LA's Christmas Boat Parades: Newport Beach, the Marina, LA Harbor, and More
Los Angeles is all about outdoor activities at Christmastime—and nothing says "This is why I moved to Southern California" quite like a Christmas boat parade. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, boat owners gussy up their crafts and parade them up and down waterways for applauding spectators, who line the harbors and marinas from Dana Point to Ventura. Driving around looking at holiday lights is great; letting them float by you at one of these dozen sailing holiday parades is even better.
Boat owners from all over Orange County decorate their schooners and yachts to celebrate the first boat parade of the season and compete for awards. Kids ages six to 12 help choose the winners each year. If viewing from shore isn't close enough, Dana Wharf offers cruises that trail the action on a 90-minute ride with holiday music. There is plenty of room to view the glowing boats from land, though, wandering the decorated harbor. Local merchants light things up and keep the waterside festive.
The parade of illuminated boats floating through the LA Waterfront has been lighting up the nation's busiest port for 57 years. Pick a spot anywhere along the waterfront, or kick off the evening with the festival at Banning’s Landing Community Center in Wilmington.
Long Beach has its own boat parade tradition, giving a visual feast to anyone waiting and watching from Shoreline Village, Rainbow Harbor, or the Queen Mary. Reservations at Parker's Lighthouse are bound to be hard to come by, but a table by the window there would be prime viewing territory.
A past winner. Photo courtesy of Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade
The Marina's parade has been delighting Angelenos since 1963 and lights up the sky with a fireworks display before lighting up the main harbor with spectacularly decorated boats. The floating pageant does three leisurely laps before calling it a night. Before the parade, families can enjoy Marina del Rey's free Snow Wonder event, with real snow, sledding, arts & crafts, face painting, live DJ, food trucks, and more.
The annual Parade of Lights and Fireworks kicks off the holidays in Ventura Harbor. The two-day celebration includes afternoon visits from the Claus family and snowfall on Saturday on the Ventura Harbor Village Main Lawn.
Redondo Beach celebrates the season with festive maritime displays from King Harbor Marina to the Pier. Anywhere with a view of the main channel is the place to be, whether it's perched on a breakwater or seated in a tough-to-reserve restaurant.
Naples Island Annual Holiday Boat Parade. Photo by John Schuman
The Island of Naples hosts its annual Holiday Boat Parade, visible from several vantage points around the island. Homes are festively decorated; carolers wander the small island singing, and creatively lit boats get everyone in the holiday mood.
The Parade of Lights Celebration at Channel Islands Harbor gets Oxnard in the seasonal spirit with waterside entertainment, children's activities, strolling carolers, the Claus family, and a snow play area. Activities start during the day and continue right up until the evening's boat parade, which is kicked off by Santa flying across the sky.
The annual Huntington Harbour Holiday Boat Parade cruises through the harbor for two nights; the first night the judging takes place, while the second night is a chance for the honorees to strut their stuff.
Newport Beach Boat Parade. Photo Courtesy of Robert Downs Photography
A Christmastime tradition, the country's oldest boat parade sets the harbor alight for five consecutive nights. Beautifully decorated yachts, boats, kayaks, and canoes sail along the harbor to "Seas the Holidays." The parade starts and finishes off Bay Island, sailing against the backdrop of the Ring of Lights contest, in which bayside homeowners go all out with their holiday lights. (And if you're heading down, we can suggest 25 things to do while you're in Newport Beach.)
The annual Venice Canals Holiday Boat Parade punts its way down the windy canals of Venice, between homes that challenge the boats for best dressed. Pick a bridge, any bridge, to enjoy a close-up view of the festive floating display.
The Huntington Harbor Cruise of Lights rings in the season with its annual inverse boat parade—in which the boat sails past an array of fully decked out homes in the harbor. While the lights can be seen without setting sail, the best way to see them is definitely from the gentle boat ride gliding past—especially since the event is a fundraiser for Youth Music Education Programs.
Originally published December 3, 2011