Best Christmas Boat Parades: Celebrations Worth the Trip

Just because temperatures cool off, doesn’t mean the beach party has to end. Destinations all over the U.S. host Christmas boat parades. Many events also pair the parade with food and holiday fun, ensuring everyone gets into the spirit. For some of the best, here are Christmas boat parades travelers can’t miss.

Best Christmas Boat Parades in Popular Destinations

christmas boat parades florida

Florida Christmas Boat Parades

Destin Harbor Boat Parade

In Florida, the East and Gulf coasts kick off the season in its top cities. Over 50 cities in Florida host a holiday boat parade, and some have lasted decades.

Destin Harbor Boat Parade, located on the Gulf of Mexico, features lights and cheer, followed by a fireworks show. In the afternoon, visit Santa and see live performances on the main stage. At 6 p.m., join thousands of spectators as boats of all sizes make their way through Destin Harbor.

MOC Holiday Boat Parade

Visiting south Florida? Head to Miami, where tropical weather brings out boat lovers and Christmas fanatics alike. Hosted by Miami Outboard Club, MOC Holiday Boat Parade features over 50 boats, vendors, bounce houses and finishes with a fireworks show. Don’t forget to bring a toy and donate to local charities.

For more fun, make the trip to Key West for the annual Lighted Boat Parade at Schooner Wharf Bar. The festivities kick off with live performances and Christmas carols. Guests can also stroll Harbor Walk of Lights and win raffles and prizes.

Sarasota Holiday Boat Parade of Lights

South of Tampa on Florida’s west coast, travelers find Sarasota. Best known for beaches and art, the city hosts Sarasota Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, which has entertained guests for over 30 years.

Due to popularity, the festival has expanded and occurs near several natural attractions such as Bayfront Park, City Island and Centennial Park. Visitors are welcome to bring coolers, chairs and non-alcoholic beverages to enjoy as they watch the boats.

christmas vacation family

Tampa Lighted Boat Parade

Head further inland to the Tampa area, which knows how to celebrate in style. Tampa’s Riverwalk – a top spot for dining and entertainment – serves as home to Lighted Boat Parade. Visitors watch the parade travel through downtown near popular Tampa area attractions to Holiday Island located in between Davis Island and Harbour Island.

Those in nearby St. Pete Beach dress in their holiday attire for St. Pete Beach Boat Parade and Winter Festival in the Park and the annual Illuminated Boat Parade in St. Petersburg. Or enjoy the sites in Madeira Beach at Festival of Light.

christmas boat parade california

Photo: Tony Webster

California Christmas Boat Parades

L.A. Harbor Holiday Afloat Parade

Sponsored by Port of Los Angeles, this event ranks among the best Christmas boat parades for its length and displays. The port ranks among the busiest in international trade.

However during L.A. Harbor Holiday, hundreds of boats feature elaborate displays and festive decorations. The parade is free, lasts about 1.5 hours and begins at Port’s East Basin near Banning’s Landing Community Center in Wilmington. Boats include powerboats, tall ships and sail boats.

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade

For over 100 years, Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade has delighted guests in southern California. Millions of people attend the event, which occurs for five days in December.

The parade route floats through Newport Beach’s top entertainment districts, including Fashion Island, Mariner’s Mile and Balboa Peninsula. To get the full Newport Beach experience, spend a couple of days in the area – especially at waterfront restaurants and shops.

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights occurs during two days and has been a holiday tradition for over 45 years. In fact, it ranks among the best and largest Christmas boat parades in the U.S.

Each year showcases a different theme. Once decided, more than 80 boats are decorated drawing some 100,000 spectators. San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. In addition, the event is free to attend and participants can win cash prizes.

christmas boat parades vacation

South Carolina Boat Parades

Beaufort Christmas Boat Parade

Each year, Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park welcomes visitors to watch dozens of boats float down the harbor. Locals decorate their vessels with lights and decorations while showcasing Lowcountry living. The fun kicks off around 5 p.m., and welcomes all ages. Other Beaufort events include the annual Christmas parade, Festival of Trees and Beaufort Holiday Weekend.

Charleston Holiday Parade of Boats

In Charleston – one of the top destinations in the world – Holiday Parade of Boats welcomes spectators who enjoy lights and fun events. Start at Charleston Maritime Center and join over 1,500 guests for food and treats. Before the parade, enter raffles to win prizes and support local causes. The event also has family-friendly activities the whole group will enjoy.

fireworks holiday beach

Other Destinations for Christmas

Carolina Beach Christmas Flotilla

Each year, on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, boaters in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, can’t wait to decorate their fishing boats and leisure vessels in lights during the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla. In fact, it’s one of the top Christmas boat parades on Intracoastal Waterway.

A week later, on the first Saturday of December, Carolina Beach hosts its annual Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla. During the event, judges pick favorites who win cash prizes. To see the show, head to Snows Cut and Carolina Beach Boat Basin.

Seattle Christmas Ship Festival

For more than 70 years, Argosy Cruises Christmas Ship™ Festival has delighted guests in greater Seattle, Washington. The main star is Spirit of Seattle, the official Christmas Ship™, which has hundreds of white lights and sails to 65 Puget Sound waterfront communities. What sets this event apart is it lasts the entire month of December. During the festival, guests also listen to choirs, follow in their own lighted boats and attend onshore events throughout Puget Sound.

Make it a holiday to remember! Start planning your Christmas vacation and book your rental with iTrip Vacations®.