Rose Parade 2020: Overnight campers brave the cold to claim prime spots

Denise Koehnlein of Phoenix, left, stays warm by the fire while chatting with Mark Breiling, Quisha Ryan and Christian Ryan.
Denise Koehnlein of Phoenix, left, stays warm by the fire while chatting with Mark Breiling, Quisha Ryan and Christian Ryan.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

As the temperature continued to drop Tuesday night, 18-year-old Brianna Zameza sat in a folding chair on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena sniffing a jar of Vicks Vaporub, willing it to help ward off a cold.

The Pasadena local was determined to make her first time camping overnight on the sidewalk of a city awaiting its annual day in the national spotlight a success.

Each year, hundreds of campers flock the day before the Tournament of Roses Parade to the free curbside seating available on a first-come, first-served basis along three stretches along the 5 1/2-mile parade route.

With duct tape and chalk, they divide up the sidewalk, then stake their claim with camp chairs, wholesale packs of chips and fruit, sleeping bags, heavy blankets, puzzles and board games.


Zameza was full of hometown pride Tuesday evening as she reflected on a recent vacation to Laughlin, Nev., where she was surprised to find out locals there knew where Pasadena was.

“Once I said ‘Pasadena,’ they were, like, ‘Oh, that’s where the Rose Parade takes place,’” Zameza said. “And it made me see that this is something special, even beyond where I live.”

Many of the campers are veterans, well acquainted with what is often a chilly night, and they bring propane-powered portable heaters.

And some, such as Andrés Villagrana, a 15-year-old Pasadena resident who has attended the parade for as long as he can remember, bring fire pits and heaps of firewood.

Andrés and his cousin Diana Calderón, 18, were tasked Tuesday evening with watching over their family’s spot.

“The truth is you’re never completely asleep,” Calderón said. “It’s too exciting. So we all go to bed at 3 a.m. and wake up super early.”

What’s she most looking forward to? A particular float or band?

“Honestly, my favorite part of all this is just being here with family, throwing marshmallows at passing cars,” Calderón said.

People camp out along the Rose Parade route
Carlos Castillo stays bundled up with his son, Nate, and wife, Rosie, while camping out along the Rose Parade route.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

People camp out along the parade route for a few reasons: to spend time with family and friends, stake out a good spot to watch the parade — and to engage in shenanigans.

Wearing a down jacket, Mardis Gras beads and a “Happy New Year” headband, Paulina Gault and her friends were busy pelting passing cars at the corner of Oakland Avenue and Colorado Boulevard with marshmallows and tortillas, and spraying vehicles with Silly String.

“We normally put shaving cream on the tortillas,” Gault, 21, of Pomona said, “to really make them stick.”

It’s a harmless Rose Parade tradition, she explained, noting that the police generally don’t have any issues with the pre-parade pranks.

“In fact,” Gault said, “sometimes you’ll see their cars covered in Silly String, too.”

An estimated 700,000 people attend the parade, which starts at 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day. The overnight campers come from near and far to get their seats.

Dan McGuire, 63, traveled from Saratoga, Wyo., to camp and attend the parade.

Whereas locals were quick to discuss how they planned to stay warm overnight, McGuire was unconcerned. Back home in Saratoga, a town that holds an annual ice fishing derby in January, overnight temperatures were expected to drop to 11 degrees Tuesday night.

McGuire, enjoying the much warmer weather, looked over as a row of gleaming, classic cars cruised down the street, and he grinned mischievously.

“They’re smart to come out now,” he said. “Come 9 o’clock, I’m whipping out the Silly String.”

Sporting a black 2020 Rose Parade baseball cap, LaTresa Harris, accompanied by two cousins and her two daughters, waited for night to fall while blasting Rihanna’s “Only Girl” on her speaker.

This is her second time camping out for the parade, and Harris woke up at 4 a.m. Tuesday to ensure she could claim her piece of sidewalk by 8 a.m.

Her daughters, ages 7 and 10, were absorbed playing video games on their phones.

“But when the sun goes down, and they close the street, they’re going to be up and down on their scooters,” Harris said.

The street closure, she explained, is what the children most look forward to, “because they’re free and they’re safe.”