If you’re looking for some holiday fun Saturday, head to the Santa Cruz Harbor for the Lighted Boat Parade, which starts at 5:30 p.m.
For the 29th consecutive year, some of those who spend time on the sea will display their vessels, beautifully draped in lights, for all to see.
“Festival of Lights” is this year’s theme.
To get the most enjoyment from the evening, be sure to dress warmly and arrive early enough to find a good viewing spot. It’s a beautiful way to spend part of a night watching glistening boats glide along the harbor channel.
Sailors who decorate their boats will get a chance at prizes, recognition and bragging rights. Participants will be judged in “divisions” including power boats less than 31 feet, power boats 31 feet and longer, sailboats less than 31 feet, sailboats 31 feet and longer, as well as people-powered craft such as kayaks, rowboats and inflatables.
There will also be a division for stationary vessels that are either tied to their docks in the water, or parked in the Santa Cruz Yacht Club’s dry dock area on the harbor’s west side. Boats in each division will be judged for their representation of the parade’s theme, their light display and music.
The Santa Cruz Harbor opened 50 years ago in 1964 and the first Lighted Boat Parade was held in 1986.
Only five vessels participated in the inaugural parade according to longtime organizer and former Port Commissioner Ron Merrall, but those who remember that day insist that they had a great time.
By 1996, the number had climbed to 45. This year, around 30 are expected to participate, which is just about right given the harbor channel’s capacity.
Holiday parades are held in Morro Bay, Newport Beach, Monterey, Ventura and other west coast ports. I’ve seen the Newport Beach Harbor’s lighted boat parade which is more than 100 years old and hosts more than 100 boats for a five nights. Other parades are also larger, but Santa Cruz has a more authentic, hometown feel.
If you plan to go to the harbor, areas near the Crow’s Nest and its Beach Market, Café El Palomar and Johnny’s Harborside restaurants on the east side of the harbor are popular for viewing, as is the area near Aldo’s on it’s west side.
Since parking is limited, you may want to carpool or if you live nearby, walk or ride your bike. Parade watchers can bring nonperishable food items for the Second Harvest Food Bank’s food drive.
Collection barrels will be at the harbormaster’s office at 135 Fifth Ave. and at various locations around the docks.
So grab some food to donate, head to the harbor, bundle up and enjoy. There will be lights everywhere and songs to fill the air.