The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade is proof that you don’t need snowfall to create a shimmering winter wonderland during the holidays. Started in 1908 by an Italian gondolier and one of the developers of Balboa Island, the first Newport Beach parade featured a gondola and eight canoes adorned with Japanese lanterns. More than a century later, the Orange County event has gotten considerably more impressive.
Local boat owners lavishly decorate their vessels, then join in a dazzling floating parade for five consecutive nights through the enormous Newport Harbor. Anything that floats is welcome to join—attendees are guaranteed to see a fabulously decorated mix of billionaire’s yachts, luxury sailboats, day cruisers, and, to this day, even decorated canoes and kayaks. For those watching from the shore, in about 15 minutes, sometimes more than 200 ships will glide by; prizes are awarded for categories such as best lights and animation, best music, and best humor and originality. You can watch the Newport Beach boat parade at public access areas along the harbor; other prime viewing spots include the Balboa Fun Zone, Balboa Village, and “Dine and Watch” restaurants such as Harborside Restaurant and The Rusty Pelican.
Another part of the festivities is the “Ring of Lights” competition. Bayfront businesses and privately owned estates, docks, and yards are decked out in holiday cheer, all vying for a prize and creating a “ring of lights” around Newport Bay that is truly a sight to behold.
You can even view the parade from a boat that’s featured in the festivities—that way, you can see all the boats and all the gussied-up properties along the shore. Newport Landing offers Boat Parade Cruises that run three times a night during the festivities.
Can’t make it during the parade dates? Throughout December, evening cruises typically run along the shoreline, where you can still see plenty of illuminated homes and boats.