Rated by The New York Times as one of the country's top holiday happenings, the Newport Beach Boat Parade is a must-see in The OC during the holidays. Started over a century ago by an Italian gondolier and one of the developers of Balboa Island, the first occurrence of the parade featured a gondola and eight canoes adorned with Japanese lanterns. More than a hundred years later, you could say the 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, more than 200 ships will glide by; prizes are awarded for the best lights and animation, best music, and best humor and originality, among other categories. In addition to the public access areas along the harbor, a few of the prime viewing spots include the Newport Beach Fun Zone, Balboa Village, Harborside Restaurant, The Rusty Pelican, and Newport Sea Base (reservations required).
Also part of the festivities is the “Ring of Lights” competition. Bayfront businesses and privately owned estates, docks, and yards are decked out in extravagant holiday cheer, all vying for a prize and creating a “ring of lights” around Newport Bay that is truly a sight to behold.
Another way to view all the glitz is from a boat in the parade; this 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.