The 123rd annual New Year's Day event, with the theme "Just Imagine," flowed along downtown Pasadena to the cheers of hundreds of thousands of sidewalk spectators.
An estimated 40 million people viewed this year's procession of 44 floats, 16 marching bands and 22 equestrian troupes on U.S. television.
There were 10 arrests overnight, including four felonies, as thousands of spectators staked out viewing places along the route but that figure was down from the previous year, police said.
"Everything went very, very well. We're very pleased," police Lt. Phlunte Riddle said.
On the heels of the two-hour parade came anti-Wall Street protesters in a pre-arranged demonstration.
The thunder of the retreating marching bands mingled in the air with chants of "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out" as the Occupy the Rose Parade demonstrators retraced about 1.5 miles of the 5.5-mile parade route before veering off for a rally near City Hall.
They carried a 250-foot-long banner that said "We the People" to represent the U.S. Constitution. Some also held a 70-foot-long octopus made from recycle plastic bags that represented the tentacles of perceived corporate greed.
"This is about getting money out of politics," said Greg Stevens, a 38-year-old public health lecturer at the University of Southern California. "I support everything this movement is about."
As the protesters marched by, some Rose Parade spectators yelled "get a job" while others snapped photos and cheered.
"It's kind of crazy but kind of exciting," said Alana Olvick, 26, of Valencia, Calif.
The ragtag group of protesters made an interesting comparison to the slick, glittering Rose Parade offerings.
"It's contradicting the parade," Olvick said.
Behind the protesters came three truckloads of Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in riot gear but no arrests were immediately made and the protest was noisy but peaceful.
Occupy the Rose Parade organizer Pete Thottam estimated the crowd of protesters at 5,000, although police said it was around 400.
Police, parade and city officials held numerous meetings with the protest organizers to ensure that they did not disrupt the parade.
Heightened security is nothing new to the parade, which took place on Jan. 2 this year because New Year's Day falls on a Sunday.
Police also stepped up measures after 9/11 and the Y2K threat, and have regularly dealt with protests through the years ranging from anti-Vietnam war demonstrators to Native Americans incensed at the choice of a descendant of Christopher Columbus as grand marshal.
This year's parade featured Iraq war veteran J.R. Martinez as grand marshal, the children and grandchildren of Roy Rogers on a float commemorating cowboys, and the parents of Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl killed in the mass shooting that injured U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords last year, on the Donate Life float honoring organ donors. The Greens donated their daughter's corneas.
The 2012 parade was the first in 58 years without the famed Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale horses after the company withdrew in a change of marketing strategy.