The iconic Tournament of Roses in Pasadena is the city’s annual one-two punch: a parade and a football game. It’s California’s way of celebrating the New Year with a twin display of flower power and physical prowess—and there are several ways to take part in one or both events before, during, and even after January 1.
The parade, which first started in 1890, features a rotating trio of spectacles—some of the world’s best marching bands interspersed with equestrian pageants and, of course, those colorful flowered floats, handmade by pasting millions of petals, seeds, and other all-natural materials to create patterns and designs. The ultra-popular parade draws huge crowds, with people often camping out the night before to secure prime viewing spots along the parade route. If you’d rather not leave it up to chance, consider purchasing one of the 70,000 grandstand seats.
You also don’t have to come for the actual parade to appreciate its best features. In the last days of December, you can watch the marching bands “warm up” at BandFest, located at Pasadena College, or admire the parade horses at EquestFest, held at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in nearby Burbank. The pre-game and pre-parade festivities often include a family-friendly festival, Live On Green, at the Pasadena Convention Center, during the last three days of the year.
Meanwhile, there’s no charge (and no crowd) to watch many of the giant floats being decorated, petal by petal, at various locations around Pasadena. Depending on the location, you can sometimes even volunteer to help decorate a float a few days before the parade. You can also check out the floats up close after the parade: FloatFest showcases all of the masterpieces, lined up along Sierra Madre and Washington Boulevards for pedestrians to admire during the rest of January 1 and through January 2.
For many people, of course, the biggest part of the Tournament of Roses is the Rose Bowl Game, which debuted in 1902, a dozen years after the parade began. For years, it has mostly been a showdown between teams from the college football conferences now known as the Pac-12 and Big Ten.
Game tickets usually go on sale in early December—and often sell out fast. Year-round, you can tour Rose Bowl Stadium for peeks at the press box and the original locker room, which dates back to 1922.