“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” ~Gilbert K. Chesterton
Everybody loves a parade, and there are plenty of opportunities in Arizona for you and your family to attend one. Many towns hold a parade of some kind during the year, and it’s impossible to list them all. But the small old-fashioned hometown parades have their own special charm – and a slower-paced, less crowded atmosphere – so they can be more enjoyable than the major events, especially for little kids who like to get up close. Such parades are often held in honor of Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Town Founders Day. (Check with your local chamber of commerce.) Below is a selection of the largest, most famous and unique parades around the state. Free family fun for kids of all ages!
1. Fiesta Bowl Parade, Tempe – A nationally recognized parade held in late December or early January, one of many events associated with the Fiesta Bowl football game. The Fiesta Bowl Parade is a time-honored Valley tradition, its size and quality having grown phenomenally over the years. It all began in the summer of 1972 when Don Meyers, the Fiesta Bowl’s second president and a founding member, decided that every bowl, to be called a “bowl,” must have a parade. Floats began to play a major part in the parade when Don Bent of Rose Bowl fame contracted for and entered floats in 1974. The 1980 parade was the first to attract more than 200,000 spectators. Today, the Fiesta Bowl Parade is Arizona’s largest single-day spectator event, annually attracting thousands of people who line the parade route. The Fiesta Bowl Parade features a dazzling array of colorful floats, magnificent helium balloons, harmonious marching bands and spirited specialty and equestrian units. Valley residents and tourists alike annually line the two-mile parade route in central Phoenix to watch this spectacular celebration, making the parade a holiday custom known and loved by locals as well as visitors.
2. Parada del Sol, Scottsdale – One of Scottsdale’s enduring traditions since the 1950’s, the Parada del Sol (Spanish for “Parade of the Sun”) has the distinction of being the World’s Largest Horse-Drawn Parade. This historical event which takes place in late January/early February includes nearly 1,000 horses, western pageantry, clowns, dancing troupes, marching bands, civic groups, and it also features the Hashknife Pony Express Riders. The annual Trail’s End celebration presented by Scottsdale Downtown begins immediately following the Parada del Sol Parade. This is a huge block party for all ages, including a Kid’s Area with games, pony rides and much more. You won’t want to miss checking out the hundreds of original shops located in the Scottsdale Old Town/Downtown area. There will be many food and merchandise vendors located throughout the area, as well as live entertainment.
3. Gold Rush Parade, Wickenburg – The Gold Rush Parade is held every February as a highlight of the annual Gold Rush Days Celebration and Rodeo, a Wickenburg tradition since 1948. This event celebrates the town’s origins as a ranching and gold mining center. The Gold Rush Parade is the fourth largest parade in the state with over 100 entries including 1,000 horses, classic autos, floats, marching bands, and youth groups. Gold Rush Days draws tens of thousands of visitors during the three days of activities which besides the parade include: senior rodeo, gold panning, carnival, music, western dancing, arts and crafts, food booths, barbecue, gem show, midway, mucking and drilling contest, a real old-fashioned melodrama, and more – in Wickenburg’s most action-packed weekend of the year.
4. Ostrich Festival Parade, Chandler – Chandler’s rich and unusual heritage in Ostrich ranching provides the basis for a wonderful family oriented community event held in March of every year. The Ostrich Festival Parade is held a week before Chandler’s popular Ostrich Festival. Featuring more than 100 various entries, some of the past attractions have included Ollie the Trolley, antique cars, horses, high school marching bands, and creative floats. Parade watchers are encouraged to bring chairs and blankets to enjoy the parade. The parade’s sponsor, Thorobred Chevrolet, has been associated with supporting the Ostrich Festival from the beginning. Maricopa County once led the nation in raising ostriches for their stylish and expensive plumes, and ostrich ranching was a prominent part of life in Chandler.
5. St. Patrick’s Day Parade – The Phoenix St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the largest parades in Arizona, second only to the Fiesta Bowl Parade. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade began in 1983 to preserve and enhance the heritage and traditions of the Irish Culture, as well as to share that culture with the citizens of Arizona. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade features marching bands, Irish step dancers, bagpipers, police and fire vehicles, government dignitaries, floats, the Arizona Irish Colleen with her court, and a whole lot more. It’s always held in March, in conjunction with other St. Patrick’s Day events.
6. Fourth of July Parade, Flagstaff – Due to increasing local concern about fire risk because of dry conditions in this forested community, the City of Flagstaff canceled their Fourth of July fireworks show and started a new holiday tradition. It’s an old-fashioned community parade featuring hundreds of patriotic citizens, vintage vehicles, dancing, music, animals, and floats parading through historic downtown Flagstaff. This parade draws thousands of visitors who come up to enjoy the cooler summer temperatures. All are invited to share in the splendor of the colorful floats and spirited entries that have been part of this Flagstaff tradition since 1996. The Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce’s Fourth of July Parade was named “Best Public Event” in 2003 by the Arizona Daily Sun, and it was declared an “Arizona Treasure” by former Governor Janet Napolitano in 2005.
7. Wild West Days Parade, Cave Creek – The annual Wild West Days celebration held in Cave Creek each Fall is a premiere destination event celebrating our grand Western heritage. The Wild West Days Parade features non-motorized and horse-drawn entries. In addition to the parade, Cave Creek’s Wild West Days includes a rodeo, bathtub races, cookouts, entertainment, and many western style family-friendly activities.
8. Daisy Mountain Veterans Day Parade, Anthem – A Veterans Day Parade was held in the new planned community of Anthem for the first time in 2004, and surprised even the event sponsors by how large and well-received it was. Thanks to the enthusiasm and generous donations of local businesses, families, and neighbors in Anthem, Desert Hills, New River and beyond, it instantly became the state’s largest Veteran’s Day parade. “There is nothing commercialized about our parade. It’s all about our veterans,” said parade chair Mary Ann Derryberry. Over 15,000 people come together to enjoy this great patriotic event, a unifying community tradition. Everybody should be there by 9 a.m. for a good view of the flyovers, community groups, the school children, the military personnel walking with pride. The parade is followed by a family picnic and barbeque with musical entertainment and bounce houses.
9. Thanksgiving Day Parade, Fountain Hills – Also called “Parada de Los Cerros,” or Parade of the Hills, this is the only Thanksgiving Day Parade in Arizona and one of the few in the nation. It may not have giant balloons, but the Fountain Hills Thanksgiving Day Parade has something Macy’s doesn’t – a 560-foot fountain, the world’s tallest, which makes for a picturesque backdrop. Among the usual participants are floats, horses, Boy Scouts, Veterans of Foreign Wars, members of the Fountain Hills Fire Department, marching bands, and more. Fountain Hills resident Joe Arpaio has made his rounds in the parade every year that he’s been the Maricopa County sheriff.
10. APS Electric Light Parade, Phoenix – This Phoenix tradition is one of many events associated with the holiday season and Christmas holiday lights celebrations. The parade usually features about 70 entries from a myriad of groups, resulting in more than 2 million lights adding a glow to the night. All entries in the APS Electric Light Parade – even individuals who walk the route – are decorated in holiday lights. High school marching bands wrap their instruments and uniforms in lights; businesses light up cars; and the Phoenix Fire Departments adds to trucks’ existing lights. Some entries boast 50,000 or more lights; together the entries transform central Phoenix into a holiday spectacle of light and music. Year after year this spectacular display of lighted floats and performance groups attracts more and more spectators. The staging area is North Phoenix Baptist Church at Bethany Home Road and Central Avenue, and the parade route extends for approximately two miles along Phoenix’s central corridor. This annual spectacle has attracted up to 200,000 spectators. The parade is free, and it is a rain-or-shine event.