Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade Returns to Newport Harbor December 14-18

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A Boat Parade yacht in a previous parade (NB Indy file photo by Jim Collins)

The Annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade returns to Newport Harbor December 14 through 18, and it promises to be another colorful and dazzling event that will draw several hundred thousand people to view the parade over five days.

More than 100 boats are expected to participate in what is billed as America’s longest-running boat parade that’s also been hailed as one of the top holiday events in the country.

According to information from Visit Newport Beach, parade viewers can expect more over-the-top décor than ever featuring pyrotechnics, synchronized light shows, moving displays, singers, dancers and probably a Santa or two.

The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade can be enjoyed from dozens of viewing locations along the parade’s 14-mile route around Newport Harbor.

Parade Route

The 114th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade starts each night at 6:30 p.m. from the east end of Lido Island and sail along the shore of the island before making its way down the Balboa Peninsula toward Marina Park and the Balboa Fun Zone. It continues past the West Jetty and then up toward Little Balboa Island to the Balboa Island Bridge. The parade then hugs the shore of Balboa Island and continues to the other side of Balboa Island Bridge. From there, it moves up the coast past a handful of restaurants, and then past Lido Marina Village and back to Lido Island.

Marina Park is the site of the annual Boat Parade Kick-off event. Photo by Jim Collins.

Opening Night Kick-Off Event

Marina Park on Balboa Blvd. is the largest public viewing location on the parade route, and will be site of the festive kick-off event on opening night (Dec. 14).

The event includes an opening ceremony, front-row parade viewing, and a Holiday Market in partnership with Creative Communal. The Holiday Market will feature over 35 local makers, food vendors, live music, entertainment, photo ops and kid activities.

The Opening Night event starts at 4 p.m. The Holiday Market runs 4 to 8 p.m. Fireworks at 6:15 p.m. signal the start of the parade, which sails past Marina Park at approximately 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Parade Viewing

The Christmas Boat Parade can be seen from nearly anywhere along the harbor, but there are several spots that are considered prime viewing locations.

Marina Park is always a good option. It offers splendid views along the shore. Parking at Marina Park can be tricky, especially on the weekends, so arrive early to find a spot.

Lido Marina Village also offers viewing opportunities, and the parking structure usually has room most nights.

The Balboa Fun Zone is another good option, and you’ll find plenty of restaurants to make it easy to dine and watch.

Boat parade yacht in the 2021 parade (photos by Lawrence Sherwin)

Balboa Island is another excellent option—as long as you don’t try and find a coveted parking spot. Better to park along Bayside Avenue and walk to the island. The parade sails along the south side of the island before turning around at the Balboa Island bridge and hugging the shore until it reaches the other side of the bridge and then continues along Coast Highway.

If you belong to one of yacht clubs along the harbor, they all offer views of the parade.

You can also book a spot on a cruise boat and get a unique view of the parade. Advice: it can get cold on the harbor waters, so dress warm.

Some of the boat rental companies: Balboa Boat Rentals, Catalina Passenger Service, Davey’s Locker Boat Tours, Hornblower Cruises & Events, and Newport Landing Cruises.

Dine and Watch

More than a dozen restaurants throughout Newport Harbor offer prime viewing of the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, and dozens more located near the water so you can dine and then walk to the parade route.

Many restaurants offer special prix-fixe menus for the boat parade. Waterfront tables fill up early, so make reservations soon.

Restaurants on the parade route:

  • A&O Restaurant+Bar at Balboa Bay Resort
  • Circle Hook Fish Co.
  • GuacAmigos
  • HanaHaus
  • Harborside Restaurant
  • Lido Bottle Works
  • Malibu Farm Lido
  • Newport Landing Restaurant
  • Nobu
  • Rusty Pelican Restaurant
  • Sons of American Legion
  • Tavern House Kitchen + Bar
  • The Lighthouse Cafe
  • The Winery Restaurant and Wine Bar
Boat parade yacht in the 2021 parade (photos by Lawrence Sherwin)

Christmas Boat Parade History

According to the Christmas Boat Parade website, the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade began more than 100 years ago when Italian gondolier John Scarpa began the tradition in 1907 by taking a group of visitors from Pasadena across the bay in a gondola decorated with Japanese lanterns.

A year later, on July 4, the first lighted boat parade took place when Scarpa and fellow small boat operators put together a small parade of nine vessels lluminated by Japanese lanterns.

Dubbed the Illuminated Water Parade, it was held again in 1913 but this time the boats  were judged and prizes for the best decorated and best lighted vessels were given, similar to the prizes awarded at the current parade.

The parade was held another two years until WWI broke out and the parade went dark until 1919 that Joseph Beek, who operated ferry boats to take autos and passengers from Balboa Island to the peninsula, brought it back by towing floats decorated by children. Many of these floats were built in Beek’s garage and were patterned after those in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade.

After that the parade was held every summer through 1949, but city officials felt the parade was drawing too many visitors so it was deemed undesirable.

However, around this time Newport Beach City employees had installed a lighted Christmas tree on a barge and had it towed around the harbor at Christmas time while its passengers sang Christmas carols to residents on shore.

Eventually other boats joined the barge, and soon the Tournament of Lights morphed into a Christmas celebration.

Now, the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade features around 100 decorated boats of all sizes, and is hosted by the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.

For more information about the 114th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, please visit www.christmasboatparade.com.

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