Everything You Need to Know About the Christmas Boat Parade

A Cherished Newport Beach Holiday Tradition

For over 100 years, the small city of Newport Beach has dazzled Southern California residents with their spectacular winter boat parade. Whether you watch it from the living room of a friend's home on Newport Bay, from the walkways that surround the Bay's islands, from a yacht, or from a restaurant, it is delightful to watch the the gorgeous vessels as they glide by, loaded down with bright lights, Santa Claus, reindeer, Christmas trees, gingerbread houses and many other holiday decorations.

Pictures of the Newport Beach Boat ParadeCredit: Photo taken by author, Deborah-Diane

History of the Newport Beach Boat Parade

The parade began at the beginning of the 20th Century with nine decorated private yachts. Since then, more and more Southern California residents have gotten involved. Currently, over 200 boats and yachts are officially entered in the parade each year and are lavishly strung with Christmas lights and decorated for the holidays. In order to be an official entrant, your vessel must be decorated and participating during each of the five nights involved. In addition, many smaller boats are decorated and "unofficially" take part in the parade. Add to that the multitude of lovely homes that line the waterfront in Newport Harbor that are also brightly decorated for the occasion, and the result is spectacular. Over time this event has grown into the largest yacht parade on the West Coast, and one of the premier locations for viewing holiday lights, with approximately one million people coming to view it every year.

When Is the Newport Beach Boat Parade?

Although many of the boats and homes remain decorated for several weeks in December, the official parade lasts for five evenings, beginning on the third Wednesday in December, and continuing until the following Sunday. It starts at 6:00 p.m. and lasts until around 9:30 p.m.

Pictures of the Newport Beach Boat ParadeCredit: Photo taken by author, Deborah-Diane

Take a Cruise During this Holiday Event

One of the best ways to enjoy the lights on the bay is to be out on the water with the other boats. If you can hitch a ride with a friend who owns a vessel of any size, you'll have a delightful time. However, if you don't have a boat available to you, you could make reservations with a company that takes people out. For example, check out NewportBeachBoatParade.com or call them at (949) 673-1435. They have two nightly cruises each evening during the five December nights when the parade takes place. One cruise departs at 5:45 and the other at 8:00, and each one lasts about two hours. The large vessels that they use are also lavishly decorated and range in size from 60-80 feet long, and carry between 48 and 140 passengers. They serve snacks, desserts and have full service bars on board. You are also allowed to bring your own food and beverages, with the exception of alcohol. The ships are comfortable and have restrooms on board.

Reservations are recommended for guests who wish to take a cruise during the parade. However, there are often last-minute cancellations, so don't be afraid to call them and see if they have an opening. Plan to arrive at your assigned departure location at least an hour before your cruise takes off. The traffic in the area during the parade is terrible, so allow plenty of time to reach your destination.

However, if you are not available during those specific five days, don't despair. The decorations on the homes, and many of the yachts, are still lit on other December evenings before and after the official nights of the boat parade. There will also be a lot less traffic on those evenings.

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Enjoy Watching the Yachts from a Restaurant

One fun way to watch the boat parade is from the warm comfort of a restaurant. Or, have dinner first and then stroll down to the shore or dock and watch the parade up close. Here are some great Newport Beach restaurants with delightful views of the event:

The Rusty Pelican at (949) 642-3431

Chart House Restaurant at (949) 548-5889

Billy's at the Beach at (949) 722-1100

The Cannery Restaurant at (949) 566-0060

Back Bay Café at (949) 729-1144

Villa Nova at (949) 642-7880

Woody's Wharf at (949) 675-0474

Enjoying dinner and the boat show at the same time is a delightful way to celebrate the holidays. However, you will need to have reservations at most of these restaurants weeks in advance.

Watch the Parade from Your Hotel

If you are interested in staying in a hotel and enjoying the Newport Beach Boat Parade during your visit, one excellent resort is the Balboa Bay Club and Resort. In fact, many private companies have their annual Christmas parties at the Balboa Bay Club to enable their employees to enjoy the parade. The resort is well located on the bay, and is an excellent spot to stay and view the event from either the hotel dining room, or the privacy of your own room.

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Newport Beach Weather during December

Although we don't have freezing temperatures in Southern California, the winter weather near the water can be chilly. If you are watching the parade outdoors on a boat, a dock, or from the shore, you may want to have a warm coat or a blanket with you. The average evening temperature during the month of December is about 55-62 degrees, so it is wise to be prepared for cool temperatures, even if the daytime temperature has been pleasant.

Surprisingly, other than the chill, weather is rarely a concern during the boat parade. It has only rained during the parade 7 times during the 200 parade nights over the past 40 years. In addition, the weather has only caused the parade to be canceled twice ... once due to heavy rain and once due to heavy fog.

If you plan to spend time this year in Newport Beach, California, you may also be interested in reading some of these other articles about things to do in the area:

Top 10 Things To Do In Newport Beach California

Top 10 Things To Do In Laguna Beach

Come Explore the California Tidepools

Cheap Hotels near Disneyland

Family Fun: Your California Beach, Golf and Disneyland Vacation!

Why We Love the Beach House Restaurant Laguna Beach

A Delightful Book for Both Residents and Tourists

Newport Beach (Then & Now)
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Enjoy the comparison of the "good old days" and the present in Newport Beach.