When I think of the holidays, one of the first things I think about is Macy’s. Call it nostalgia, call it killer marketing, I don’t care -- fact is, the superstore knows they’ve got America in their pockets from Thanksgiving until the new year. I mean, hordes of people traveling to New York in December make the Macy’s windows a literal stop on their itinerary, you know?
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the biggest parade in the world and goes back to 1924 when employees marched to the 34th Street store location in flamboyant costumes complete with bands and zoo animals borrowed from Central Park Zoo. Santa Claus has been welcomed to Herald Square pretty much every year since then, and the parade has only gotten bigger and better.
If you’re planning an out-of-state Thanksgiving, New York is one of the obvious choices, but going to the Macy’s parade is no easy feat. Millions -- and I mean millions -- of people show up along Central Park to see the big Snoopy balloons and A-list performers. If you’re not willing to get a hotel room and instead want to experience the parade from the ground up, here’s everything you need to know to do it well. Be sure to check out the 25 balloon inflations the day before as well!
Where to watch
The balloons and floats will make their way through two-and-a-half miles of Manhattan, giving you plenty of options of where to park yourself to witness the historical parade.
Kicking off at the corner of West 77th Street and traveling along Central Park West, most people will claim their spots along West 75th to West 59th, probably aiming for an hour-and-a-half commitment rather than a three-hour one, given that since the parade starts in the Upper West Side, it’ll pass by earlier and finish up quicker. After turning onto Columbus Circle, from which there’s no viewing allowed, everything will make its way down 6th Avenue with prime observation between West 59th and West 38th before finishing up at Macy’s Herald Square, where you’re not allowed to hang out.
Note: All of the TV stations that make it possible for the rest of us lazy folk to watch the parade will be set up along West 34th and West 38th Streets and on West 34th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Don’t go there unless you want obstructed views (or if you want to try to get on the news, I guess).
Position yourself near a bathroom
I feel like most people consider this as an afterthought, but it’s important, guys! Think about your bathroom breaks before you pick a spot to watch the parade from. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t have to pee three times an hour, I salute you, but otherwise it’s best practice to find a piece of sidewalk that you can get into and out of easily enough to find a public bathroom. Or use this map of every Starbucks in Manhattan (as of 2013, so still do some research) -- you don’t even need to buy anything to use their bathrooms anymore!
When to get there
No real tips or tricks here: Parade attendees start their camping around 6 a.m., so if you want any semblance of a view, aim for around there. The parade will actually start at 9 a.m. and should reach Macy’s Herald Square at noon, if all goes as planned.
What to bring
- Chairs, crates, stools, etc.: You won’t be the only one trying to get comfortable on the sidelines. As far as New York’s concerned, it’s every man for himself, and if you want to plop a lawn chair against the barricade and settle in for a few hours, who’s going to tell you no? Live and let live (and take a much-deserved seat).
- Warm clothes: As of right now, the forecast is calling for mid-20s as a high for the temperature on Turkey Day in New York, and that’s not factoring in any wind or early-morning chill. This is not a drill. Hide yo’ face, hide yo’ fingers, it’s freakin’ cold out there.
- Snacks and hot coffee: Don’t worry, you’re not about to spoil your Thanksgiving dinner with an apple and granola bars, but standing outside in the cold with a ton of adrenaline as you ready yourself for the grand parade could work up an appetite. Keep yourself nourished! And a hot coffee is just practical: It keeps your hands toasty and can warm you up from inside. Maybe invest in something like a Yeti thermos to keep that latte hot for longer than 10 seconds, too.
Who to look out for
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade performers are always a standout, if you somehow catch them all. Here’s who you aren’t going to want to miss, whether you’re on the street or the couch:
- Ally Brooke, formerly of Fifth Harmony, who’s putting out an album soon with a ‘90s Latin sound.
- Barenaked Ladies, because why not.
- Anika Noni Rose, who voiced Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog” and had a starring role in “Dreamgirls.”
- Diana Ross, a legend who will be accompanied by her family on a float.
- Kelly Clarkson, so we hear.
- Ashley Tisdale, who just released her first single in nearly a decade, “Voices in my Head.”
- Leona Lewis, who you remember because you couldn’t stop singing “Bleeding Love” in 2007.
- John Legend, who, if he loves us, will be singing some songs off his new holiday album and will give us a surprise Chrissy Teigen appearance.