You may think it’s hard to compete with winter traditions that include skiing down snowy slopes, hot chocolate that makes your breath fog and warming up before a fire. Winter holidays are mild in California but do they really capture the Christmas spirit? They do when you attend a holiday lights parade and there are many along the Southern Coast. Practice makes perfect but location does too and both are part of what makes the 110-year-old Newport Boat Parade the best in Southern California.
I’ve been attending boat parades over the past few decades and for this SoCal gal nothing is as fun as bundling up, (moderately – our blood is thin in these mild climes!) grabbing some pals and partying on the beach as we watch fantastical displays on equally fantastic vessels. Here are some of the contenders with Newport for the Best Boat Parade:
Naples Island Boat Parade, Long Beach, California
Along this short route, small boats cruise through the narrow canals of Naples Island on their way to or from Alamitos Bay. Part of the glory is how the neighborhood gets into the party. Most of the houses have been decorating their yards for decades and there’s a lot of DIY energy in the mix. They’ve taken their time to get it right – Naples has just celebrated their 72nd Boat Parade.
You can stroll the canal most nights between Dec. 1st to the end of the year to enjoy the home displays. It’s also the best way to avoid the crowds that pack the waterways during the annual parade. On the parade night, get there well before dark, park off-island and walk to the canals or park and watch along the shore of the Bay. There’s a theme each year and one of my favorite entries from the late ’90s was a group of swimming Santas. I’ll never forget watching a flotilla of wetsuit singers in the water, belting out carols and all wearing Santa hats! One parade watcher jumped from a low bridge to join them. I imagine there were many high-octane toasts before any of them got in that chilly water! This parade was my favorite until I saw the Newport Boat Parade.
San Diego Boat Parade
San Diego is my hometown, so you’d think I’d have a bias but I try to be fair. I’ve attended the San Diego Parade of Lights for years from a viewing platform on the Navy Base. It’s been a highlight of the year to enjoy dinner and then watch the boats. Other friends watch from bridges and beaches around the bay. There are also viewing parties along the waterfront downtown. Check out the Midway and Maritime Museums to register and sign up early as they often sell out. Watching from downtown is more affordable if you take the trolley or train instead of paying event prices for parking.
More boat parades have been scheduled over several nights and in San Diego, they schedule the boat parade for consecutive weekends. It makes it easier for crowd control and rain dates (yes, that can happen in our drought-ridden area.) The last few years added another viewing area in Caesar Chavez Park to help South San Diegans watch more easily. Still, getting in and out of the viewing areas takes patience as traffic around the bay can be formidable. Is the Parade of Lights a contender with the Newport Boat Parade?
Here’s what the Newport Boat Parade was like this year:
The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade.
An Italian gondolier, John Scarpa and Joseph Beek, a developer behind the Ferry Line at Balboa Island, began the 110-year Newport boat parade tradition. Scarpa decorated his gondola with Japanese lanterns and led nine canoes around the bay for the first lighted boat parade. After a break for WW1 and the Depression, the Beek family ferry renewed the holiday boat parade tradition and it’s been growing ever since. For five nights before Christmas hundreds of boats decorated in fanciful lights cruise behind the Grand Marshall’s ship.
Check the map of Newport Bay and you’ll see that there are islands, beaches, and a peninsula for watching the boats. I discovered the parade on opening night in Marina Park and was charmed from the moment I was able to park across the street. (Arriving well before the 6:15 starting time was key.)
On the opening night of the 2018 Newport Boat Parade, Albert Pujols, First Baseman, MLB All-Star with the Los Angeles Angels received a Proclamation for his charity work and support of the community before he stepped onto the lead yacht to get the party started.
Families gathered around the bay and at Marina Park. The Young Americans song and dance troupe entertained, vendors offered food and drink and everyone enjoyed the warm-ish night singing along as the boats passed. The Newport Beach Boat Parade takes place nightly through December 23rd and raises funds for the American Childhood Cancer Organization.
Does Newport Beach host the Best Boat Parade?
For 2018 I have to choose the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade as the best in Southern California. However, I concede that there are other boat parades in Huntington Beach, Oceanside, as well as through the Venice Canals in Los Angeles that I missed this year. Perhaps you’ve chosen a different best boat parade? Leave a comment and let me know where and why. I love the holiday lights in Southern California and look forward to expanding my “research!”
Boat Parades now that is something really new for me. I am already in love with these colourfully decorated boats. So, really cant decide which one we should for and which we can leave. I can feel the vibes and aura they might be creating around.
It’s a fun tradition for sure. Many feel that the best holiday boat parade is the one that’s easiest to attend.
This looks like a fun boat parade. I love all the lights and decorations on this boat! I didn’t realize a lot of these Southern California towns have boat parades, and that some of them have been going on for decades.
I hadn’t realized how long this celebration has been going either! So fun to learn what’s behind popular events.
This looks absolutely amazing! I don’t know why I’ve never even thought about a Christmas boat parade before, maybe it’s because I live in the cold on the east coast…but it seems extremely well organized and perfect to bring out the holiday spirit!
I get that the idea of a boat parade in the heart of winter is hard to imagine when you live with hard seasons. We’re lucky here in the southland.
Wow! That looks so much fun! I did not know boat parade tradition is so old. Love the whole festive mood and celebrations. There are some moments which have to be enjoyed like this. 🙂
You’re right – the pictures hardly match the experience.
Oh, what a cute tradition to bring the holiday spirit to the warmer climes of California! I love Christmas light shows, and this really takes advantage of the proximity to water and the milder weather allowing for these kind of things. They all look like fun, but Newport certainly looked extravagant – especially with the fireworks too!
This parade went all out to make sure everyone had a great time.
This is such a great way to get into the festive spirit without the ‘typical’ snowy Christmas! I love Christmas lights and seeing all the boats float by is very cool – I’d love to visit some of these next year – I wonder if the Venice Canals in LA are any more festive than the Italian one!
I’d love to compare Venice, Italy and Venice, California one day! I’m sure that the European version would be thrilling.
Christmas season is the best time to watch boat parades. It’s a delight for our eyes specially the kids to see colorful lanterns and
hear joyous music. I hope in the next years to come, not only it will be just several nights long but maybe every weekend for the month of December?
Christopher, you have a great idea. I hope they take you up on it.
This looks like so much fun! I live in Florida and we have one in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, plus a smaller scale one in my town. I love that the grand prize winners wore the paper President masks. I have quite a few of those. LOL Great fun!
Would love to see your boat parades in Florida. Bet they’re warmer than ours!
Wow, I didn’t know about these colorful boat parades down the California coast! I will certainly make time for one next year!
Bundle up and find a spot. It’s a fun tradition.
A boat parade! I have never heard of one, let alone experiencing it. It looks pretty amazing – quite festive! We have such well-lit boats here every day (in Dubai) cruising the river, serving dinner on board. Kind of takes away the festive feeling if it’s right there all the time, every day! Also, they’re all the same looking wooden abras, not different boats like your videos. The Newport Boat Parade looks gorgeous!
Dubain always sounds amazing to me. I’m sure our boats in California are more modest but perhaps a bit more wild?