A First-Timer’s Guide To the Portland Macy’s Holiday Parade

In the past five years of having one or more of my daughters in marching band, I’ve watched or wished them well from the comfort of home as they’ve marched in local parades. What can I say? I’m not really a parade person.

But this past Friday, I decided to schlep myself and my oldest daughter to downtown Portland to watch my 2nd daughter, Maddy, march with her high school band in the Portland Macy’s Holiday (“after-Thanksgiving”) Parade. And you know what? Despite getting soaked and cold enough to be numb, we had a great time!

stacey and hannah parade

My daughter Hannah and I waiting for the parade to start.

It was my first time at this parade, and I had a terrible time finding any insider tips or tricks for attending. I decided in addition to sharing the story of our adventure, I’d also share a few things I learned (so if you’re thinking of attending the next Portland Macy’s Holiday Parade, you know what to expect).

Taking the Max (Portland’s metro area light rail) saved us the headache of dealing with (and paying for) parking, and it brought us within two blocks of the best seats on the parade route. We got off at the Pioneer Square South station, then walked just two blocks north to Alder. There on Alder, between 6th and 5th, is the Macy’s store. We arrived at around 7:10am, which was WAY to early! We did see the Macy’s VIP parade seating already set up directly in front of the store on Alder, but not another soul was lining up yet for the parade to begin.

portland macy's holiday after thanksgiving parade

My little map, which shows the parade route, with the Max stations, Macy’s and nearby mall marked for reference.

***see that silly map above? hopefully all the references will make sense by the end of the post!

My daughter and I decided to bring camp chairs and a blanket, and ended up hauling those around the women’s department of Macy’s, keeping warm and killing time until we could see that others would be arriving for the parade.

At about 7:30, we saw the first group of spectators set up their curbside camp chairs, directly across from the Macy’s VIP seating. We approached them and introduced ourselves as parade newbies, and they insisted that we join them. They explained that 7:30 is the perfect time to get situated, and that sitting across from Macy’s is the “place to be,” since all the parade groups would be stopping there to perform for the VIPs. Their large group of 12-15 people has done this every year for the past 7 years, so I decided to trust their expert opinion!

corner of macy's portland

My daughter snapped this picture from our seats.

It was cold when we got settled in to our camp chairs at 7:40, and by 8:20 we had our blanket out and it was raining! We had each bundled up nicely with jacket, scarf, gloves, and two pair of socks. Still, by the time the parade started, we were soaked.

The parade got off to a festive start, and everyone was jovial despite the rain, cheering on the various costumed characters, bands, dancers, and inflatable floats that came by.

Oregon Live photo collage Portland Macy's Holiday Parade

from Benjamin Brink’s photo essay on OregonLive.com (see source link below)


I had to fumble for my iPhone in the rain, with numb fingers, for this grainy shot of my daughter marching by with her band. The large group of parade vets we sat with cheered for her, too.

maddy marching

Here’s another not-so-great-but-there-she-is photo of my daughter, as captured by the photographer from KATU.com:

maddy parade news site

The parade concluded with an exciting appearance from Santa and his reindeer, as well as billowy gusts of fake snow. Just minutes after he passed by, the spectators around us were packing up and heading out.

santa at portland macy's holiday parade

photo by Benjamin Brink of the Oregonian, see source link below


We discovered that most of the businesses along the parade route did not offer public restrooms, but we were directed to Pioneer Place – a mall just a block from Macy’s – and there we found bathrooms, a food court, and most importantly, a place to dry off and warm up. It was a great respite for us immediately after the parade, and even more convenient was that the Mall/SW 5th Ave Max station is directly outside the mall. We hopped a train home and wrapped up an adventurous morning in Portland!

So…to recap…here’s what I would recommend if you plan to attend the Portland Macy’s Holiday Parade:

  • take the Max, if possible,
  • bundle up – even if it’s not raining, it is cold in the Portland area in November!
  • bring chairs and a blanket – you will be so much more comfortable
  • the earliest you need to line up for curbside seating is about 7:30am
  • I would highly recommend sitting on Alder, between 6th and 5th, either across from or alongside the Macy’s VIP seating
  • remember the Pioneer Place mall for a dry, warm place, and for the bathrooms (and Starbucks, if you’ll be needing that)

I was proud of my daughter Maddy for marching in those tough conditions, and happy that my daughter Hannah came to enjoy this memory with me. It was a fun way to start our Christmas season, and I look forward to heading back there next year!