An Insiders Guide to the 2023 Rose Parade and Visiting Pasadena
Hello, Utes ! Hello, Nittany Lions! Hello, Parents of Bandies and Flag Girls from across the globe! It’s Rose Parade time! And the Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of Them All, is on again. We welcome you all in Pasadena for the festivities of 2023. Sure, Christmas is great, but in my hometown, we’re all about the Roses from about Thanksgiving through January 2nd. Yes– this year, the Parade is on Monday, January 2nd because the Pasadena rule is Never On Sunday.
As a longtime local, 30 years and counting and the author of several novels set in Pasadena plus a huge Parade Enthusiast, I wanted to share my Insider’s Guide to the Rose Parade and Pasadena. More about me here.
There are some restrictions, event changes and requirements due to Covid. In Pasadena, we are vaccinated, masked up and eating outside whenever possible. If you are coming for the Parade or the Game, I suggest familiarizing yourself with the best practices and requirements for 2023:
For the Parade
It’s the Rose Parade. Not the Rose Bowl Parade. The Rose Parade preceded the Rose Bowl Game– though both are well over a 100 years old. Here’s the complete history lesson, but talk like a local and get the nomenclature correct: Rose Parade. Thanks!
On The Night Before The Parade, make plans to walk the parade route on Colorado Blvd to witness a sea of hardy humanity camping out with BBQ grills and the inexplicable tossing of marshmallows and tortillas. Or head south on Orange Grove south of Colorado Blvd for the float line-up after 10. Walking the Parade Route is better than a party!
Bonus Insider Tip: On January 1st, , the floats are lined up and judged before they head to the parade route. The floats are built all over town, but to see a four or five floats (usually) in one spot up close, head on over to Rosemont Pavilion (Across from Rose Bowl) around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. You can get fairly close and see the detailed floral work while the floats are stationary. Great for picture taking. I’m there every year. Times are approximate and subject to change.
Go to the parade, people. It’s tempting to skip the Rose Parade with the 8 am start, but don’t give in to sleep! Get up and Get Going! If this is a once-in-a-lifetime event for you, buy tickets. (The closer to Orange Grove and Colorado, the “TV Corner,” the better. Worth every dollar. Bring a seat cushion; the benches are cold.) The floats are spectacular, the bands are fab, the horses are beautiful, the weather is always great. If you don’t buy tickets, don’t worry, it’s never as crowded as they say it will be. You can always find a spot on the street in Old Town Pasadena if you are willing to be 2 or 3 rows back. The floats are huge so visibility is no problem, unless you’re a small child.
Layer I know, I know– it’s Southern California and on TV, it’s look like a sunny & picture-perfect escape. But it does get cold here and temperatures are expected to be in the high 30’s when the Parade starts and 60 by game time, but will drop again when the sun goes down. Don’t leave those mittens at home!
Do call out “Happy New Year!” and “Queen Bella! Over here!” It’s a personable little parade for a million people. There is lots of waving and good wishes. You don’t have to be a local to acknowledge the Queen and her court, all outstanding young women from the community. And please thank the volunteers in the White Suits (the White Suiters, as we call them). They put on the whole shebang as a community service, giving up literally years of their lives, not to mention their entire holiday!
Cheer for the bands. Love the bandies and their parents. These high school bands are hand -picked; their appearance in the parade has been in the works for years in terms of auditioning and fund-raising. And those kids are in for the longest march of their lives ( over 5 miles), usually in inadequate footwear. Why don’t the flag girls wear shoes with support. Why?) So when they go by, be generous. Better yet, see the bands perform before the parade at Bandfest. Details here.
Wear your school colors at all times. We locals like knowing who is representing. More Utes? More Nittany Lions? We talk about you all year long when you’re gone. As in “Wow, those Utah fans really spent a lot of money in the bars.” or “Love those Penn State, Folks. So polite.” We’ll never know who you are if you don’t wear your sweatshirts.
Before or After The Parade
Eat, shop, and sightsee in Pasadena. Thank you! We appreciate it. Pasadena is a beautiful town with great art +architecture, world class universities, streets that look like movie sets because they have been, shopping, gardens and food. Plus, Pasadenans love their history and showing off our city. So stay a while!
Visit the Norton Simon, the Gamble House, The Pasadena Library, Caltech, and the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens. Because they are all beautiful, special, and unique to Pasadena. (Okay, technically the Huntington is in San Marino but we pretend it’s in Pasadena.) There is more to Southern California than theme parks, beaches and Hollywood. There is art, history, and Nobel Prizes and they are all in within about 5 miles of each other. Just driving around to each of these places will give you a great architectural tour of the area, too. I set my first book Helen of Pasadena at The Huntington because it’s such a magical place with a world class library, art and spectacular gardens. (Plus great food now) If you only have a short time, hit the Norton Simon. It’s a jewel box of a museum with Van Goghs, Picassos, Rodins and a brilliant collection of Asian Art. (And appears under an alias in my latest book Lost and Found in Paris.) Links to all the Museums can be found here at Visit Pasadena.
Old Town Pasadena has all the big names shopping experiences you might want from Tiffany to Apple to Nike to Crate & Barrel right on Colorado Boulevard. In the mix are some fun local shops, coffee bars, bobo spots galore. Here’s a link to the Old Pasadena site for a complete guide & maps.But if you want to get off the beaten path…
Head on over to Holly Street, two streets north of Colorado, for some of my favorite locally-owned stores with one-of-a-kind gifts. Homage features local artists and their jewelry, home goods, gifts and art. Maude Woods has the chicest and most intriguing selections of decorative items in town. I could buy every item of clothing at Elisa B. Goldbug is a creepy, delightful, unexpected collection of jewelry and object ;d’art inspired by… bugs! And other wonderful and slightly sinister muses. Love it Take your time on Holly– chocolate, coffee & more on the street, too. Great sushi at Mama Sushi if you need a quick bite! To find/follow the indie shops on Instagram, follow @shopsonholly
Cozy Stylish Chic: My friend Jeanne is all those things and she runs this wonderful little shop of decorative delights on Delacey. maybe you can’t take home a mid-century ottoman. But the art on the wall will fit in your carry-on! Website here.
Vroman’s It’s a very walkable mile from Old Town to Vroman’s, our venerable indie bookstore that’s over 100 years old. Books, Rose Parade & Rose bowl souvenirs you won’t find elsewhere, lots of local authors and a wine bar. We love our Vroman’s and you will, too. Website here.
There are restaurants for every palate and budget in Pasadena. Please poke around to find your craving. (And by poke, I mean one of the many poke emporiums we have here.) I went with my Go-Tos. Old Pasadena is close to the ‘action’ of the float decorating, the Parade, the Game so I concentrated on this area for recommendations:
Café Santorini: Delicious Greek Food and a super festive atmosphere. Lovely heated outdoor patio. Longtime fave of mine. And you often see other (famous) chefs eating here with their families. Reservations a must. Website here.
Ramen Tatsunoya: Stand in line and you will be rewarded. Delicious beyond words. Website here.
Osawa Sushi & Shabu Shabu: Just recognized as one of the Top 100 Restaurants in LA by the late, great Jonathon Gold. You ain’t in Ohio anymore, Buckeye. If this place is too busy, try Bone Kettle next door. Website here.
Crepe de Paris: Slightly off the beaten path with a charming outdoor patio if the weather is nice. Sweet or savory crepes, relaxed service and a place to re-charge. No website but it’s at 84 S. Fair Oaks.
Union: This is the (tiny) spot for soul warming pastas, hearty Northern Italian main courses and seasonal California vegetables. Plus, a wonderful selection of wine and cocktails & desserts. Reservations a must to dine in. To Go Family Meals of Pasta & Salad are a great deal. Website here.
Next door is U Street Pizza for a more casual taste of Union’s magic. The Green Goddess Chopped salad and the Petaluma Pizza hit the spot. Website here.
About the Author
Lian Dolan is a writer and podcaster. She is the host of Satellite Sisters, a podcast she created with her four real sisters in 2001. She is the author of three bestselling novels, Helen of Pasadena and Elizabeth the First Wife and The Sweeney Sisters. Her next novel, Lost and Found in Paris, will be published by William Morrow in April 2022. She has written a regular column for O, The Oprah Magazine, Working Mother Magazine andPasadena Magazine. A graduate of Pomona College, she lives in Pasadena, California, with her husband, two sons and a big German shepherd. Website here.