Portland Rose Festival – Best USA Festivals

Portland Various venues Late May to mid-June www.rosefestival.org

Oregon’s largest and most storied festival, the Portland Rose Festival occupies more than two weeks with avast array of activities and events that annually draw more than a million attendees to celebrate eclectic Portland and spotlight the city’s diverse culture. Launched in 1908, the Rose Festival began as a publicity campaign for the then-burgeoning city, and more than a century later this incredible multipronged event, which seamlessly melds contemporary flair with palpable nostalgia, was proclaimed Portland’s official festival. Portland Rose Festival includes three popular parades, a massive carnival-like fair, numerous concerts featuring well-known musicians, the ever-popular Rose Festival Queen coronation, several running events, and much more.

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Rose Festival kicks off on a Friday afternoon with the opening of CityFair at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, with opening-day fireworks following in the evening. Running each weekend of the festival, CityFair is a sprawling family-friendly carnival with myriad vendors, carnival rides, games, live music, and much more (including a Portland Rose Festival museum exhibit). The music lineup is announced on the Rose Festival website and over the years has included an intriguing mix of artists and music genres. Opening weekend also brings the whimsical Rose Festival Point One Run, in which runners (and walkers, strollers, amblers, and anyone else) race a grand total of 528 feet, all within the bounds of CityFair; creative apparel is encouraged, and participants must register in advance, as is the case with all festival races. The serious running begins the next day, Sunday, with the Rose Festival Half Marathon.

The festival offers two additional foot-power events: the Starlight Run— Oregon’s largest fun run—features some 5,000 costumed competitors racing not only to break the tape at the finish line but also to garner prizes for best individual and group getups (and the costumes tend to be highly decorative and immensely creative). The Starlight Run follows the 3.1-mile Starlight Parade route and the entire course is lined with cheering spectators—250,000 of them. Even more spectators line the streets for the 4-mile Grand Floral Walk preceding the Grand Floral Parade. Throughout all the festival footraces, participants are treated like champs by event staff and onlookers alike.

The aforementioned parades, three of them in total, are integral to the Portland Rose Festival. The first, and one of the most popular festival events, is the Starlight Parade, which offers funky, eclectic fun for everyone. From traditional marching bands and flood-lit floats to glow-in-the-dark umbrellas and unique hand-built entries, you’ll see the best of Portland’s diverse community groups (and surrounding Northwest region) together in one whimsical postant. The Starlight Parade continues a longtime festival tradition from the early 1900s, when illuminated floats built on electric trolley cars made their way through the city on trolley tracks. Today, participants light up the night with approximately 100 illuminated entries along a 2.25-mile route. The parade draws more than 325,000 spectators to Downtown Portland.

The Starlight Parade is one of many events included in the Portland Rose Festival.

A week later comes the much-anticipated Grand Floral Parade—a beloved highlight of the festival for more than 100 years. As its name suggests, the Grand Floral Parade is regaled in floristry, or what the Japanese call ikebana, the artistic arrangement of flowers. This parade courses for four miles, draws hundreds of thousands of spectators, and features a bedazzling lineup of colorful floats, most all of them bedecked in vibrant flowers that so define the Rose City. Prior to the parade, the Rose Festival Queen coronation is held in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, culminating three months of activities for the high school women who comprise the Rose Festival Court.

Scheduled to fall between the two extravagant parades, the annual Junior Parade is also a longtime Rose Festival tradition in which kids, dressing in costume, transform wagons into floats, decorate their bikes with colorful flowers, or just parade with their pets (and parents). Elementary and middle school marching bands fill the Hollywood District with song, and dance teams add swirls of color to the celebration.

The Portland Rose Festival also features a variety of waterfront activities, including hosting the annual Dragon Boat Races, a Chinese cultural tradition in which paddle teams race beautifully crafted wooden boats festooned with colorful dragon head designs. Portland’s races annually draw nearly 100 teams from around the country and beyond. Far more whimsical is the family-friendly Milk Carton Boat Race, a Rose Festival standard since 1973, in which boaters compete for prizes in numerous categories in homemade hand-powered craft that float only by means of recycled milk cartoons and jugs. The ultimate prize is the coveted Best in Show milk can trophy. The Rose Festival also includes Fleet Week, during which vessels from the US Navy, US Coast Guard, and Royal Canadian Navy moor at the waterfront and invite civilians on board for scheduled ship tours. Fleet Week provides a platform for the public to thank veterans and active-duty personnel while learning about the various watercraft employed by the armed services.

Throughout its three-week run, the Portland Rose Festival offers many other activities and events, and the entire extravaganza comes to life thanks to a small, dedicated professional staff and legions of volunteers. The festival schedule, with complete details about all the events and copious useful details for attendees, is available on the festival website. Few citywide festivals in the nation can boast of such longstanding tradition and residents of the city are justifiably proud of the exciting, colorful, congenial Portland Rose Festival.

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