How to Watch the 2016 San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

The famous San Diego Bay Parade of Lights happens again on Dec. 18

A bevy of glimmering, festive lights illuminating the San Diego Bay can only mean one thing: a beloved holiday boat parade is back -- a longtime tradition started by the San Diego boating community.

Dozens of boats covered in twinkling lights and inflated animals coasted along the shore of the San Diego Bay to the delight of thousands of onlookers Sunday.

It was the first weekend for the 45th annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights presented by the Port of San Diego. The event returns to the waterfront at 5 p.m. on Dec. 18.

The procession features approximately 80 boats decked out in lights and holiday decorations, making their way around the bay. The parade starts at Shelter Island then proceeds to Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, the Pier at Cesar Chavez Park and ends at the Ferry Landing in Coronado.

The usually parade takes about an hour-and-a-half to pass at any given point. Organizers say the parade starts at Shelter Island at 5 p.m. By 6 p.m., the procession should reach Harbor Island. By 6:30 p.m. the parade should be visible from the Embarcadero viewing area. By 7 p.m., it will be seen from Seaport Village. By 7:15 p.m., the parade should reach the Pier at Cesar Chavez Park. By 7:30 p.m. the procession will be winding down, making its way to the Ferry Landing in Coronado. To get details of the entire route, click here.

This year, the Pier at Cesar Chavez Park is a new addition to the parade route, serving as another prime spot where spectators can gather. Typically, the San Diego holiday tradition draws about 100,000 spectators to the waterfront viewpoints.

Two very popular areas to perch during the parade include the Maritime Museum of San Diego on the Embarcadero and at the Ferry Landing, where announcers will be delivering a brief history on each boat that passes along these viewpoints.

The Maritime Museum will host its Parade of Lights Viewing Dinner during the event on both Dec. 11 and Dec. 18, a 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 ages 3 to 12. Dinner will be served from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with the parade expected to arrive at this site at around 5:30 p.m.

Parade spectators also tend to flock to Harbor Island to watch the parade, 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.

As always, parking for this large-scale event is limited, so spectators are encouraged to take public transportation, including the trolley or bus. All three trolley lines serve 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.

This year’s San Diego Bay Parade of Lights theme is “It Began With a Roar,” a nod to the San Diego Zoo’s centennial celebration. Light displays on the boats participating in the parade will reflect this wild theme, with the best display winning the coveted “Best in Theme” award. The grand prize is a cruise via Uncruise Adventures to Costa Rica or Panama.

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