Elaborately decorated yachts, boats, dinghies and maybe a kayak or two will sail along Newport Harbor December 15 through 19 for the 113th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, hosted by the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Tens of thousands of spectators are expected to descend on Newport Beach to watch the parade, which begins at 6:30 each night from the east end of Lido Island. The parade traverses the harbor counter-clockwise, passing Marina Park and the Fun Zone on Balboa Peninsula before heading to Balboa Island and then along Coast Highway and back to Lido Island.
Steve Rosansky, President and CEO of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, noted that “after this past year, we are all eager to celebrate the positivity, happiness and excitement of the season, and to welcome the return of a beloved Newport Beach tradition.”
The tradition began in 1907 when John Scarpa, an Italian gondolier, took a group of visitors across the bay in a gondola decorated with Japanese lanterns. One year later, on July 4, 1908, the first lighted boat parade took place when Scarpa put together a loosely organized affair consisting of nine vessels—Scarpa’s gondola and eight canoes.
In 1913 the parade, then called the Illuminated Water Parade, was held again. The boats were judged and prizes for the best decorated and best lighted vessels were given. Another larger parade followed in 1914 and again in 1915.
With the exception of several years during World War II, the Tournament of Lights was held every summer from 1919 through 1949. However, by 1949 the light parade was drawing too many visitors to the harbor and creating heavy crowding and traffic congestion. The Tournament of Lights fell out of favor, but returned several years later as a Christmas celebration.
Now called the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, the event features as many as 100 boats and – despite still causing traffic congestion – the parade has been hailed as “one of the top ten holiday happenings in the nation” by the New York Times. And yes, awards are still given in a variety of categories.
As the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade moves it way through Newport Harbor, you can view the parade from almost any place on the shore free of charge.
Marina Park is the largest public viewing area along the parade route, with 177 parking spaces (which will fill up fast on parade nights) and the Lighthouse Café, a nice dining and viewing spot.
More than a dozen restaurants offer prime parade viewing, but reservations for these restaurants fill up fast on Parade nights. Restaurants near the parade route make for better options, including those that line Marine Avenue on Balboa Island. You can dine and then walk to the shore to watch the parade.
You can also watch the parade aboard a yacht cruising the harbor (several local companies offer this luxury).
For more information on Boat Parade viewing and dining options, and a downloadable map of the parade route, visit www.ChristmasBoatParade.com.