There’s nothing better than watching a parade during the holiday season. Wait!…maybe there is. It’s a boat parade!
You can’t help but get into the spirit of the season with lights gleaming off the cool ripples of the water and the holiday sounds coming from the lavishly decorated vessels. That’s why at SoCal Field Trips, we have created an extensive list of Holiday Boat Parades in Southern California for your enjoyment!
From Santa Barbara to San Diego, we have listed over 14 spectacular events. You can either attend a large one like the L.A. Harbor Holiday Afloat Parade with over 100 boats or a smaller one such as the Naples Island Annual Boat Parade, which has a hometown feel.
So spend the evening with your family and friends down at the water front enjoying the sights and sounds of the holiday season!
Holiday Boat Parades in Orange County
Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade of Lights, Dana Point (Dec. 9, 10, 16 & 17) ~ FREE
Boat parade by water’s edge at 7:30 pm. 100 boaters compete in the categories of style, intricacy and outlandishness. Past years’ entries have featured towering light displays and inflatable snowmen riding motorcycles and planes. In 2008, one boater even outfitted his craft with rotating wooden attachments that gave the appearance of dolphins swimming alongside.
Seating is somewhat limited, so you may have to stand during the duration of the parade. Yet the standing areas offer the best views of the parade. See here for Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade of Lights boat ride tours.
Huntington Harbor Boat Parade, Huntington Beach (Dec. 10-11) ~ FREE
‘Symphony of Lights’ is this year’s theme which means decorators will have a wide list of motifs to choose from. There are certainly many different forms and traditions of music from different cultures. Pick your favorite and ‘run with it.’ Beside the fun and excitement, they have 16 trophies to award in categories ranging from ‘Most Religious’ to ‘Best Commercial Entry’.
Viewing areas are limited to tourists from outside the harbor area and parking is extremely limited. Your best bet is to park yourself at one of the many bridges and you can catch a glimpse of the parade as it passes by.
The Christmas Boat Parade is one of the oldest and most popular holiday traditions in southern California and even the nation. In 1908, a gondola and eight canoes decked out in Japanese lanterns started the tradition, which has grown into a spectacle expected to draw more than a million viewers over its five nights. The parade starts at 6:30 p.m. with boats leaving from Bay Island, making their way around the harbor, and returning at 9 p.m. In all, there are just under 100 registered boats taking part in the contests.
The parade is best experienced on land watching the boats or by reserving a boat ride through one of the commercial boat operators at Newport Landing. See here for Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade boat ride tours
Holiday Boat Parades in Los Angeles
Venice Christmas Boat Parade, Venice (Dec. 3) ~ FREE
A truly local holiday tradition returns with the 35th annual Venice Canals Holiday Boat Parade! Gondolas, row boats, kayaks and other mini vessels are decked out in twinkly lights and paddled by locals in Santa suits and pointy hats to the theme of Jingle Bell Rock.
The parade route begins at Eastern and Sherman Canals—to catch a glimpse of everyone at the start, arrive by 3:30 p.m. when they all line up.
L.A. Harbor Holiday Afloat Parade, Los Angeles (Dec. 3) ~ FREE
Sponsored by the Port of Los Angeles, the parade starts in the East Basin near Banning’s Landing Community Center in Wilmington and takes approximately 90 minutes to cover the entire parade route up the Port of Los Angeles Main Channel. Spectators may view the procession from several points along the Main Channel, including:
- Banning’s Landing Community Center, 100 E. Water Street, Wilmington
- Battleship IOWA, 250 S. Harbor Blvd, San Pedro
- Ports O’ Call Village, 1100 Nagoya Way, San Pedro
- Cruise Ship Promenade, Harbor Boulevard and Swinford Street, San Pedro
- Downtown Harbor, between Fire Station 112 and LA Maritime Museum, San Pedro
- 22nd Street Landing, 141 W. 22nd Street, San Pedro
- SS Lane Victory, Berth 46 at the end of Miner Street, San Pedro
- Cabrillo Marina, Holiday Harbor and Cabrillo Way Marina, San Pedro
Viewers are invited to enjoy festive pre-parade events beginning at 4 p.m. at Banning’s Landing Community Center and aboard the Battleship IOWA in San Pedro.
Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade, Marina del Rey (Dec. 10) ~ FREE
Numerous boats decorated with holiday themes parade through the marina to participate in a contest. The vessels are judged for Best Theme, Best Music, Best Lights, Best Animation, Best Spirit, Best Live Band and other categories.
A traditional fireworks display kicks off the evening at 5:55 pm on the jetty near the entrance of the main channel.
You can view the parade from anyone of the many restaurants in Fisherman’s Village or stake your place along the channel. Arrive early to grab the best seat! Spectators will be able to park in any one of the ten county public parking lots in the Marina Parking fees for all county lots are waived. No street parking is allowed.
Long Beach Parade of 1000 Lights, Long Beach (Dec. 10) ~ FREE
Shoreline Yacht Club presents the 34th Annual Parade of 1,000 lights. The best places to view the decorated vessels will be at Shoreline Village, Rainbow Harbor and from the Queen Mary. The parade route will begin outside Shoreline Marina, move toward Island White, circle near the beach, move into and through Shoreline Marina and on to Rainbow Harbor past Parker’s Lighthouse Restaurant, Pine Avenue Pier, Gladstone’s departing Rainbow Harbor passing by the Queen Mary. The public is invited to participate as a spectator or by entering a boat in the parade.
Paid parking is available at Shoreline Village, the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Pike. Metered street parking and pre-paid ticket boxes are available at the Downtown Marina.
King Harbor Holiday Boat Parade, Redondo Beach (Dec. 14) ~ FREE
Boats decorated in a festive holiday spirit will circle the marina 3 times and be judged in a variety of categories. The event kicks off with a Holiday Concert and Santa on the Pier from 2 – 4 pm.
Naples Island 70th Annual Boat Parade, Long Beach (Dec. 17) ~ FREE
The large boat parade starts at 6 p.m. with the small boat parade following at 6:45 pm. The parade will begin off Naples Plaza Park, with the large boats cruising along the outside of the islands and small boats navigating the canals.
Free parking is available at Alamitos Bay Marina off 2 Street and Marina Drive, just over the Davies Bridge from Naples. Mothers Beach off Ravenna and Appian Way has metered parking, while Bayshore and Ocean Boulevard offers paid beach parking.
Holiday Boat Parades in San Diego
Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights, Oceanside (Dec 10) ~ FREE
Fishing boats, sail boats, yachts, kayaks and dingys dressed up in holiday swag circle the Oceanside Harbor to enchant onlookers at the harbor, restaurants and beach. Many of the boats feature people dressed up like Santa waving to the crowd!
One of the best viewing spots is along the side of the Oceanside Harbor near the fishing dock and police station. From this vantage point, you can see the parade twice. The concrete walkway that surrounds much of the harbor is also good for spectating the event.
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights, San Diego (Dec. 11 & 18) ~ FREE
The annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights has been a holiday tradition in San Diego since 1971. The procession of approximately 80 lavishly decorated boats is also one of the most iconic events in the region. This year’s theme is “It Began with a Roar – San Diego Zoo Celebrates 100 Years!”
The procession takes around two hours and the best spots to get a good view are Shelter Island (at the start of the route), Harbor Island, The Embarcadero, Seaport Village and the Ferry Landing on Coronado. See here for San Diego Parade of Lights boat ride tours.
Holiday Boat Parades in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Annual Parade of Lights, Santa Barbara (Dec. 11) ~ FREE
The 31st Annual Parade of Lights festivities begin with a Santa’s Village event at 3 p.m. on the City Pier. There will be a visit from Santa and tons of snow for kids to play in.
At 5:30 p.m. the annual boat parade will begin with approximately 25-50 boats motoring, sailing, and paddling the Santa Barbara Coastline. The event culminates with a 5-7 minute fireworks display at approximately 7:00 p.m.
The best viewing locations include Stearns Wharf and the breakwater.
Holiday Boat Parades in Ventura
Oxnard Annual Boat Parade of Lights & Festival, Oxnard (Dec. 10) ~ FREE
Channel Islands Harbor will hold its annual Parade of Lights from 12:00 – 8:00 pm, with the parade beginning at 7 pm. Everyone is invited to enjoy a full day of holiday activities, including a snowplay area, Santa and Mrs. Claus, holiday artists’ market, exhibitors, live music, children’s activities, and much more.
Santa and his reindeer will ride through the sky, to mark the beginning of the parade!
The parade starts in front of Peninsula Park and heads to the Main Channel, turns at Hobie Beach, loops in front of the launch ramp then heads back to Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club and repeats the route for second run.
The parade can be viewed from parks and walkways that line the route as well as from most Harbor restaurants. Boat charters are available for those who want to watch the parade from the water.
Ventura Harbor Parade of Lights, Ventura (Dec. 16 & 17) ~ FREE
Pack up the kids and come down to Ventura Harbor Village for the 38th Annual Parade of Lights!
Arrive early to partake in Ventura Harbor Village’s Winter Wonderland & Holiday Marketplace with festive carolers, photos with Santa & Mrs. Claus, live reindeer, faux snowfall, holiday gift shopping, European Christmas Marketplace with artisans, and more! Saturday only, Aspen Helicopter welcomes Santa & his sleigh to fly overhead for the opening of the parade at 6:30 pm.
Make your reservations now to dine seaside or arrive early. Onsite parking is free or instead, ride the Downtown –Harbor Trolley to the event.
Happy Field Tripping!