2009 Getty Images
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Not all festive parades roll down Main Street. On the coast, folks take to the water in a fleet of kayaks, sailboats, and megayachts—each decked out in glittering holiday cheer. Here, the best and brightest floating celebrations across the U.S (three are in one state!).

By Marisa Spyker
Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade
Legend has it that the concept of boat parades first started in Southern California, when an Italian gondolier fastened Japanese lanterns to his vessel and rowed around Newport Harbor with eight lighted canoes trailing on the 4th of July. One hundred and nine years later, the Newport Beach boat parade—now a Christmas event—is the largest of its kind in the country. More than a millon viewers come out each year to watch as many as 100 bedazzled boats cruise by while fireworks over the ocean light up the sky.

Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade
Chillier temps won’t stop residents of Annapolis—the sailing capital of the U.S.—from lighting up and setting out on this annual holiday cruise in Annapolis Harbor. The celebration, which began more than 30 years ago, happens every year on the second Saturday of December, and attracts hundreds of bundled up spectators to the Maryland shoreline.

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San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
Photo: Dale Frost/Flickr

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
This annual celebration in the San Diego Bay offers not one, but two chances to catch the spectacle in December. Roughly 80 boats participate in the parade each year, with awards going to the most festive boats based on the annual holiday theme (which ranges from “Christmas Around the World” to this year’s “Arrrgh! A Pirate’s Christmas”).

Charleston Holiday Parade of Boats
Not only does this beloved 30-plus-year-old event feature a mesmerizing parade of sparkling boats, it also offers a prime place to watch them all drift by. The family-friendly Light Up the Night Parade Party is hosted at the Charleston Maritime Center and includes tasty barbecue, sweet treats, holiday caroling, and a special appearance by Santa (on a boat, of course).

Fort Lauderdale Winterfest Boat Parade
Photo: Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Fort Lauderdale Winterfest Boat Parade
With 165 miles of waterway, Florida’s “Venice of America” is a natural fit for a waterbound parade, and this highly anticipated “Greatest Show on H2O” doesn’t disappoint, attracting more than a million viewers along its 12-mile route. Sponsored by the nearby Seminole Hard Rock Casino, the parade is a party on floatation, with boats often featuring live entertainment, music, and celeb appearances.

Holiday on the Harbor Destin Lighted Boat Parade
The festive light show on the Gulf is just one treat in a day’s worth of holiday fun at this 30-year-running celebration. Entertainment along the harbor starts at noon with visits from Santa, followed by a Nutcracker performance, and ending with fireworks overlooking the sparkling water. You can watch the parade along the docks, or venture to one of several restaurants in Harborwalk Village.  

Fisherman’s Wharf Holiday Lights & Sights Boat Parade
There aren’t many boat parades that offer a backdrop as impressive as the Golden Gate Bridge. This long-running festival on the San Francisco Bay has boats cruising from Pier 39 to Crissy Field, with multiple vantage points along the route. Stroll along Marina Blvd for a two-for-one show: the parade on one side and glittering, decked-out mansions on the other.  

Seattle Christmas Ship Festival
Photo: Sean O’Neill/Flickr

Seattle Christmas Ship Festival
If you prefer to be in the action rather than on the sidelines, this month-long holiday extravaganza has you covered. You can hop on board the fully decorated Spirit of Seattle, a three-deck cruiser that leads the parade, to partake in holiday sing-alongs, crafts, and story time with Santa. Or snag a seat on one of the dozens of smaller “follow” boats, which also offer family-friendly activities, food, and boozy beverages.