One of the best parts of December is driving around and looking at Christmas lights. Imposing, stolid houses are suddenly transformed into festive abodes that welcome strangers to come and admire. Even though we all live separate lives, it’s oddly comforting and unifying to see us all coming together to celebrate the season. It’s a time when we not only admire the colorful lights but also the hard work that went into decorating. Putting up lights is no easy task!
Fortunately, Los Angeles is a gigantic area, so there are a ton of places you can see incredible lit-up displays. But, as you all know, L.A. is also traffic hell. The one thing that stops me from driving around L.A. is the prospect of traffic. With so many people and cars, there’s bound to be some type of accident, causing a backup for miles. So instead of listing out the dozens of neighborhoods that have lights, I thought I’d suggest an alternative — head to the water!
Instead of driving around your neighborhood, head to the marinas to see one of the several holiday boat parades happening across our coastline. I didn’t even know this was a thing until a few years ago when my boyfriend took me to one in Channel Islands. How it works: Boat owners extravagantly decorate their aquatic vessels with lights and decor, which they then sail one after another in a festive parade when the sun sets. Each boat blasts its own Christmas jams as the passengers dance onboard with their drinks in hand. It always looks like so much fun!
But the best part about these boat parades? You don’t even have to move. All you need is a few camping chairs, a cozy blanket, and a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate, and you’re set! The boats and yachts literally parade past you in water, so you can take your time admiring each boat without worrying about traffic or the idiotic sports car tailgating you and flashing his brights (hashtag not bitter…). So grab a few friends, and start a new tradition! Plus, if you come early enough, you can even watch the sunset over the ocean.
Date: Saturday, December 9
Theme: Fairy Tales Afloat
Start time: 7pm
I had to include this one as it’s close to my heart! The festivities start with Santa flying across the sky (right??) as the boats float by one by one. The parade is super low-key and fun, and can be viewed throughout the harbor and from restaurants overlooking the parade route: the Lookout Bar & Grill, Moqueca Brazilian Cuisine, Sea Fresh Channel Islands, Toppers Pizza Place, and the Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar. Click HERE to view the parade route. Don’t miss it!
Plus, if you’re looking to make it an all-day thing, there will also be snowplay in the morning, children’s activities and an artists’ market at noon-4pm, and strolling carolers at 5:30-8:30pm.
**NOTE: I’m not sure how the Thomas Fire will affect this event. Since Port Hueneme is closer to Oxnard, it might be okay. However, I’d call them or check their site for updates when it gets closer. Also, if the 101 is open and you can manage it, I recommend heading half an hour north to make a stop at Santa Barbara, my home for 10 years. It’s such a beautiful place and is the epitome of a California Christmas!
Date: Saturday, December 9
Theme: Let’s Dance
Cost: Free (though event parking is $8)
Start time: 6pm
This popular parade gathers an average of 25,000 people each year. Fireworks kick off the event 5:55pm, followed by the parade from 6-8pm. For non-residents, you can view the parade from Fisherman’s Village, Burton Chace Park, or the many waterfront restaurants. Before the parade, enjoy the Snow Wonder event at Burton Chace Park, where kids can play in real snow, sled, and enjoy arts & crafts and face painting. For adults, there will be all of the children’s activities (which sounds like a blast tbh) as well as a live DJ and food trucks.
Date: Saturday, December 9
Theme: California Christmas
Cost: $10-$15 (benefiting various charities; includes admission to the after-party at the King Harbor Yacht Club)
Start time: 5:30pm
This annual parade at Redondo Beach always has some beautiful entries. And, making it even more fun, the parade even includes stand-up paddlers who dress up and decorate their boards! The procession starts off with a cannon and ends with a trophy presentation afterward. As a plus, the $15 admission gains you entrance into the King Harbor Yacht Club’s after-party, which will be complete with a live DJ, food, and drinks.
And, if you want to save money and you’re a stand-up paddler, feel free to enter for $15! Every entry gets one free drink at the after-party plus entry for one guest. So you get a spot in the parade, a workout, and a drink. Yay?
Date: Sat-Sun, December 9-10
Theme: Musical Kicks on Route 66
Start time: 5:15pm
In its 55th year, this boat parade in Huntington Harbour celebrates with the theme “Musical Kicks on Route 66,” which is sure to bring a lot of fun ’50s decorations and great music. Plus, not only do the boats get prizes, but the houses and condos do, as well. The whole community gets in on it, which makes this event even more festive, colorful, and fun! Click HERE to view the parade route. Even though this is free, consider making a donation, because any excess funds will go to the Philharmonic Society’s music-education programs for children in the O.C. So cool!
Date: Sunday, December 10
Theme: Peace on Earth
Start time: 4pm
When you think of Venice, you automatically think of hipster bars, Muscle Beach, and bikini-clad babes rollerblading down the winding concrete. But, sadly, not everyone has been to the Venice canals. If you haven’t been, it’s our Californicated version of the Italian waterbound city, except in place of weather-worn, earth-colored homes, we have modern structures surrounded by palm trees.
This parade, though it may seem chaotic at times, is a lot of fun, sporting houseboats along with dressed-up kayaks and pallet boats. Also, because it’s Venice, it’s super laid-back and lacks some of the pretension that other parades may have. The Venice boat parade also has home- and bridge-decorating competitions along with its boat competition. How fun is that? Winners are announced at the beginning of the parade, which begins at the corner of Eastern and Sherman canals. Check it out!
Date: Wed-Sun, December 13-17
Start time: 6:30pm
This year, Newport Beach is celebrating its 109th Christmas boat parade, making it one of the oldest boat parades in the area. On Wednesday, December 13, at 6:15pm, the parade will kick off with brilliant fireworks before boats make their way through Newport Harbor on a 90-minute cruise, starting and ending at the tip of Lido Isle. They always have such beautiful displays, so even if you already went to a parade the previous week, you should check this one out too if you have a chance! Viewing areas include the Fun Zone, Balboa Village, the waterfront restaurants, and reserved seating at the American Legion and the Newport Sea Base.
Plus, not only are the boats extravagantly decorated, but the houses are decked out, as well, as part of the Ring of Lights waterfront decorating competition. For those unfamiliar with the L.A. area, Newport is a very affluent area (dolla dolla bills, y’all), so you know they don’t skimp when it comes to decorating. On the last night of the parade, Sunday, December 17, a special fireworks show will close out the festivities from Balboa Pier at 9pm.
But wait - there’s more! You can even be IN the parade. For $32, you can ride aboard one of the boats and be immersed into the fun. For a little (okay, a lot) more, you can even rent a small rib for you and five friends (about $56/person). If your pockets aren’t that deep, you can take an $18 cruise before or after the parade. If you can’t make these dates at all, for $20 you can take a 60-minute cruise around Newport Harbor throughout December to see all the pretty Christmas lights. Click HERE to view the cruise times and prices.
Dates: Fri-Mon, December 15-18, and Thu-Sat, December 21-23
Cost: $19 for adults, $12 for kids
Cruise times: 5:30, 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30pm
Also in its 55th year, this 45-minute narrated boat tour, called the Huntington Harbour Philharmonic Cruise of Lights, travels through the waterways of Huntington Harbour in Huntington Beach. This is different from the actual boat parade because this runs for two long weekends, and you can actually ride the boats! As you cruise down the channel, you can see thousands of Christmas lights on boats, decks, docks, and homes. It’s so amazing seeing all the residents participate in this annual tradition by taking the time to decorate their homes so wonderfully. Plus, this is also an affluent area, so you know they go all out! As an added bonus, the funds raised from the Cruise of Lights will help continue music programs for children. I’m always down for that! Click HERE to buy tickets.