Christmas Light Boat Parades Brighten California December Nights

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Boat in San Diego decorated with Christmas lights
The San Diego Bay Parade of Lights is a time-honored holiday tradition brought to San Diego by the boating community. Photo credit:

Each year during everyone’s favorite holiday season, coastal California has a unique and magical set of Christmas events: boat parades! Sailors deck out their boats of all shapes and sizes with lights, wreaths, garlands and more to create Christmas memories like no other. Whether viewing by land or by sea, check out this list of all the best Christmas light boat parades this year.

Where to Find the Best Boat Parade of Lights in California

The San Diego Mission Bay boat parade is a colorful sight.
Find a spot at Quivira Basin to watch the annual San Diego Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights. Photo credit: Spring Mountain Gallery

Mission Bay, San Diego

The annual Mission Bay Parade of Lights features more than 100 boats and yachts decorated with lights. The parade at Quivira Basin at 6 p.m. on December 10. The event is totally free! The organizers recommend watching from Crown Point, the east side of Vacation Island or the west side of Fiesta Island.

boat parades
FantaSEA on the Bay is the theme for the 52nd Annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. Photo credit: 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 FantaSEA on the Bay. A free event, the parade begins at 5:30 p.m. on December 11 and 18 at Shelter Island.

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.

Spectators can participate in the Dana Point Boat Parade.
Watch from shore or hop onboard a boat to be part of the annual Dana Point Boat Parade. Photo credit: Mike Altishin

Dana Point, Orange County

Dana Point’s annual Boat Parade of Lights features about 90 decorated boats vying for awards. The categories include Best Theme, Best Animation and Most Colorful. Watch the boats light up the night at 7:30 p.m. on December 6, 7, 13 and 14. The parade starts at 7:30 p.m., but festivities begin at 4:30 p.m. with fun activities for the whole family. There is a free trolley shuttle once you park.

Newport Beach, Orange County

The 113th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade features million-dollar yachts, small boats, kayaks and canoes at 6:30 p.m. nightly from December 14-18.  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 December 2-31.  The 75-minute cruises are a festive way to see harbor Christmas lights. During the five nights of the boat parade, the cruises travel in the parade. Rates start at $20.

Marina del Rey's annual boat parade is a tradition embraced by Californians.
Kids Make Holidays Bright was a previous theme of the Marina del Rey Annual Christmas Boat Parade. Photo credit: Marina del Rey

Marina del Rey, Los Angeles

This year’s Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade is back and ready to float your Christmas boat on December 10.

The event begins at 5:55 p.m. with a fireworks display to kick off the annual Christmas 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. The parade lasts about two hours.

In addition, the Marina Lights usually glow all month long in Burton Chace Park. Free entertainment and holiday movies on Saturdays.

Half Moon Bay's aboat parade is a delighftul event in a laid-back setting.
The 2019 Pillar Point Harbor Lighted Boat Festival took place throughout December in Half Moon Bay. The charming coastal city is located about 35 minutes south of San Francisco. Photo credit: Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County

Check out Nights of Lights in Half Moon Bay this year. This festive event includes a range of activities every Friday night from November 25-December 16, including a Christmas tree lighting, a holiday movie night, a visit from Santa himself, and the return of the lighted boat parade after an extended hiatus! Event dates and times vary. Check the schedule for more details.

Half Moon Bay is located about 35 minutes south of San Francisco.

More Ways to Celebrate Christmas

Best Drive Through Christmas Lights Across the USA

Christmas Lights Displays in the Northeast U.S.

Christmas Lights Displays in the Southeast U.S.

 Christmas Lights Displays in Texas and the Southwest U.S.

Christmas Lights Displays in the Midwest

Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.
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