadena events held on New Year’s Day are only part of the draw to this foodie and retail paradise located 10 miles northeast of Downtown Los Angeles.
Not too long ago, Outside Magazine referred to Pasadena as “a perfect town that has it all.” That’s just about the same sentiment that the Indiana Colonists longed to share 100+ years ago, and if the Tournament of Roses and these Pasadena events have anything to do with it, will be the same message carried forth for another hundred more.
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