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Thousands are expected to line Main Street for Santa Monica’s ninth annual 4th of July Parade.

The event is organized by the Ocean Park Association (OPA) and will showcase close to 1,500 people from all areas of the city. This year OPA received almost 100 requests to march in the parade from applicants wishing to join a tradition that has grown to include marching bands and floats representing schools, local organizations, businesses and neighborhood groups.

An estimated 8,000 people watched last year’s parade and officials said crowds can vary wildly on a three-day weekend depending on the potential vacation plan of residents.

“It’s really caught on,” said Jeff Jarow, co-founder of OPA and Santa Monica’s 4th of July Parade, “Everybody is there, and everybody is in good spirits. People show up from all facets of the city.”

The inspiration for the parade began when Jarow got in the car to drive with his family to a parade in another city.

“We used to go elsewhere to see a parade, and I said ‘You know, we should have one here,'” said Jarow.

Nine years later and the parade has become an event that brings together the many different parts of the city, from elementary schools to the Chamber of Commerce. While elected officials representing city, state, and local governments are expected to attend, the parade is focused on the community, not politics.

“We’re trying to make it a non-political event,” said Jarow, who mentioned that some past participants have used the parade for political purposes. “Just an event where everyone in Santa Monica is welcome to participate and enjoy the parade for a great morning of fun.”

This theme for this year’s parade is “Inspirational Heroes,” presided over by Grand Marshal Will Montgomery, Special Olympics Global Messenger. More than just kicking off the summer, the theme is meant to honor the Special Olympians who will be competing in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles beginning in late July.

“It’s really an inspiration to all of us,” said Jarow, “In my eyes, they are heroes.”

He said that with this theme, the parade can recognize the achievements of these athletes and promote an awareness regarding the needs of them and their families.

Community participation has fueled the parade’s growth in popularity. In the parade, “everybody knows somebody…so it makes it very personal,” said Jarow, who added that seeing familiar faces encourages others to participate. The parade is “for the people, by the people,” said Jarow, and provides an opportunity to celebrate their communities and country for spectators and participants alike.

“It’s a feel-good event,” said Jarow, “To me, this is what Santa Monica is all about.”

The parade will begin at Pico Boulevardand proceed down Main Street until Marine Street, where it will turn right and return on Barnard Way. Visitors to the parade should arrive early if they want a good seat, said Jarow, who said that spectators line up as early as 8:30 a.m. Main Street is closed from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. during the parade, making driving around the area difficult. Spectators are encouraged to bike or walk due to limited parking, although the beach parking lots will be open.

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