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2023 Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

Overview of Newport Beach Boat Parade

The Newport Beach Boat Parade is the premier Christmas event not only for Orange County and Los Angeles but Southern California. With over 100 years of history, the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade is viewed by over a million people each year. Newport Harbor comes alive with decorations for the boat parade. Homes, yachts, docks whole landscapes are transformed into a magical holiday experience. Newport Beach begins its holiday decorations after Thanksgiving and by the first of December the harbor is richly illuminated with thousands of lights and hundreds of themed estates.

History of Newport Beach Boat Parade

The Newport Beach Boat Parade beginnings were a far cry from what you will witness these days in the parade. Newport Beach Boat Parade began in 1907 with John Scarpa an Italian gondolier and Joseph Beek a developer and owner of the Balboa Ferry Line. The tradition began with John Scarpa taking a group of visitors from Pasadena across the bay in a gondola decorated with Japanese lanterns. A year later the first lighted boat parade took place. Scarpa along with his fellow small boat operators put together a loosely organized event consisting of nine vessels. The parade illuminated by Japanese lanterns was led by Scarpa’s gondola and followed by eight canoes.

In 1913 what was then called the Illuminated Water Parade was held again. The boats were judged and prizes for the best decorated and most spectacularly lit vessels were given. A larger parade followed in 1914 and in 1915 an even larger parade was held. As many as forty launches, canoes and rowboats participated in the celebration. The spectacular event featured a derelict boat hull that was set afire, followed by a dramatic "rescue” of passengers, also a "Battle of Fireworks” between two launches and the explosion of two underwater mines took place. It is hard to imagine underwater mines going off and a burning ship in today’s Newport Harbor!

After 1915 there would be no parade for several years. This was due in part by World War I and a severe depression hitting Newport Harbor. It was not until 1919 that Joseph Beek brought the parade back to life. Joseph constructed floats in his garage and then towed the decorated floats around the harbor. The main spectators and participants were children.

The parade continued through the roaring 20’s and such developments like the construction of the Pacific Coast Hwy and bridge on the upper bay. With greater access to Newport Beach the parade continued to grow in popularity. The Great Depression did not derail the parade and World War II made Newport Harbor one of the largest commercial ports on the West Coast and the parade continued to flourish growing larger every year.

By 1949 the parade was drawing so many visitors that the city council decided to discontinue the parade over concerns of heavy crowding and traffic congestion. The parade however took on an underground flavor with the city employees outfitting a barge with a lighted tree and then towing it around the bay. There were also carolers onboard that sang to those viewing from shore.

Within a year there was a ferryboat that was used in place of the barge as the lead in the parade and lighted boats began joining in behind to join the fun. The dates of the parade changed as well from the July 4 celebration to a Christmas celebration. This marks the beginning of the parade as we know it today. In 1953 Newport Beach continued to grow with the National Boy Scouts of America jamboree held here, bringing over 50,000 boy scouts from all over the country to Newport.

The Newport Beach Boat Parade continued to grow throughout the 50’s and with the Irvine Company building developments of the 60’s and early 70’s brought more and more visitors and residents to the Newport Beach area and as a result more and more families made the parade part of their holiday traditions.

In 1973 however the Newport Beach Boat Parade was canceled due to of all things the energy crisis. It did resume the following year. Over the next several years with such events as the huge fire of 1975 which burned down a block at mariner’s mile and the passing of John Wayne the parade flourished. By the early 80’s the parade had solidified as the premier holiday boat parade event on the West Coast. In 2002 the Newport Beach Boat Parade was coined "one of the top ten holiday happenings in the country” by the New York Times. This is quite an impressive outcome for a parade that had its origins at the turn of the century with a gondolier and a vision. Back to top

Options for Viewing the Newport Beach Boat Parade

However you view the parade it will be an experience that you will not soon forget. Here are the options for viewing the parade. You can view the parade from shore either from one of the public access areas along the harbor, from one of the many restaurants that line the harbor, or by ship either in the parade or stationary in the bay.

For shore based options for viewing the Newport Beach Boat Parade here are some popular locations to view the parade. Balboa boardwalk on the Balboa Peninsula, along East Balboa Blvd (only the non residential harbor access points), Peninsula Point Beach, Pirates Cove on the southern most part of Newport Bay (Corona Del Mar), along Bayside Drive (only the non residential harbor access points), all around Balboa Island, Little Island, Collins Island, Lido Park, Lido Isle, and most of the number streets on Balboa Peninsula (again only at public access points)

Another option for shore based viewing of the Newport Beach Boat Parade is the numerous restaurants that line the bay. Restaurants such as the Newport Landing Restaurant, Harborside Restaurant, Joe’s Crab Shack, Rusty Pelican, Charthouse, and Villa Nova are just some of the restaurants that provide a view of the parade.

Shore based viewing has some advantages such as it is usually free except for those opting for the restaurants. The downsides of shore based are pretty numerous including a limited view of the parade both as it passes by and of all of the homes and estates that are in full décor, a short experience overall as the parade lasts about 15 minutes from shore, and a overall feeling of being removed the actual parade happenings.

For many the third option of seeing the Newport Beach Boat Parade by ship is the way to go. It does require a bit more planning as reservations should be made at least a week out and a month or more is not uncommon especially for weekend dates. But besides the additional planning, seeing the parade by ship gives you a full appreciation of the parade and not only the ships in full décor, but all of the homes and estates as well. There would be no other way to view all of these homes except by boat. Instead of the parade passing you by, cruise along and see not just one ship at a time, but many ships, homes, and landscapes all of which to view in full décor often at the same time. Amenities onboard the ships make for the most comfortable viewing experience and upstairs and enclosed viewing areas all offer vantage points for viewing the parade. There is an important distinction between ships that cruise "in the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade" and those that view it as it passes by. Several providers of ships that are in the parade include Newport Landing & Davey's Locker. The Catalina Flyer views the parade from a stationary point in the bay. Cruises in the parade are 65 - 80 minutes in length and there are three times nightly every day of the parade (note: you should make reservations for the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday trips as far in advance as possible). Back to top

What you can expect to see during the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade?

As the name suggests the Newport Beach Boat Parade is centered on boats or probably a better term would be ships, well and boats and all sorts of other water craft. With over 200 plus entrants in the parade it has it all. The Newport Beach Boat Parade also is about the homes and estates in full décor (in fact there is a separate contest just for this category called "The Ring Of Lights”), and the people participating in the parade (guests, musicians, spectators, boat owners, families, friends). So how does the boat parade go, what can you see? Well this depends greatly on how and where you are seeing the boat parade.

For those of you viewing the parade from shore it is a 15 minute event in which 200 plus ships and other watercraft pass by, unless you are located by one of the major viewing points, music may or may not be heard. The lead boats are usually the ones in the running for awards. There may be some breaks in the parade as parade control boats stop the flow of the parade for cross traffic etc. There may be some cheering from other spectators, but that is pretty much it. It is a fun 15 minutes, but with driving down, parking, and then driving back it can be a pretty big time investment for 15 minutes.

Viewing from a restaurant or other commercial local is about the same as viewing from shore except there is the ambiance of the establishment you are watching it from. Once the parade passes (also it is difficult to get a great view of the parade as many times the best seats are booked many months in advance) it is over about 15 minutes total. Some establishments will have count downs to the parade and post parade activities, but it is hard to compete with the energy of the parade itself once that has passed by.

Viewing the parade by ship, as a part of the Newport Beach Boat Parade means that for the entire time you are on the ship you are in the parade. You will see the parade from beginning to end, and view the majority of the homes/estates in full décor. You will also see the carolers, different main points along the parade route that have music, other festivities, and all the spectators as you go by. If you do not own a boat or choose not to deal with bringing a boat in to Newport Bay during the parade, catching one of the general admission cruises will give you up to an hour of being in the parade. There is no better way to see the parade than to be in it. Back to top

What to wear while viewing the Newport Beach Boat Parade?

The Newport Beach Boat Parade takes place during the month of December and although it is in southern California it can get cold, okay not East Coast cold but chilly nevertheless. On average it is in the low 60’s for most nights of the parade. A light to medium jacket is enough to be comfy throughout the whole parade during this weather. If there is a cold front that has just come through or they are forecasting drizzle, then full winter attire is recommended especially when viewing the parade by ship. What is meant by full winter attire is a heavy jacket ideally water resistant and a layer or two of clothing. A stocking cap is also a nice touch. It is always easier to shed clothing, than to be under dressed and uncomfortable throughout the parade. If the forecast is for rain and it is over 50%, then an umbrella and appropriate shoes/boots is a good call. Rain slickers and gloves are not a bad idea either.

By the same token if there are Santa Ana winds, which is quite common in December it can be in the 70’s and short sleeves maybe perfect. Paying attention to the weather in Newport Beach and not just Southern California at large is really the key. Well enough of the practical side of what to wear. Lets not forget that this is a festive celebration so wear your best holiday clothing (I don’t mean dressiest just your favorite). The parade is for the most part not a fancy event wearing a suite and party dress will be over dressed for most functions viewing the parade. The parade is about family and friends and celebrating the holidays in a relaxed, fun environment. You want to be Santa for the night go for it. Bells are a neat accessory that is pretty popular and is a neat little way to let the parade entrants know your appreciation as they pass by. Back to top

Parking for the Newport Beach Boat Parade

This is the dark side of the parade or it can be. Parking for the Newport Beach Boat Parade can be extremely difficult so much so that it sends people away every year. There are some tricks to avoiding the parking pitfall. First, always arrive early for the parade. If you are viewing the parade by ship try to arrive at least an hour prior to your departure time. If you have a weekend departure add another 30 minutes. The early departure is more tricky on the busiest nights of the parade, Friday and Saturday night. This is due to spectators, those participating for the cruises, and those viewing the parade by restaurant all vying for parking at once. During these two nights, the key is getting down here early.

Okay you got stuck in traffic or just couldn’t get off work in time and now it is 30 minutes before your cruise, what do you do? The first thing to do is to call the landing were your ship is departing. Let them know where you are at currently. They will give you options for parking and let you know how much time you have. Many times one ship will leave a little later just for those struggling with parking.

Parking options on the Balboa Peninsula include the public parking lot next to the Balboa Pier, the parking structure next to Newport Landing, and valet parking next to Balboa Pavilion. The public lot next to the Balboa pier is your best choice with a huge number of spots, it takes a while to fill up and even when it says it is full it may not be. Make a drive though the lot even when it says it’s full, as people are always coming and going. There are also metered parking spaces around the pier public lot and these spots are free after 6:00 pm. If you have the patience to wait this area out, it will pay off 9 times out of 10. The parking structure is usually not where you want to be, if you are running late.

Not only does the Newport Landing Parking Structure fill up pretty fast, but traffic backs up and you can get stuck in a line going no where. Only go to this option, if you were instructed to do so by a landing staff member. Same holds true for the valet parking next to the Balboa Pavilion, although this is more forgiving with no long line to get stuck in. This is option too is best only when recommended by landing staff member. Well if the above has you shuddering, do not fret, parking for Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights of the parade are uneventful and for the late cruises on Friday and Saturday of the parade as well. The public lot next to the Balboa Pier should have plenty of room.

Parking on Balboa Island is very difficult and if you are not there by 4:30 pm for any night of the parade, it is recommended to avoid the whole area. Limited parking, limited access in and out, means traffic jams that can last hours. Along the mainland side parking is more abundant, but it may be a walk. You are best off finding a spot quickly and dong the walk, then trying to wait a spot out. It is rare to walk more than 10 minutes even from the farthest parking locations. For those of you with bikes, park away from the traffic and bike in. Another very popular option is to eat outside the parade area and then grab a cab into Newport. The 20 bucks you spend for a cab would be about spent in parking and this is a headache free option. Back to top

What to bring when viewing the Newport Beach Boat Parade

Along with bringing the right clothing for the Newport Beach Boat Parade other items that are great to have include a map of the area, camera, cash/change, contact number(s), snacks, blanket, and thermos full of a hot beverage. Having a map of the area will give you a good idea of where you are at and what you can expect whether traveling into the Newport Beach area or once aboard your ship traveling in the parade.

The bay can be quite confusing for those not familiar with it (and even for those who are). This area is called an island and this area the peninsula, and the island is closer to the coast than the peninsula, it can be mind boggling. Go online to our favorite map site Newport Beach Boat Parade Map and print out a fairly detailed map of the area. A camera is a must. Oh, make sure your batteries are in good shape. You are going to want to catch the ships and estates in their full décor and you will want to catch family and friends celebrating the parade not discover part way through the cruise that your batteries are dead. Also the parade is full of surprises, so make sure your camera is quickly accessible. No instant replays for the parade.

In this day and age having actually cash, both in bills and coins may not be the norm, but for the parade you will want to have some of both. Parking, refreshments, snacks, meters, carolers, tips, and desserts are all on a cash basis. Getting cash from one of the few ATMs in the area is a hassle. If you forget you can get cash/change from the landing your cruise departs from.

Contact numbers of were you are supposed to be, may be the difference in seeing the parade or reading about it in the paper the next day. Always have your contact number of the landing your cruise is departing from or the restaurant you have reservations for. If you know you are going to be running late, call even if you are not late yet. Forgot your contact number(s) call information or Google it.

There are lots of snacks to purchase especially on a cruise or from the heavy traffic areas such as the Balboa Peninsula or Balboa Island. The snacks may not be the healthiest though and if deserts are also in the program having some non dessert like snacks may be much appreciated. Packing a few snacks of your choice takes away the struggle for non dessert snacks. Also the price for snack items during the parade will be higher than what you would pay normally. Having quick access to a snack of your choice is a no stress way to keep those hunger pains a bay. Blankets especially on cruises in the parade are great. Not only do they keep you warm on those cold boat parade nights, but they create a special ambiance as well. Sharing a blanket with friends and family creates a shared experience and is nice way to be close to the ones that matter most during this holiday event. Along with a snack that you stash you may want to bring a thermos of a hot beverage, like hot cider or hot chocolate. Each cruise will have these beverages and many more for sale, but sometimes you don’t want to break from the parade viewing to get a beverage. Having a thermos, if viewing from shore is even more of a requirement as many locations do not have easily accessible beverage services. A nice warm beverage will nip that winter chill. Back to top

Concerns of Motion Sickness While Cruising In the Boat Parade

The Newport Beach Boat Parade takes place entirely inside the bay. So only those that are very very sensitive to motion sickness would be at all concerned. That said if you are very sensitive and are a little nervous about experiencing motion sickness while on your cruise; there is a pretty fail safe solution. Bonine is a motion sickness medication that has almost never failed. Take some about ½ hours before your departure time and you are all set. The few times that people have been uncomfortable from motion sickness have been a result of trying to ignore it and becoming progressively more nervous, resulting in a stronger reaction. If you get motion sickness on a lake or in a pool, then just play it safe and take Bonine. Dramamine works as well, but can make you sleepy especially when mixing it with alcoholic beverages. Back to top

Each day of the Newport Beach Boat Parade

There are 5 nights to the Newport Beach Boat Parade. It always starts on a Wednesday and ends on a Sunday.

The first night of the parade (Wednesday) is at least in my opinion one the best nights of the parade. There is the anticipation and all of the boats are putting forth their best foot. Wednesday night is great in terms of parking with plenty of parking access the entire night. This is a big family night, as cruises are a little cheaper than the weekends. Many families have been viewing the first night of the boat parade for decades and it is a chance for generations of family members to come together. The parade will not disappoint this first night and with easy parking this may become your favorite night of the parade.

Thursday night is the slowest night of the parade in terms of spectators and parking is not a problem at all. Going on a cruise, you will not be disappointed as all the ships are decorated to the hilt. If viewing the parade by shore it may be a little disappointing as you may be one of just a handful watching the parade. The later cruise is slightly better than the first cruise on this night, with it being a workday the next morning. The ease in parking and low congestion may make this night a favorite.

Friday night of the parade is one of the busiest nights of the parade and parking can be challenging for those running late. There will be many more private boaters watching the parade, but the parade itself is the same as the other nights. If you are around one of the major viewing areas there is usually bands and live music and even a Santa or two around. Get here early and it will be an enjoyable evening. The later cruise is the more popular on Friday.

Saturday of the parade is the busiest night of the parade. Parking is nonexistent at Balboa Island and challenging on Balboa Peninsula and PCH. This is a good night to get taxied in or car pool. Still if you arrive early at least by 5:00 pm for the early cruise there should still be plenty of parking. This is a favorite night for families with kids. Cruises for Saturday night are hard to come by, especially as it gets closer to the parade. Make your reservation as early as possible for Saturday night’s cruises. For those of you that want to go last minute and have called to see if there were any seats left for Saturday night’s cruises only to be told "no”, don’t despair. Make sure they put your name down on a waiting list. If they have multiple ships going out, there is a good chance that a number of seats will open up last minute as those stuck in traffic or coming down with a cold have to opt out. If you are patient, it is rare that you can not get on a cruise for the parade, even on a Saturday night.

Sunday is the last night of the parade. The parade has been in full swing for the last four days. There is something in the air that says this is the last night of the parade. The ships in the parade really put in their all this last night. Lots of music from ships and from shore makes it very festive. The earlier cruise is slightly better than the later cruise this night as many have a work day in front of them. There is usually a closing ceremony, which included fireworks for the finale of the Newport Beach Boat Parade. Back to top

Comparing the Newport Beach Boat Parade to Other Parades

The Newport Beach Boat Parade is one of several holiday boat parades in Southern California. Other boat parades include the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade, Naples Christmas Boat Parade , Long Beach Parade of 1000 Lights, Huntington Beach Cruise of Lights, Dana Point Boat Parade of Lights, & San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. These parades are much younger than the Newport Beach Boat Parade and frankly don’t even come close to the Newport Beach Boat Parade in terms of number of entrants in the parade and the level of decorations. There are far fewer boats in the other parades on average 40-60 ships versus 200 plus in the Newport Beach Boat Parade. When you factor in the estates and landscapes in the Newport Beach Boat Parade, there is no doubt the Newport’s Parade stands alone as the premier boat parade on the West Coast.

Kids and the Newport Beach Boat Parade

For kids viewing the Newport Beach Boat Parade, especially by boat this promises to be an event they will never forget. There are so many things going on with the boat parade that we adults might take for granted. For a child, being on a ship, in Newport Bay, with elaborate decorations, music, all size ships, all going on at the same time is amazing. The Newport Beach Boat Parade maybe their first nautical experience, with the smell of the ocean air and the lights glissing off the bay. To see all size ships in the parade and to be so close to these decorated ships will have them in awe. In this age of computer generated animation, the scope of the lighted displays is sometimes lost, but not with kids. Some things to consider when bringing kids to the Newport Beach Boat Parade are the following:

Make sure to have warm jackets and other clothing available. Kids are not always the best at regulating their body temperatures, especially with all the excitement. Making sure they are appropriate dressed will keep them happy and healthy. Have some snacks on hand or take advantage of the beverage center. Kids are constantly going and even after dinner they can instantly become hungry. A few strategic snacks will come in handy when all of the excitement of the event catches up with them.

Make sure that there is a plan, if for some reason you become separated. If on a ship you can report to the captain. From shore having a common place to meet, if separated will help prevent a panicked evening.

Having a blanket comes in handy as it gets a little later in the evening and the kids are winding down. Singing while in transit to the parade or even on the ship during the parade is a fun way to celebrate the holiday festivities. Here are a few classics. Allowing the kids to take some pictures is also really exciting for them. They will take the responsibility very seriously and it will be a keepsake in the years to come.

The Newport Beach Boat Parade is in many ways all about the kids. It started back at the turn of the century and was in large part continued for the sake of the kids. I think as adults, we can still remember that excitement and anticipation that comes with such an event as the Newport Beach Boat Parade. Back to top