Watching the Rose Bowl Parade in Real Life

Going to the Rose Bowl Parade has been on my bucket list since before I even knew about bucket lists. I remember sitting on the floor every New Year’s Day, and watching the pretty flowered-covered floats with all of their vibrant colors and elaborate details float by on TV. I always wished I could be there to see their vibrant colors in person, and wondered if you could actually smell them as they floated by (spoiler alert: you can!).

Flash forward several decades, and low and behold, we now live in California. My parents both helped us move out to San Diego in July 2016, and when they were here, my dad and I had a conversation about the end of the year. He told me that the University of New Mexico Lobos (his team) had a basketball game scheduled for January 1, 2017, out here in San Diego, and he said that he’d like to come out and see them, and then go to the Rose Bowl Parade. He went on to tell me that he’s always wanted to go to the parade, and if he had a bucket list, that was on it.

He and I decided, right then and there, that we’d make the Rose Bowl happen…because, why not?! It’d be a great opportunity since we lived out here now, and totally convenient since he could see us, the parade, and his Lobos all in one trip. Perfect!

Well, if you’ve been following my blog for the past year and a half, then you know that my dad actually died a few weeks after our conversation from pancreatic cancer (he was only diagnosed three weeks before he died). After he passed away, going to the Rose Bowl Parade wasn’t on my radar at all, but then sometime around Thanksgiving I remembered how much he wanted to go, and I felt this huge desire to make it happen.

I casually brought it up to my husband, and he was all for it, despite the fact that we had a late start in planning (hotel rooms, as it turns out, book REALLY fast for this event). I also mentioned it to my mom, and practically seconds after I got off the phone with her, she and her amazing staff at work rearranged their schedules, and she managed to book a flight out here.

We were doing it. Even though my dad couldn’t be there, we were going to the Rose Bowl Parade!

Rose Bowl Parade Logistics

We tossed around the idea of spending the night out there, and I even booked a room, but it was expensive. Super expensive since it was last-minute; not only that, but every hotel within driving distance to the parade required a two-night minimum stay.

After deciding that it was too much money to do the Rose Bowl Parade that way, we nixed the hotel idea, and decided to make it a day trip instead. Pasadena isn’t too far from San Diego, so we made it happen.

Going to the Rose Bowl Parade

Early in the morning of January 2, 2017 (it turns out if New Year’s Day lands on a Sunday, they push the parade forward a day), we drove up to Pasadena to fulfill something from my dad’s bucket list. It’s around a 2.5 hour drive from our house up there, but since we had no idea where we were going, what parking would be like, or any other variable that may pop up, we left our house with 5 hours to spare. We’d rather get up there and sit around bored for a few hours than stressed and frustrated.

We got to the parade route around 6 am, just before they started blocking off the streets, and we managed to find parking in a random lot for $20. Sold. My husband dropped me, my mom, our stuff, and the kids off on the corner of the parade route, and then he went back to park the car and meet us at our spot.

 Thankfully my mom was there to lend an extra hand since she pushed the stroller while I hauled our wagon filled with all of our things.

Before the Rose Bowl Parade Started

Y’all, people take this parade very, very serious. They actually camp out for this thing—they set up shop the night before and either literally sleep there, or they hold their spot(s) with chairs and blankets. The fact that we wiggled our way into a spot right in front still floors me. I was so thankful we got there when we did!

Since we were there pretty early, we had time to relax and get our bearings. The kids were great sports the entire morning, and we made sure to walk around with them, and keep them as entertained as possible. Kenny napped while we got the wiggles out.

I made sure to pack some coloring books and things for the girls to play with. I wish I packed hats and scarves for them instead of just a blanket and jammies, because it was a chilly morning, but they made do with our stuff. We brought our favorite stroller, and little foldable chairs so they’d have a place to sit and watch just like us.

The pre-game show, as I called it, was pretty fun. Peaceful protesters walked around, guys in funky outfits, groups selling things, and, my personal favorite since I was 6 months pregnant: food carts!

Watch this video to get in on the pre-parade fun!

Never in my life did I want something more than this street food cart selling hot dogs caramelized onions. My pregnancy nose smelled it about a quarter-mile away, and I literally hopped over a chair to get to the cart. It. Was. SO. Good.

I liked people watching and the festivities that happened before—like the B2 Spirit stealth bomber flyover signifying the beginning of the parade. (Press play to watch the video!)

We parked ourselves on Sierra Madre Blvd, and from the time the parade started, it took an hour and a half before it actually made its way towards us. Did I mention how thankful I was that the kids were good?!

The Rose Bowl Parade!

The floats were pretty astonishing. They were so big and so elaborate, and the details were so intricate when you think about how many flowers, grains, seeds, and other natural material were put into each individual float. The majority of them even moved!


Here’s a short video of some of the ones that passed us by, and then there are more pictures of them below 🙂


This next float was my personal favorite. It was fun, HUGE, and just made me happy!


I’m not a huge Bachelor fan, but people went wild over this float, so I’m assuming they were on the show?!

There were also typical parade favorites like marching bands and horses—there are always horses!

Loved seeing the Air Force represented! And how cute are those little airplanes they’re in?!

And some more bands and horses:


And the thing that got the crowd really going? The clean-up crew! After a herd of horses trotted by, a poop crew would follow close behind. The crowd went wild and always gave them applause. This group dressed up, which was even more fun!

Several times during the parade I stopped and thought of my dad, and how much he would’ve loved to just sit there and watch the parade pass by him. To see something in person that he saw all of his life through the little television box.

There’s a reason a bucket list is called a Bucket List. If there’s something you’ve been putting off for one reason or another, stop making excuses and make it happen. My dad kicked the bucket and missed crossing it off of his bucket list by a mere five months, but I’m happy we crossed it off ours, and I know he was there with us in spirit.

Watching the Rose Bowl Parade in real life: see what it's like to actually stop and smell the roses.

Don’t wait to do things. Sure, you can watch everything from the safety of your couch, but if you have the means to make something happen? MAKE IT HAPPEN! I’m so thankful for this opportunity. Even though I do love watching and listening to the commentary on New Year’s morning, actually seeing the parade in person was a fun experience, and one I’ll never forget.

Have you been to the Rose Bowl Parade before? What did you think?! If you haven’t been, would you like to see it sometime?



  1. This was such a great post! Thanks for all the details in the logistics of doing it with kids!
    Nothing is better than a bacon wrapped hot dog with caramelized onions! TJ Street dogs FTW!

  2. How much fun that you got to go to the Parade! My Spartan went to the Rose Bowl one year (2015 or 2016 I think), and it was so cool to watch on TV (would have been even cooler to see in person.

  3. It’s great you got to go, and share it with your family. Even though your dad wasn’t there, it sounds like a great way for all of you to remember him. Happy New Year!

  4. I’ve never been to the Rose Bowl Parade before and this makes me want to go! What awesome floats! Looks like an amazing experience to be there in person.

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