How to Watch the 2023 San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

The 53-year tradition returns to downtown SD’s waterfront on Sunday, Dec. 10 + Sunday, Dec. 17.

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights SD

The holiday tradition was created by San Diego’s boating community.

🎶 Ahem, to the tune of “Winter Wonderland,” please: Sail boats bling, are you listening? In the bay, the parade is glistening. A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight, watching along a waterfront wonderland.

The beloved San Diego Bay Parade of Lights presented by the Port of San Diego returns to downtown’s waterfront at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 10, and Sunday, Dec. 17.

The 53rd annual tradition will feature a procession of ~80 boats decked out in holiday lights and decorations — and this year’s theme is “Christmas Traditions Around the World” (in 2022, it was “FantaSEA”).

Here’s how to navigate the big, free event — including prime viewing spots — so you can get your jollies.

SD San Diego Bay Parade of Lights 2022

A glimpse at the glowing procession in 2022, when the theme was “FantaSEA.”

Photo via @emilygrahamdalton + San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

📍 The route and spectator spots

The parade takes about an hour and a half to pass any given point along the route. You should be able to see the boats from land at these points at these approximate times:

  • Shelter Island | 5:30 p.m. | The parade begins here, at the south end.
  • Harbor Island | 6:15 p.m. | The route proceeds from the west to east end.
  • North Embarcadero | 6:45 p.m. | The boats will go past the Maritime Museum of San Diego — including the Star of India — then parallel the Embarcadero to Tuna Harbor Park.
  • Seaport Village | 7:15 p.m. | The parade continues past the landmark and the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina.
  • Cesar Chavez Park | 7:30 p.m. | Pro tip: The judging of the parade boats will take place at the pier near the park. The route then turns south to cross the bay to the Marriott Coronado Hotel.
  • Coronado Ferry Landing | 7:45 p.m. | The boats will head west, finishing at buoy 22a.

In all, the entire procession will take ~2 hours.

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights SD

This year’s parade takes place on Sunday, Dec. 11, and Sunday, Dec. 18.

🚊 Public transit and parking

This holiday tradition draws ~100,000 spectators, which means parking around the waterfront will be at a premium. Consider using a rideshare to get dropped off at one of the viewing spots, or take the Trolley.

San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s (MTS) three Trolley lines will drop off riders at Santa Fe Depot (Blue and Green lines) or the Courthouse Station (Orange line), both a short walk from Harbor Drive.

A boat decked out in holiday lights at the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

This festive parade along the waterfront is just so San Diego.

MTS says these locations near the parade route are also accessible by Trolley (you’ll then have to walk a little to get to a viewing spot):

  • Seaport Village | Via Green Line
  • Gaslamp Quarter | Via Green Line
  • San Diego Convention Center | Via Green Line
  • 12th + Imperial | Via all three Trolley lines
  • Barrio Logan | Via UC San Diego Blue Line

By the way, on Sundays — so, parade days — two kids ages 12 or under ride free on the MTS Trolley or bus with each paid adult.

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights SD

The boat parade usually features about 80 vessels, trimmed to the nines.

In terms of parking, organizers say there is free but limited parking at Shelter and Harbor islands. You might also get lucky and snag a metered spot along Harbor Drive (free on Sundays) or in front of the Fish Market Restaurant. There is also a paid lot at Seaport Village, or you could search for paid parking in downtown San Diego and walk or take a rideshare to the shoreline.

Our final pro tips: Leave early so you can make your way to your viewing spot, pack your patience for traffic, bring a blanket or chair, and bundle up — it gets cold by the water this time of year for us San Diegans.

SD San Diego Bay Parade of Lights 2022

A shimmering snapshot from the 2022 procession.

Photo via @branchoutonalimb + San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

Also, keep an eye on the parade’s website and Instagram feed, in case the weather takes a turn. In 2022, the first Sunday of the parade was canceled due to a storma rare occurrence for the event.

Oh, and if you have a boat and want to participate in the parade, check out this info — boats are awarded prizes based on their lights, music, special effects, and adaptation of the parade’s theme.

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