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Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade of Lights


Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade of Lights: A Sweet Spectacle for the Holidays

Are you ready to immerse yourself in the enchantment of the holiday season? Look no further than the Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade of Lights, a beloved annual event that will leave you in awe. Taking place from December 8 to December 10, 2023, this year’s parade promises to be a candyland-themed extravaganza. Here’s what you need to know to enjoy this sweet celebration.

The History of the Parade

The Dana Point Harbor Boat Light Parade has been a beloved tradition since 1975 and was started by Dana Wharf Sportfishing owner Don Hansen, who wanted to spread Holiday Cheer. Don Hansen also started the tradition of Santa boat rides. Over the years, the parade has grown in size and popularity, and it now features over 100 decorated boats of all shapes and sizes.

A Candyland Wonderland

This year, step into a world of sweetness as the Dana Point Harbor transforms into a candyland-themed paradise. Thousands of gleaming lights will adorn the boats, creating a mesmerizing display that’s sure to put you in the holiday spirit. This enchanting event is free to attend, making it the perfect festive outing for the whole family.

The Parade Route

The parade route begins at the Dana Point Yacht Club and travels through the harbor, passing by the many restaurants and shops along the waterfront. Spectators can watch the parade from various viewing areas throughout the harbor, including Baby Beach, the Island Way Bridge, and the Marina Park. The parade also makes a special stop at the Ocean Institute, where guests can enjoy hot cocoa and cookies while watching the boats pass by.

a view of a city at night

Boats Illuminated with Holiday Magic

The heart of the parade lies in the stunningly decorated boats, each vying for the chance to win up to $10,000 in cash prizes. The boats in the parade are decorated with colorful lights and festive decorations, creating a magical display on the water. 

Participants go all out, embracing the candyland theme with creative displays that reflect the holiday spirit. Some boats even have live music and performers on board, adding to the festive atmosphere. Categories like “Best Use of Theme,” “People’s Choice,” “Supervisor’s Cup,” “Mayor’s Cup,” and more add a touch of competition and excitement to the event.

How to Participate with Your Boat

If you have a boat and want to participate in the parade, registration is required. The registration fee is $25 and includes a commemorative flag and a chance to win prizes in various categories, such as “Best Use of Lights” and “Most Original.” The deadline to register is December 6th, so be sure to sign up early to secure your spot in the parade.

More Holiday Magic at Dana Point

The festivities extend beyond the boat parade itself. Starting in mid-November, the harbor comes alive with over 700,000 LED lights that illuminate the waterfront, creating a dazzling spectacle. Take advantage of this season to enjoy “Candy Cane Lane,” “Merry Kiss Me arch,” a “tunnel of lights,” photos with Santa, a giant whale sculpture, lighted palm trees, giant beach-ball-like ornaments, twinkling trees, and more. These vibrant, candy-themed photo opportunities are perfect for creating lasting holiday memories.

If you’re lucky enough to visit the harbor in December, you’ll also be treated to holiday tunes sung by strolling carolers. For those with some last-minute holiday shopping to do, Dana Point 

Harbor boasts unique shops where you can find the perfect Christmas gifts for your loved ones.

Where to Watch the Parade

The parade is easily accessible from various viewing locations:

  • From the Shore: Families can enjoy the parade for free from various shoreline spots with a view of the water. Walking around the small-boat harbor offers a unique perspective of the decorated boats, holiday lights, and illuminated walkways. One prime viewing spot is the bridge to the island.
  • Holiday Cruise: For those seeking an upgraded experience, guests can enjoy a holiday cruise on board a decorated boat. These 90-minute cruises feature holiday music, a cash bar, and close-up views of the beautifully adorned boats as they parade through the harbor. There’s also a special “take a boat ride with Santa” cruise.
  • Waterfront Restaurants: If you prefer to watch the parade from a comfortable dining spot, the Wind and Sea offers an outdoor patio right on the channel where the parade begins. Chart House, on the bluff, provides a scenic albeit distant view of the harbor. Harpoon Henry’s offers an outdoor patio with sweeping harbor views, while Turk’s outdoor seating allows you to catch the parade action. Unfortunately, Waterman’s Harbor is closed this year.

Tips for Spectators

If you’re planning on watching the parade, here are a few tips to make the most of your experience:

  • Arrive early to secure a good viewing spot.
  • Dress warmly and bring blankets to stay cozy.
  • Bring snacks and drinks, as there are limited food options available.
  • Consider taking a boat ride to get a closer look at the decorated boats.

The Dana Point Harbor Boat Light Parade is a must-see event for anyone in the area during the holiday season. It’s a fun and festive way to celebrate with friends and family and experience the beauty of the Dana Point Harbor. Don’t miss out on this beloved tradition!