Ahoy, matey! Boats decked out in glimmering, festive lights cruising the San Diego Bay can only mean one thing: a beloved holiday parade is back, continuing a longtime tradition started by the local boating community.
For the second weekend in a row, the 46th annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights will bring dozens of boats covered in twinkling lights and holiday decorations to the San Diego Bay to delight thousands of onlookers this Sunday at 5 p.m.
Presented by the Port of San Diego, the waterfront procession features approximately 80 lavishly decked out boats illuminating the bay.
Usually, the parade takes about an hour or an hour-and-a-half to pass at any given point.
It begins at Shelter Island and, by around 5:30 p.m., makes its way to Harbor Island. A half-hour later, the procession moves on to the Embarcadero passing the Berkeley ferry and Star of India near the Maritime Museum of San Diego and, by around 6:30 p.m., should be visible from Seaport Village.
For the second year, the route will then proceed to the pier at Cesar Chavez Park before making the turn to Coronado where it can be seen from the Ferry Landing at around 7 p.m. As each boat passes the viewing points, announcers will deliver a brief history of the vessels.
The San Diego Bay Parade of Lights typically draws about 100,000 spectators.
Two very popular areas to perch during the parade include the Maritime Museum of San Diego on the Embarcadero and at the Ferry Landing.
The Maritime Museum will host its Parade of Lights Viewing Dinner during the event, an annual fundraiser aboard the Berkeley steam ferry that includes a seasonal dinner and a cozy, prime spot from which to watch the parade. Tickets to this viewing dinner cost $50 for adults and $25 for kids. Dinner will be available from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., with the parade scheduled to reach this viewing area at around 5:30 p.m.
Spectators also tend to flock to Harbor Island, as well as the north and south ends of the Embarcadero. Boaters wishing to watch the parade can view from the water; organizers say the area where the parade turns west for Coronado – near the 10th Street Terminal – is a good spot for spectators in boats.
This year, the Port of San Diego is hosting free viewing parties at several spots along the route that will feature bleacher seating, food and drink vendors and, in some cases, live entertainment. Those locations include:
• Harbor Island Park (1879 Harbor Island Dr.)
• Cesar Chavez Park Pier (1449 Cesar E. Chavez Parkway)
• The View Court on Broadway Pier (1000 North Harbor Dr.)
As always, parking along the waterfront will be at a premium for this large-scale event.
Attendees can opt for public transit, as all three MTS trolley lines and several bus lines serve stations with parking lots where spectators can leave their cars – Fashion Valley, Old Town, American Plaza – and then take the trolley to the North Embarcadero area.
The Green Line can be taken to Santa Fe Depot and the Orange and Blue lines to the American Plaza station. Both stations are within walking distance from Harbor Drive – another popular spot from which to view the procession. You can check the MTS website for trolley schedules and updates.
This year’s theme is “Arrrgh. A Pirate’s Christmas,” so spectators can expect plenty of pirate-themed bells and whistles. As San Diegans know, the décor for this unique parade is always festive and always flashy.