Dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, Santa Barbara might not be the place for you. But if you're dreaming of a colorful Christmas, then you're in luck. This relaxed beach town really decks the halls for the holidays, capped off by the stunning Parade of Lights, a waterfront boat parade!
This year, the annual Parade of Lights activities will begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 14. Start with a visit to Santa's Village on the City Pier in the Santa Barbara Harbor. Your little ones can visit with Santa, play in the freshly made fake snow and enjoy holiday music. Admission is free.
The boat parade itself begins around 5:30 p.m., during which dozens of boats decked out in lights and other decorations will motor, sail and paddle from Stearns Wharf to the harbor and sometimes back again. Judges will station themselves near the wharf to rate the decorations.
At the Parade of Lights in Santa Barbara, you can watch a fleet of boats with Christmas decorations pass you by — Photo courtesy of Damian Gadal
Boats are awarded a donation of cash and prizes in five categories, including best human-powered boat, best fishing boat and more.
The best viewing locations include Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara breakwater that juts out from the harbor. Or you can plan ahead and charter your own private boat to sail near the festivities for a closeup. Just don't forget your camera . . . or smartphone!
Scheduled activities are capped off with a fireworks display after the parade, around 7 p.m. The reflections of the fireworks in the water are stunning.
Fortunately, the weather in Santa Barbara is rarely too extreme that you can't enjoy an evening outdoors. But if you do find yourself feeling a little weak, formulate a backup plan that involves a journey to a nearby bar like the one at Brophy Bros., a fresh seafood restaurant with excellent wine, beer and Bloody Marys and panoramic views of the water.
If you're feeling peckish before or after the parade, there are plenty of other excellent dining options in the area. For waterfront dining near the wharf, visit the FisHouse or the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. If you're willing to walk inland a block or two, stop by The Lark for fresh Californian cuisine or pop into the Blue Tavern for Peruvian-influenced dishes.
Parking can be tight during the Parade of Lights, so it's important to head to the area well in advance or take a taxi. You may also choose to bike down to the water; just be sure to lock your bike up tight.
Enjoy Christmas lights like you've never seen them before!