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Seven Essential Excursions to Get the Full Tournament of Roses Experience

Rose Bowl Stadium
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The 2017 Tournament of Roses will probably go down in history as one of the more memorable ones.                                                                                                                         

Sure, there was the one in 2005 when it rained for the first time in 50 years.

But this year, thanks to the “Never on a Sunday” tradition, the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game were on Monday, January 2 instead of New Year’s Day. The last time that happened was in 2006. The next time it will happen is 2023.

If you missed any of the Tournament of Roses festivities this year – or have never had the opportunity to partake in any of them, ever – you’re just in time to start planning for next year.

After all, tickets for the 2018 Rose Parade go on sale February 1 at 9 a.m.

In the meantime, there’s plenty you can do throughout the year to brush up on 128 years of history – starting right now. Here are seven of the most essential L.A. excursions to get the full Tournament of Roses experience.

1. Tour the Rose Bowl Stadium (Year-Round)

Missed the big game this year? Even if you’ve already attended an event at the Rose Bowl Stadium – say, the 4th of July fireworks or a UCLA Bruins game – the best way to see it and learn about the Tournament of Roses (and see it in daylight) is actually to join one of their weekly public tours, which take place the last Friday of every month. The stadium underwent a massive renovation and, since 2013, you can learn about the original horseshoe-shaped arena completed in 1923 in a ravine of the Arroyo Seco, as well as explore the premium seats that actually come with a butler. Gaze out onto the field from the high-tech press box, and climb down under the stadium to discover a long-lost 1920s-era locker room. Look for hidden walls made from rocks from the Arroyo, and imagine chariot races taking place instead of college football and soccer.

Rose Bowl Stadium (1)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein
Rose Bowl Stadium (2)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein

2. Visit the Tournament House (February - August)

The former Pasadena home of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. is now officially the Tournament of Roses House. Situated along "Millionaire's Row," the Italian Renaissance mansion was one of Wrigley's six homes away from his Chicago home, purchased in 1914 and gifted to the City of Pasadena in 1958 specifically to house the Tournament of Roses headquarters. To be clear, it's not a house museum. It’s a working office and the hub of all activity leading up to New Year’s Day. While the rose garden out front (which is maintained by the Pacific Rose Society, a member of the Tournament of Roses Association) is actually a public park that’s open year-round, you can only visit the inside of the mansion during the “quiet months” of February through August. The ground level contains lots of beautiful architectural details and history surrounding the Wrigley family, but it’s upstairs where you’ll find bedrooms converted into offices and showrooms for memorabilia. Through the photos and crowns of Rose Queens of yore, you’ll get a tremendous sense of the pageantry – and you’ll even get to meet some of the volunteer members who run the organization. Ask one of them to play the pipe organ (and show you where the pipes are).

Tournament House (1)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein
Tournament House (2)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein

3. Build or decorate a float (Varies, through late December)

Now that this year’s parade has completed, there’s no time to rest. Plans start pretty much right away for next year’s parade – including the concepts and designs for next year’s floats. If you want to get in on the action, you can actually submit your own original design, but most of them are due by mid-January to early February. To roll up your sleeves and get your hands a little dirty, sign up with one of the professional float decorating companies – like Fiesta Parade Floats or Phoenix Decorating Company – or chip in with one of the organizations who build their own floats. You don’t even have to be a local to help decorate floats for local cities like Glendale, Burbank, La Canada Flintridge, South Pasadena, Downey, or Sierra Madre. People actually fly in from all over the country to help out as an annual tradition. The busiest time is during “Deco Week,” the week before the parade, when everything has pretty much been built and glued, and it all needs to be festooned with flowers.

Build or decorate a Rose Parade float (1)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein
Build or decorate a Rose Parade float (2)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein

4. Bandfest (Late December)

Marching bands and drill teams come from high schools literally all over the world to march in the Rose Parade and to perform a pre-parade exhibition for audiences at Bandfest. When you go, it feels kind of like a football game – but without the sports. It is all rally, all the time. And it is as much a visual spectacle as it is a musical one, watching all those kids lining up in their matching outfits, marching out onto the field in their formations, and playing their instruments and performing choreography. Every year, the PCC Tournament of Roses Honor Band & Herald Trumpets open the Bandfest show with their flag-waving and baton-twirling. The rest of the bands each get one slot across the two-day event, and they're only allowed to come for the Rose Parade every four years. What sets them apart from each other is not only the colors of their uniforms, but also what they play and how they play. You might hear fight songs mixed with traditional folk songs from Mexico interspersed with ’80s pop hits. But whatever the bands play, they are serious about it. And their passion is infectious.

Bandfest (1)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein
Bandfest (2)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein

5. Equestfest (Late December)

A couple of days before the end of the year, you can spend the day with some of the horses from the Rose Parade – and some other horses, too – at an annual event called Equestfest. And that’s a good thing, if you’re planning to still be in bed while they’re trotting through Pasadena on New Year’s Day. Equestfest is both a festival and a show, where you get to see the Budweiser Clydesdales in action, learn some history, and maybe even root for your favorite opponent in a medieval jousting competition. Inside the L.A. Equestrian Center, you can also marvel at elaborate roping techniques and choreographed horse dances, but the real action is outside. Before, during, and after the show, you have many chances of getting up close and personal with the horse people and their equine companions. Whether it's those of the Norco Cowgirls Rodeo Drill Team or the New Buffalo Soldiers, all the horses seem to be calm and relaxed there (even with a bunch of kids grabbing at their snouts). The intimate time with individual horses is pretty darn special, but you also get your own show of sorts out there, as the riders rehearse and perform their pre-show prep. After the show, festival organizers open the barricades by the stables to allow attendees to come meet the horses.

Equestfest (1)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein
Equestfest (2)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein

6. The Rose Bowl Game & Rose Parade (January 1 or 2)

If you’ve toured the stadium and the Tournament House and you’ve helped decorate a float and you still haven’t had enough, there’s always the main event – which, in fact, is a double-header. In the wee hours of the morning on New Year’s Day (or on January 2 if the 1st falls on a Sunday) you can take a peek at the floats as they’re lined up on Orange Grove Boulevard near the starting point at Green Street, ready for their annual procession. And even at, say, 2 a.m., you won’t be alone out there – because plenty of people camp out on the street to guarantee a good viewing spot, starting as early as the afternoon before the parade. Grandstand seats are available to purchase, but they require that you arrive no later than 6:30 a.m. The actual parade officially starts at 8 a.m., but traveling at a speed of only two-and-a-half miles per hour, it can take two hours to get to viewing points towards the end of the five-and-a-half-mile route. Some restaurants and other businesses along the route hold ticketed viewing parties, or you can take your chances and just show up and try to find a good spot on a curb. Some parking is available – which is generally better to purchase in advance – but there are three Metro Gold Line stations that are along the parade route (or just a short walk away). Additional shuttle busses are also available from Metro stations to the Rose Bowl Stadium for the football game, a tradition that’s been running since 1902 (except for the years when the ball game was replaced by chariot races). The actual game is one of the few Tournament of Roses events that you can plan at the last minute, since tickets don’t go on sale until early December.

The Rose Parade (1)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein
The Rose Parade (2)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein

7. Post-Parade Showcase (January 1-3)

If you miss the parade and Deco Week – or if you were just seated a bit too far away to really see all of the sparkly and glittery details of the hand-decorated parade floats – you’ve got one last chance to see them at the Post-Parade Showcase. All of the floats park at the end of the parade route at Sierra Madre Boulevard and East Washington Boulevard (basically right in front of Pasadena High School) and are available for viewing for a couple of days after the parade, rain or shine, for a modest admission charge. Here’s where you can stand within feet of them – and, in some cases, witness their animatronics up close. Many of the floats are award-winners, though they can be so different from one another, each having their own merits and outstanding attributes. Each float makes its own unique mark on the parade. Though the actual parade theme changes every year, most of the individual floats end up being all about local pride – whether it’s for our wildlife, our military, our firefighters, our sports legacy, or our architecture (and so on). And there’s nothing like getting right up to them, while their flowers still have their scent. Just imagine: All the floats will be completely different next year. And the planning process for that starts right now.

Post Rose Parade Showcase (1)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein
Post Rose Parade Showcase (2)
Photo: Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein

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