Harbor Holidays

Parade of Lights celebrate the season

By Nicole Leonetti Photos courtesy Channel Islands Harbor

I love a parade — especially when boats are involved! I’m in heaven during the holiday season when both the Channel Islands and Ventura Harbors have their annual Parade of Lights events. These parades have become holiday traditions, bringing joy to these communities and to all who join them each holiday season. This year’s fun begins during Halloween (Parade of Frights) then kicks into high gear in December, with back-to-back weekends full of fun and light at these two Ventura County harbors.

Channel Islands Harbor

First up on Dec. 9 is the 57th annual Parade of Lights at Channel Islands Harbor.

Thousands of visitors will line the harbor to watch more than 55 boats, ranging from small electric boats to large yachts, parade through the harbor decked out in electric holiday finery. This year’s theme? Santa’s Workshop!

The parade runs from 7 to 10 pm, but the fun starts at Harbor View Park at noon with complimentary photos with Santa, 36 tons of snow, a bounce house for the kids, live music, food trucks, vendors, and a Food & Toy Drive.

There are plenty of options for prime viewing areas for the parade. Many folks start scoping out their spots around 4 or 5 pm. If you’d rather be away from the main crowd, make your way to Marine Emporium Landing, which is located toward the end of the parade route. Another great viewing option is to buy tickets aboard the Scarlett Belle, a beautiful paddlewheel riverboat that makes for excellent viewing. These go fast, however, so book early!

Alternatively, you can make dinner reservations at one of the harbor’s many restaurants. The Waterside Restaurant & Wine Bar and Moqueca Brazilian Restaurant are two great options. There are also plenty of casual spots. Just be warned that Toppers Pizza Place will be packed during holiday events, so plan accordingly if you are craving pizza.

The parade gets better each year, with increasingly elaborate decorations. Harbor Department Public Information Officer, Jed Chernabaeff, recalls past boat entries that had everything from a live band on board to a halfpipe with skateboarders! Another memorable year had a “Heroes on Holiday” theme, where the winning boat carried military veterans through the parade route.

You can enter your own boat in the parade at channelislandsharbor.org. But come ready for fierce competition from other boat owners who vie for the grand prize — the engraved Sweepstakes Trophy — which is awarded to the boat with the highest score for originality as well as visual and sound effects. The winner keeps the trophy for the next year, allowing for numerous victory laps around the harbor.

Can’t wait until December? The Channel Islands Harbor will host its second annual Parade of Frights on Oct. 28. This Halloween-themed, non-competitive boat parade is scheduled for 7 pm, with family-friendly events including a scavenger hunt, live music, a DJ, and a costume contest kicking off the evening. There will be trick-or-treating and other Halloween themed events at the local restaurants. There is even talk of a haunted house experience this year! Check the website above for details.

Ventura Harbor

Ventura Harbor keeps the festivities going with its own Parade of Lights on Dec. 15 and 16.

Expect a colorful, tropical vibe with this year’s theme, Hula Holiday. The Ventura tradition started more than 45 years ago and has grown from one festive night to two in recent years. Thousands of people attend the parade, which starts at 6:30 pm — but we suggest getting there much earlier to take in all the sights (and to get good parking!). Like the Channel Islands Harbor parade, admission is free.

The parade itself runs from 6:30 to 8 pm, with the boats completing two loops around the harbor. A spectacular fireworks show will follow the parade each night. Jennifer Talt-Lundin, marketing manager for Ventura Harbor and Ventura Harbor Village, suggests that visitors “Dress in layers and bring a festive holiday spirit!”

The festivities kick off early in the day with carnival rides, games, faux snow, snacks, hot chocolate, and loads of photo ops. Don’t forget to take advantage of holiday shopping and seaside dining at Ventura Harbor Village, which boasts 32 shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors, and bakeries. For dinner, you’ve got lots of choices. No matter what you’re feeling, you’ll find it at the Ventura Harbor! Make reservations early at places such as Brophy Bros. Clam Bar & Restaurant, Copa Cubana, or The Greek Mediterranean Steak & Seafood.

If you’d rather be a participant instead of a spectator, reach out to marketing@venturaharbor.com to hold your spot. Boater applications can be found on venturaharborvillage.com starting in November. Bring your sailboat, powerboat, electric boat, or human-powered boat — all are welcome! Don’t have a boat, but still want to participate? Island Packers has a Parade of Lights Holiday Cruise. You can also charter a boat through Ventura Boat Rentals, which offers several vessels; for example, lighted character boats including a dragon, duck, swan, or flamingo in various colors. Parade entry is free and includes perks like cash prizes, gift certificates, a complimentary professional photo of your boat in the parade, special gifts, and a Boater Mixer. There are multiple prize categories including a Peoples’ Choice Awards and Showstoppers, and of course, bragging rights for the next 12 months. And yes — some boats enter both the Channel Islands Harbor Parade and the Ventura Harbor Parade!

But fair warning: boat owners prepare months in advance, so bring your A game! Lundin loves seeing the decor evolve from year to year as technology improves and allows boaters’ creativity to shine in new ways. In the past, Lundin has seen everything from slides on boats, to large screens projecting movies that align with the year’s theme.

Come a week early for the Winter Wonderland and Holiday Marketplace, which will take place Dec. 9 at Ventura Harbor Village. From 11 am to noon, participants are welcome to join the Santa Paddle, where folks in festive attire paddle their human-powered boats through the harbor. (And yes, you can rent from Ventura Boat Rentals!) Then, from noon to 3 pm, find carolers, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, live reindeer, musicians, and plenty of activities for kids.

Only 7 miles separate these two harbors — meaning you can enjoy the holiday season without traveling far from these beautiful oceanside destinations. Seasons Greetings!

For more information, visit channelislandsharbor.org and venturaharborvillage.com.

Harbor Holiday events

  • Oct. 28: Channel Islands Harbor’s Parade of Frights Halloween festivities start at 2 p.m.; Parade of Frights, 7 p.m.
  • Dec. 9: Channel Islands Harbor’s Parade of Lights Holiday festivities start at noon; Parade of Lights, 7 p.m.
  • Dec. 9: Ventura Harbor Winter Wonderland and Holiday Marketplace Santa Paddle, 11 a.m.; Holiday Marketplace, noon to 3 p.m.
  • Dec. 15: Ventura Harbor Parade of Lights Kids rides and carnival games start at 4 p.m.; Parade of Lights, 6:30 p.m.; fireworks, 8 p.m.
  • Dec. 16: Ventura Harbor Parade of Lights Kids rides and carnival games start at 2 p.m.; Parade of Lights, 6:30 p.m.; fireworks, 8 p.m.

Boaters go all out each year — and with improvements in technology, the parade keeps getting better.

Folks bundle up for a cozy viewing experience at the Channel Islands.