From canoes to million dollar yachts, holiday boat parades feature vessels all decked out for the yuletide season. Whether viewing from shore or onboard a vessel, holiday boat parades are a lot of fun. A signature California event, these themed boat parades are a magical (and socially distanced) way to celebrate the holidays. Fireworks and music round out holiday festivities along the California coast.
Where to Find the Best Boat Parade of Lights in California
With miles of coastline and picturesque marinas, it’s no wonder that boat parades are a popular holiday attraction in California.
Each year, a new theme inspires boat captains to decorate their boats for a friendly competition. It’s all in good fun. And magical to watch! Elaborate decorations include twinkling lights and decorations, palm trees, inflatable reindeer and Santa. Viewing from shore is free. Or book a cruise on one of the participating parade boats and ride with Santa.
Mission Bay San Diego
The Christmas Boat Parade of Lights features more than 100 boats and yachts decorated with lights. They typically sail from Quivira Basin in Mission Bay. Best viewing is from Crown Point, the east side of Vacation Island or the west side of Fiesta Island. Free. The boat parade begins at 6pm from Quivira Basin. For upcoming dates and times, please visit the San Diego Tourism Authority.
San Diego Bay
A holiday tradition brought to San Diego by the boating community, the Annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights features about 80 lavishly decorated boats. This year’s theme is The Twelve Days of Christmas. A free event, the parade begins at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 and 20, 2020.
About 100,000 San Diego residents and visitors are expected to attend, so plan to get there early to secure your viewing spot. The parade will proceed to the pier at Cesar Chavez Park before making the turn to Coronado. This gives spectators another chance to view the parade.
Please note that some changes have been made. Due to county and state health regulations, there will be no awards dinner this year.
Dana Point, Orange County
Find a good spot to watch or join the parade via the Dana Wharf Whale Watching cruise boats. Due to Covid-19, seating will be at 50 percent capacity. Kids under 2 ride free. Onboard, enjoy holiday music, a cash bar and close up views of competing boats.
Marina del Rey, Los Angeles
This year’s Marina del Rey’s Holiday Boat Parade has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In years past, a fireworks display kicks off the Annual Holiday Boat Parade that cruises through the main channel. Narration on a PA system is available at Burton Chace Park and Fisherman’s Village. These are the best spots for parade viewing. Arrive early to find parking for this free popular event.
In addition, the Marina Lights usually glow all month long in Burton Chace Park. Free entertainment, holiday movies, and place on Saturdays.
Newport Beach, Orange County
The 112th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade features million dollar yachts, small boats, kayaks and canoes at 5:30 p.m. nightly Dec. 16-20, 2020. The parade starts at the east end of Lido Island. The first public viewing destination is at the 10.5-acre Marina Park. The park offers 177 parking spaces and a nautical-themed playground. There’s also a picnic area and a sailing center.
In addition, Newport Landing offers Holiday Boat Cruises from Dec. 4, 2020 – Jan. 3, 2021. The 75-minute cruises are a festive way to see harbor holiday lights. During the five nights of the boat parade, the cruises travel in the parade. Rates start at $32.
Venice, Los Angeles
The 35th Annual Venice Canals Holiday Boat Parade parade launches at 6 p.m. Dec. 5, 2020. Anyone with a boat can join the parade, which starts at Albee Farm Bridge and heads south, turning around before Circus Bridge. Enhancing the event are the Venice Canals Christmas Lights.
Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County
This year, the Pillar Point Harbor Lighted Boat Festival has been canceled.
Typically, the parade features festively decorated boats throughout December. Prior to the parade, a boat decorating contest takes place. At that time, the best-decorated boat is chosen. Local shops in the Half Moon Bay area serve holiday snacks and drinks. In addition, Santa Claus makes a special appearance along with the Half Moon Bay Choir and San Mateo Elks Band. Half Moon Bay is located about 35 minutes south of San Francisco.