The parade begins at 9:30 a.m.

Santa Monica’s only parade takes to the streets again on July 4 returning to its traditional route along Main Street.

The 16th iteration of the Independence Day event is themed “A Sign of Better Days to Come” and organizers hope the entire town can come out to experience one of the City’s flagship community gatherings.

Jeff Jarow co-founded the event in 2007 with a simple goal of giving locals a place to gather, celebrate and bond. It has since become a beloved community tradition and one of the few times a year when the bustling tourism and transit heavy city of Santa Monica closer resembles a quaint and tight knit neighborhood.

“The first time we started out, it was a success from the get go, but as much as we advertised, the residents weren’t quite sure,” said Jarow. “The first parade was much smaller, and a lot of fun, mostly Ocean Park residents, but as the word spread, the schools jumped on board, it grew every year. Now we are probably close to 100 participants which equates to about 1,500 people in the parade, and somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 spectators.”

Those early parades are among Jarow’s fondest holiday memories and continue to inspire future parades.

“My favorite memory is one of the first parades down Main St. and I drove a John Deere tractor pulling a 40 ft float with lots of musicians and people on it,” he said. “There were bales of hay and Adirondack chairs and palm trees too! I drove with my son Morgan. Memories of this parade and others I’ve been to, well, everyone is having a great time. Lots of music, lots of childhood memories. Everyone loves a parade.”

As always, the parade is presented by the Ocean Park Association and runs along Main Street, the commercial and communal heart of the Ocean Park neighborhood. Construction forced last year’s parade to reverse its traditional path, but the 2023 parade returns to normal. Floats will begin in the Civic Center Parking lot, travel south along Main Street, take a right on Marine, then a right on Barnard Way and end in the beach parking lot.

Jarow said he founded the parade specifically to create a space of common ground; an event that everyone supports, enjoys and feels welcome participating in. As the years have gone on and politics, both local and national, have only become more divisive, Jarow believes this goal has only become more important.

“This is the biggest Santa Monica event and it’s all inclusive and free. As the saying goes, for the people, by the people. It makes me feel great that I can still put it together and be a part of it. It’s become a Santa Monica institution,” he said.

He said this is a non-political parade and doesn’t allow overtly political messages because he wants it to be something that is focused on the community, not any specific individual or cause.

“To get everyone together and have it be friendly, this is really the only place that it can happen nowadays and no one has to talk about their differences,” he said. “This is an event for everyone to come together and for all Santa Monicans to recognize why we live here and who our neighbors and friends are.”

The parade was “officially” put on hiatus during the pandemic although there may have been some sightings of rogue trucks decorated in patriotic attire during that time.

Jarow said the lockdowns and subsequent reopenings have been hard on everyone.

“It’s been a tough year, a tough everything for the last few years, everyone has had a hard time and it’s kind of the new normal,” he said. “So one thing everyone can count on is that when the parade happens everyone is in a good mood and it lifts them out of the doldrums.”

For Jarow and his crew of volunteers, including Magdalena Davis and Jenny Rice, it’s truly a labor of love.

“Thanks to all of our sponsors over the years, including our biggest sponsor … the City of Santa Monica,” he said. “This parade is a major group effort. It’s all volunteers and we also want to thank our sponsors. We should also praise our own Mr. Santa Monica himself, Nat Trives, who is leading the parade this year.”

It takes months of wrangling to secure the necessary permits and untold hours managing the various aspects of the parade including truck rentals, street closures and entertainment.

“I want to give back to the community something that is just pure joy and fun,” he said. “Especially with the times we’re in and the way it can be out there, people can just be excited to experience a great day out and enjoy the city.”

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...